The History Of Victimology and Utilization Of Victim Blaming

The term “victimology” first emerged from the work of Mendelsohn and supported by Von Hentig in the late 1940s. Mendelson and Von Hentig aimed to “understand the relationships between victims and offenders, and the victimization process itself” (Davies,2013). Victimology has had a significant impact on Criminology and the shift towards a focus of the victim, with the development of schools of thought and ideas of the causes of victimisation. Since the late 16 hundred, the meaning of ‘victim’ as changed dramatically, with the role of the victim themselves. Victims are found to have a critical role in the criminal justice system. In the time of the late 19th century, an increase of recognition and policy has had a positive response to how victims are treated; however, it is evident that victims still may be mistreated and marginalized within the system.

Benjamin Mendelsohn’s creation of the term ‘victimology’ in 1947 stemmed from an interest in victim and offender relationships. victimology was intended to be a separate strand of social science to criminology, with the purpose to focus solely on the victim. Many schools of thought have emerged within victimology which have varying perspectives on the victim-offender relationship and how the victim has come to be victimised. Hans Von Hentig (1948) built on the victim-offender relationship and theorised why victims may come to be victims in his typology of victim proneness. In his book “The criminal and his victim”, Von Hentig describes victim characteristics in which cause or have a significant impact on the victim being targeted. Some of these characteristics include the young; the vulnerable; minorities and the mentally ill, which can all me seen as uncontrollable factors of victimisation. Later in 1956, Mendelsohn produced the theory of ‘victim culpability’, in which he attempts to identify 6 types of victims. The first type he identified was the ‘completely innocent’ victim. This is a victim who does not proactively contribute to the attack and therefore the crime was unpredictable. ‘victim due to ignorance’ is seen as a victim who was unknowingly at risk, for example, doing something which places them at risk. The ‘voluntary victim’ is victimised whilst partaking in activities that are high risk. Another victim type is the ‘victim more guilty than the offender’, provoking the attack but resulting in causing their own victimisation. A victim who is the perpetrator, but the circumstances change, and they become the victim, can be known as the ‘most guilty victim’. Finally, the ‘imaginary victim’ is those who give false reports and have not been victimised. Ideas of victim culpability and victim proneness are associated with the early school of thought of positivist victimology. Positivist victimology focuses on aetiology- the study of causation- in order to determine factors, the victim may have or have caused to be victimised. As described by Miers (1989,p3), positivist victimology focuses on two factors of victimisation; the characteristics of victims which make them prone to victimisation and the recognition of certain crimes and the relationship between the victim and offender which may explain the purpose of their victimisation. focused on victim culpability, victim precipitation and proneness, positivist victimology uses these concepts to attempt to measure victimisation. On the other hand, this early approach is highly discredited as it makes assumptions about victims and utilises victim blaming when explaining crime patterns. This approach is also seen as primarily focused on risk factors of individuals in order to measure using quantitative results, in turn ignoring social factors and overlooks conflicts between social groups which actions may be criminalised (Cohen 1973).

Since the 16th century, victims were often underrepresented in the criminal justice system with small involvement in cases. However, during the 1950s and 1960s, a re-emergence of the victim followed the ideas that victimology introduced with increased recognition of victims. The term is defined by the United Nations in 1985 as “persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States”. Whilst this definition of victims covers a variety of victims and the impacts on such victims, it can be undermined by the idea of the ‘ideal victim’.in society and the media, there is stereotypes used when presenting victims, often these stereotypes create a false reality of crime. Nils christie’s (1986) identifies the ‘ideal victim’ as someone who is granted legitimate victim status. Legitimate victim status is often depended on characteristics portrayed in society, as Christie identifies these as the victim being vulnerable and weak, the victim being blameless, the offender is a stranger to the victim and the offender is “big and bad”. A perfect example of this perfect victim would be a young, white, pretty, married mothers of small children or virginial and young girls (Cavender et al, 1999). These features are ideal as women and girls are stereotyped as innocent as well as being common targets as reported by the media. This portrayal of an ideal can a significant negative impact on those who do not come under that idea. Members of marginalized groups have difficulty gaining legitimate victim status and therefore are not taken seriously in the criminal justice process. The perception of the ideal victim also has a negative impact on women, in the example of rape, many women are subject to victim blaming if they were wearing clothing considered provocative, or in the wrong area. Recently, many have expressed distaste with the word ‘victim’ all together, as it has these strong negative connotations against it that they are weak and helpless.

The recognition of victims and their needs since the late 19th century has caused an essential development of policy. In 1990 the victims charter was established and was later updated in 2005 to what is known as the victim’s code of practice, with the latest version from 2015. This piece of legislation sets out basic universal rights for victims in which various criminal justice agencies should follow, including enhanced entitlements for those who need them. This document provides victims help through the criminal justice system by talking through the court process, requiring updates on the investigation and referral to victim support services.  

Reference List

  1. Davies, P. (2013).22. Victims. In Criminology (3rd ed). Oxford: Oxford University press.
  2. Newburn, T.(2017). 18. Victims, victimisation and victimology. In criminology (3rd ed). Routledge.
  3. Von Hentig, H. (1948). The Criminal and His Victim. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  4. Mendelsohn, B. (1956) cited in Sengstock, M. C.(1976). The Culpable Victim in Mendelsohn’s Typology. ERIC document reproduction service. Retrieved from-
  6. Cavender, G., Bond-Maupin, L., & Jurik, N. C. (1999). The construction of gender in reality crime TV. Gender & society. 13(5), 643-663. Retrieved from-
  8. Ministry of justice. (2015). Victims code of practice. Retrieved from-
16 December 2021
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