The concept of criminal victimization knows no boundaries. One must recognize anybody, anywhere, under any set of circumstances may become a victim of a crime. The study of victimology developed to help us understand how people become victims and the after-effects of the crime upon them.
Victimology is the scientific study of victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders, the interactions between victims and the criminal-justice system, and the connections between victims and other social groups and institutions. The factors and interactions are many. To better understand victimization, one must take the time to review what happened before, during, and after a criminal act to not only determine the role and modus operandi of the criminal, but what role (if any) the victim played.
Since 1981, the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) has held an annual observance of National Crime Victim’s Rights Week (NCVRW). NCVRW is being observed this week to reinforce victim’s rights and to honor crime victims and those who represent them. Honoring a victim may be peculiar to some. However, we can all agree that there should be compassion for someone who has been victimized. NCVRW also centers around the needs of the victim.
The more serious the crime, the more seriously one is victimized. Once the act of victimization is first experienced, the sense of being a victim does not dissipate or fade away. Victimization becomes a part of the victim’s life unless assistance is provided. Those who survive a serious encounter had something taken from them far greater in value than the cash or property.
Quite often, a victim of a serious offense has their autonomy stolen. Their decision making ability is taken from them. The physical encounter is over, but the victimization remains. Such victims enter a world where they blame themselves for what happened.
This is why we honor those who are crime victims. We recognize the horrendous incident they experienced. By honoring victims, society helps restore their autonomy. We help to reestablish a victim’s sense of self-worth and personal identity. Losing one’s autonomy is the most serious of all crimes except for one.
We cannot overlook remembering those who were injured or died. How about someone who is shot and killed when asleep? There is no interaction or confrontation between the offender and the victim at the time of the shooting. We all find that troubling, but quite often there is more to this story. A follow-up investigation more often than not will demonstrate that an offender progresses to a greater level of violence if permitted. Death is the end result to some victims who do not seek assistance.
Many victims work in “good faith” to address an ongoing problem. The potential offender perceives this conduct as a weakness. Lack of action with law enforcement reinforces to an offender that the victim will not fight back and this encourages more victimization.
Victims must be supported to report incidents immediately, before the situation escalates and when intervention from the criminal justice system can help stop the behavior. We have learned that domestic violence victims often will not report an incident. There are many factors which cause this lack of reporting. Some people do not trust the police. Some blame themselves. Some are economically dependent on the abuser and the loss of wages if the abuser goes to jail will devastate the household. They accept apologies, believing the abusing partner that they will never do so again. Some are fearful of retribution.
When I was working on my Master’s thesis, I learned about the victim/offender overlap. Often, after continuous acts of victimization, one abandons the role of the victim to take on the role of the offender in order to survive. Only the strong survive.
I worked a second job as a counselor in a youth shelter. It took several months to earn the respect of those housed at the shelter. Of all things, it came down to a basketball game. Two 17-year olds freshly incarcerated on felony charges were looking forward to taking control of the shelter. These two knew I played basketball. They wanted to send a message to me and other shelter residents. I knew they planned on embarrassing me.
I spoke with a long-time shelter resident. This young man was a tremendous basketball player. He agreed to play with me. We played one game, two against two, the first to score 21 points won. All the shelter residents sat around the court to watch the game. The two who generated the challenge lost. This broke the ice between the residents and me. From that day conversations began to flow on various topics.
I learned that there are no born criminals. After I interviewed shelter residents, I followed up by sending out anonymous questionnaires. Each resident indicated that he experienced ongoing victimization before committing his first crime.
When asked why they acted out, each indicated that they were tired of being the victim. When their victimizers went unprosecuted, they changed over to criminal offending. I asked the When m how they felt when committing a crime. The answer was that they enjoyed a “rush of excitement.” It was like getting high on drugs! They also enjoyed the sense of power. It felt so good, they wanted to do it again, and they did. The result is they ended up at the shelter awaiting court on felony charges. These youths were victims as much as they were offenders. When their autonomy was stolen by continued exposure to the role of a victim, the only way out was to gain superiority by taking on the role of the offender.
This victim/offender overlap factors in heavily with “active shooters,” such as school shooters. Studies have demonstrated that most “active shooters” don’t have criminal records. All of them report victimization in various forms including bullying and ridicule from fellow students.
The “active shooter” acts out in retribution against those who have mistreated him. Generally, the “active shooter” is male and works alone. He has a plan and is intent on carrying it out. Quite often the shooter is suicidal. What each middle school, high school, and college needs to understand is whether or not an active shooter was embarrassed, humiliated, bullied or not shown respect by members of the administrative staff is not important. In the mind of the “active shooter”, it is real. In his rationale, it did happen.
It is this thinking, which provides justification to the active shooter to seek vengeance. A student who feels that he is continually mistreated and disrespected whether this is real or imagined only has one way out of the situation in his own mind. To overcome being the victim whose autonomy is stolen by the ridicule, the student moves from the victim role to assuming the role of the offender, as an “active shooter.”
How do we honor National Crime Victims Rights Week? Let’s remember those who have died as crime victims and their loved ones who remain behind. Let’s demonstrate compassion to the living victims of crime. Most importantly, let’s be sure to reach out to victims of ongoing victimization, whether it occurs in the home, the street, the work environment, or a school settling to help give them the emotional or the law enforcement support they need to end the situation.
Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executive officer. He is an ILEETA and ICAP member. Jim mentors the next generation of LEO’s by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.
Learn more about this article here: