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Victimology: Criminology and Victim

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    Explore the advantages and disadvantages of the positivist approach to victimology. This assignment will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the positive approach to victimology. It will do this by looking at other victimology approaches such as; Radical, feminist, and critical victimology. Analysing the different theories within each approach, to highlight the negatives and positives within the positivist approach to victimology. The key characteristics of positivist victimology can be described as, the identification of factors which contribute a non-random pattern of their own victimisation, a focus on interpersonal crimes of violence and a concern to identify victims who may have contributed to their own victimisation. ” (Marsh, I. Melville, G. 2009) the Main theories to arise from this perspective are victim precipitation, victim culpability, victim proneness and lifestyle. All these theories focus on patterns of victimisation.

    The lifestyle theory, “developed by Michael Hindelang, Michael Gottredson and James Garofalo, Attempt to explain why certain groups of people for example, youths, males, the poor, singles, racial/ethnic minorities have higher rates of victimisation than others. The gist of the theory is that these groups by virtue of their lifestyle, place themselves at greater risk of victimization. A life style refers to the patterned way in which people distribute their times and energies across a range of activities” (Vito, G. Maahs, J. 2011).

    An advantage to this theory could help expose the higher rates of victimisation this could “help make sense of criminal victimisation survey data” (Walklate, S 2007). Being able to identify areas where crime rates are higher, leading to improvement that could be done to reduce the risk in the areas with high victimisation rates. By highlighting these groups of people at risk of victimisation due to their lifestyle, suggestions can be made to help reduce the risk.

    For instance more help for drug addicts in areas which drug use is high and applying more policing to areas which have high rates of crime such as burglary and mugging. The next theory, “Von Hentig’s typology worked with a notion of victim proneness. He argues that there some people, by virtue of their structural characteristics, who were much more likely to be victims of crime than other people. Amongst those he identified were woman, children, the elderly and the mentally subnormal” (Walklate, S 2007) this creating an idea of a certain type of victim which has its advantages and disadvantages.

    For instance reducing the risk of victimisation can be done by identifying groups of individuals more vulnerable to victimisation than others. This could then help reduce the victimisation, by identifying the patterns of relationships between the victim and offender, then attempting to break these patterns. Examples of this that can be used in practice are CRB (criminal record checks) checks that are carried out to identify any dangerous convictions an individual may have. For instance being a danger to a child in a school or a care worker in a residential home.

    CBR checks ensure individuals with convictions cannot work with these vulnerable persons. Another theorist to develop a typology was Mendelsohn; he “adopted a more legalistic framework in developing his typology. His underlying concept was the notion of ‘victim culpability’. Using this idea, he developed a six fold typology, from the victim who could be shown as completely innocent, to the victim who started as the perpetrator and during the course of an incident became the victim” (Walklate, S 2007).

    Focusing on the role which the victim can have in precipitating in their own victimisation; this then leads on to the work of Wolfgang and the victim precipitation and its advantages. Wolfgang first introduced victim precipitation as how a victim’s behaviour affects their role in becoming a victim. For example in Wolfgang’s work on homicides he argues that victims can have a major role to play in the victimisation (victim precipitation). For example an individual starting an argument/fight and becoming a victim of injury or worse, as a direct result of the individual starting the argument/fight.

    Also “Von Hentig criticised the traditional offender-oriented nature of criminology proposing a new dynamic approach to the study of crime that incorporated clear recognition of the victim’s role in the crime” Victim precipitation has its advantages, as today it can be used as a case of defence where by the defendant can plead man slaughter/self-defence due to the victim provoking the defendant which led to the murder/attack being committed. Brookman, F2005) However Mendelsohn and Von Hentig’s typology can be criticized due to the fact that they are merely based on their observations, Rather than a collective study of empirical evidence; or a reliable source which would consist of, a good amount of qualitative and or quantitative data, to produce a reliable outcome and source of information.

    Also, “Feminist researchers have criticised the above approaches, suggesting that examining victims’ behaviour for its role in the perpetration of a crime may constitute blaming the victim, thereby holding them responsible for their plight. (Spalek, B 2006). Feminist would also criticize the way in which the positivist approach uses victim perception to address rape victims. They would argue that this leads to victim blaming and lack of trust within the criminal justice system, this could then results in secondary victimisation. “Secondary victimisation is characterized by the engagement in victim-blaming attitudes, behaviours, and practices, which result in additional trauma for sexual assault survivors (Campbell & Raja, 1999).

    Secondary victimisation can minimize the significance of a crime, which leads to apathetic and discriminative attitudes” (Shaw, J. 2012). This could cause less crimes being reported, therefore the true figure of crime statistics are accurate. Positivist victimology does not take into account that some crimes may go unreported due to lack of trust of the criminal justice system, which could be a result of victim precipitation, which feminist victimology would see as victim blaming.

    Other areas which feminist victimology would criticize the positivist approach to victimology, are that gender does play a huge role within victimology for example “feminist victimologists point out, one of the strongest predators in victimisation; males consistently perpetrate more crime, and more serious crime including, violent crime than females do, and are more likely to be victims of these crimes” (Wilson, J. 2009). Showing that gender does have an impact on who are victims and perpetrators.

    Rather than just relying on the lifestyle, or the victim and offenders relationship to explain victimization. Radical victimology argues that positivist victimology does not address some victims and crimes such as, crimes of the powerful, white collar crime, capitalist crime, corporate crime and secondary victimisation. These crimes are invisible to the positivist approach. “Essentially radical victimology concerns itself with: victims of the police force, the victims of war, the victims of the correlation system, the victims of state violence and the victims of oppression of any sort “(R.

