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“Victimology” is a subset of the broader field of criminology, which is the study of crime and of criminals. Whereas conventional approaches to criminology focus on understanding categories of criminals, however, for example, rapists and serial and spree murderers, victimology, as the name suggests, focuses on understanding the victims of crime. Those engaged in the study of victimology look for patterns among victims of specific types of crime to better understand, and hopefully provide for some level of predictability, what is motivating the criminal. For example, a serial rapist might be focused solely on women who fit certain descriptions or who live in certain types of homes or apartments that may provide easy access for the rapist. When patterns are identified among victims of a specific type of crime, it becomes increasingly possible to conjure an image of the individual or individuals perpetrating the crimes in question. Similarly, by studying the victims of crimes, including any relationships that exist between the victim and the perpetrator, it becomes increasingly more likely that an accurate portrait of the criminal can be drawn.
In addition to the relationship between victims and perpetrators, victimology is also concerned with the relationships between victims and the criminal justice system and between victims and society at large, especially with regard to the media. How victims are treated by various components of the criminal justice system can be determinative of whether and how individuals respond to their victimization. A criminal justice system perceived as fundamentally unfair by a category of victim, for example, victims of hate crimes, or victims of rape, is less likely to be approached in the first place by those victims, and is less likely to receive the kind of cooperation it needs in order to fully investigate and prosecute the crimes in question even when the crime has been reported and the victims identified. A corollary of this is the role of the media in reporting crime. Victims of certain crimes who feel victimized a second time by their treatment within the criminal justice system may similarly feel wounded by the role of the media in investigating and reporting the crime. The role of both prosecutors and the media in publicizing allegations of a crime – and the 2006 Duke University lacrosse team rape allegation is a perfect example – can have a seriously deleterious effect on the criminal justice system (the emphasis here on the “justice” part of the equation). Cases “tried” in the press before reaching trial can undermine the pursuit of justice and result in miscarriages of justice. By studying these dynamics, those engaged in the field of victimology can better understand the role of the media and society at large in the functioning of the criminal justice system.
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