The Evolution of the Concept of Victim

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This report will provide the information about the evolution of the concept of "victim" and the study of victimology. Victimology is a term first coined for a specialty within the field of criminology. In recent times, victimology has come to embrace a wide array of professional disciplines working with victims. In its original form, victimology examined characteristics of victims and how they "contributed" to their victimization. The emergence of the crime victims' rights movement has influenced the field of victimology and the nature of the research. Current research has been helpful in identifying risk factors related to victimization, without blaming victims.

The concept of victim dates back to ancient cultures and civilizations, such as the ancient Hebrews. Its original meaning was rooted in the idea of sacrifice or scapegoat -- the execution or casting out of a person or animal to satisfy a deity or hierarchy. Over the centuries, the word victim came to have additional meanings. During the founding of victimology in the 1940s, victims were defined as hapless dupes who instigated their own victimizations. This notion of "victim precipitation" was replaced by the notion of victims as anyone caught up in an asymmetric relationship or situation. "Asymmetry" means anything unbalanced, exploitative, parasitical, oppressive, and destructive, alienating, or having inherent suffering. In this view, victimology is all about power differentials. Today, the concept of victim includes any person who experiences injury, loss, or hardship due to any cause. Basically it is the image of someone who has suffered injury and harm by forces beyond his or her control.
The term "crime victim" generally refers to any person, group, or entity who has suffered injury or loss due to illegal activity. The harm can be physical, psychological, or economic. The legal definition of "victim" typically includes the following: A person who has suffered direct, or threatened, physical, emotional or pecuniary harm as a result of the commission of a crime; or in the case of a victim being an institutional entity, any of the same harms by an individual or authorized representative of another entity. Group harms are normally covered under civil and constitutional law, with "hate crime" being an eme...

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...educed risk of assault.
Being a young discipline, many areas of victimology remain uncharted territory and have yet to be explored by inquisitive and adventurous researchers. It is said that the coming years will witness a growing realization that action not backed by research is a mere ideological exercise, and that practice not grounded in theory is dangerous and potentially harmful. An obvious need for solid empirical research will make itself felt, and such research will be helpful in the reduction of error.


Hentig, von, Hans. (1948). The Criminal and His Victim. New Haven: Yale U. Press.
Karmen, A. (1992). Crime Victims. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole.
Mendelsohn, B. (1963). "The Origin of the Doctrine of Victimology" Excerpta
Criminologica 3:30
Zawitz, M. W. (1983). Report to the nation on crime and justice: The data. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Document #NCJ-87068; U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Document #NCJ-87068.

Widom, C. S. (1989). The cycle of violence. Science, 244, 160-166.

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