    I, Walklate S. 1994) which are not addressed at all by the positivist theory. Also the radical approach would also point out that “criminal victimisation is one aspect of social victimisation arising from poverty and disadvantages” (Vito, G. Maahs, J. 2011). Showing that it is important to take into account the social class, race, sex and culture, relating to a crime not just the relationship between the victim and the offender and the role the victim has within the crime that has been committed.

    Also another area in that radical victimology addresses which positivist victimology does not is human rights. “The definition of human rights which seems to be implied from within radical victimology is a very broad one. It concerns itself not just with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but also with the economic, social and cultural rights”(Mawby R. I, Walklate S. 1994). Showing that radical victimology looks at a more holistic approach to victimology. Rather than just assessing the role the victim has in the crime that has been committed against them.

    Radical victimology is also concerned with highlighting corporate crime as “the majority of those suffering from corporate crime remain unaware of their victimisation” (Walklate, S 2007) which is not present within the positivist approach but is an actually crime. Another area in which is not looked into in the positivist approach is the involvement of the state and victimisation “the relative invisibility of some forms of victimisation (those associated with the work place and those committed in the interest of the state)” by looking at state crimes a link can be made between maintaining a capitalist state in society.

    For example the bourgeoisies who own the means of production exploit the proletariats for their labour in creating a surplus value, however the proletariats feel this is fair as they are gaining a wage at the end of the day. But this wage is in no comparison to the surplus value leading to exploitation and capitalist victimisation. These main areas are not mentioned in the positivist victimology theory, but can be a main cause of victimisation that is not visible to many people.

    Another approach to victimology is the critical approach, they would also criticize the positivist approach, as they see by using the typologies to create how vulnerable an individual is to being victimised can cause stereotyping victims, “Victims by which who are measured, victims who do not fit the stereotype of an ideal victim, are not likely to receive recognition and services” (Wilson, J. 2009). For example within the victim proneness typology these is no mention of males. This could discourage males from reporting crimes committed against them.

    Also a concern with radical and feminist victimologists is to highlight “the importance of understanding the process that goes on behind our backs, which contribute to the victims (and the crime) we see as opposed to that which we do not” (Mawby R. I, Walklate S. 1994) that contribute to victimisation. For example that individuals are far too complex to judge how likely someone is to be victimised due to their lifestyle, such as the approach to positivist and the lifestyle theory. Another example being crimes of the capitalist state highlighted more within the radical approach as the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariats. Highlighting the role of the state in perpetuating equalities” (Marsh, I. Melville, G. 2009)

    However the positivist approach does have its advantages, such as using victim precipitation a picture can be built of how innocent or guilty a victim may be in the cause of their victimisation. Also by using the victim proneness typology vulnerable groups of individuals can be seen. However by mainly “focusing on either personal characteristics of the victim or their contribution that their behaviour on the commissions of crime” (Wilson, J. 009), critical victimologists would see this as a major fault and disadvantage of the positivist approach. By using the victim proneness typology, it can create an ideal victim which then could cause individuals who do not fit this role not to taken into account or neglected within the criminal justice system. Also there are many areas of victimology and key victimisations are missing from the positivist approach to victimology; For example highlighted within the feminist approach the link between the affect that gender can have on victimisation and the types of crimes committed by each gender.

    Feminist would also argue that by using victim precipitation and Mendelsohn’s typology that the blame can shift from the perpetrator to the victim. Also missing from the positivist approach is the crimes that they do not address such as crimes of the powerful for instance white collar crime, capitalist crime, and corporate crime. Radical victimologists would argue that by not taking into account these crimes it does not show how society can be victimised by what social class they belong too, which is a major disadvantage for the positivist approach.

    To conclude the positivist approach does provide some advantages to victimology. However there is a lack of evidence with some of the theories and there are areas within victimology that the positivist approach does not cover, which other approaches do, to provide a better understanding of victimology.

    Reference list:

    Brookman, F (2005). Understanding Homicide. London: SAGE. P113. Mawby R. I, Walklate S. (1994). Critical Victimology. London: SAGE. p13 Mawby R. I, Walklate S. (1994). Critical Victimology. London: SAGE. p16. Mawby R. I, Walklate S. (1994).

    Critical Victimology. London: SAGE. p19. Marsh, I. Melville, G. (2009) Crime justice and the media. Oxan: Routladge . P102 Marsh, I. Melville, G. (2009) Crime justice and the media. Oxan: Routladge . P104 Walklate, S (2007). Imagining the victim of crime. Berkshire: open University press. P. 31 Walklate, S (2007). Imagining the victim of crime. Berkshire: open University press. P. 34 Walklate, S (2007). Imagining the victim of crime. Berkshire: open University press. P. 39 Walklate, S. (2007). Understanding Criminology: . Portsmouth: McGraw-Hill International.

    P124. Wilson, J. (2009). The Praeger Handbook of Victimology. California: ABC-CLIO. p63. Wilson, J. (2009). The Praeger Handbook of Victimology. California: ABC-CLIO. P97 Vito, G. Maahs, J. (2011). Criminology theory research and policy. 3rd ed. London: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. P66. Spalek, B (2006). Crime Victims. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. P34 Shaw, J. (2012). Fact sheet: Secondary victimisation. Available: http://www. eaplstudent. com/component/content/article/201-fact-sheet-secondary-victimization. [Last accessed 28/11/2012. ]

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