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Victimology and Understanding Domestic Violence

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By Dr. Jade Pumphrey, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

*This article is part of In Public Safety’s October focus on domestic violence awareness*

With the rise in domestic violence, there is a greater need to understand why and to what extent certain individuals become victims of domestic violence. Victimology prioritizes understanding the role that victims play in their victimization and shifts attention to the specific actions and behaviors of victims that led to their victimization.

[Related Article: What Constitutes Domestic Violence?]

The study of victimology is a fairly new subset in the study of criminology and emerged in the 1940s and 1950s. The early work of German scholar Hans von Hentig focused upon the need to examine the relationship between the victim and the criminal act (Doerner & Lab, 2008). He developed a classification typology of crime victims and argued that there were not only physical elements to consider (i.e. female, frail), but also various social and psychological disadvantages common to many crime victims (Doerner & Lab, 2008). For example, it is neither easy nor commonplace for victims to leave their abuser, even if they have experienced ongoing physical violence.

Understanding victimology and the role of the victim has led to some important legislation for victims.

Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and Victim’s Rights
The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) was passed in 1984 and provides states access to federal funds to support programs for victims. Several states have enacted some measure of the Victim’s Rights Amendment (VRA) to their respective state constitutions.

The purpose of these amendments is to provide victims with various entitlements and rights about their participation in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides victims and witnesses of crimes certain privileges and protections under the federal government. The Crime Victims Bill of Rights proposed in 2004 maintains policies for protecting the general interests of crime victims (Doerner & Lab, 2008).

[Related Article: The Need for a Robust Victim Assistance Program]

Victim Impact Statements
Victim impact statements have been perhaps one of the most noteworthy steps toward victim’s rights legislation and reform. Victim impact statements allow victims to offer an emotional account of the extent of their victimization, including any financial costs they have endured as a result of their victimization (Doerner & Lab, 2008).

Victims can furnish their statement as part of the original presentencing investigation report or they may decide to offer their victim impact statement as an oral presentation during the sentencing hearing.

However, research finds that very few victims offer victim impact statements at any time during the investigation and sentencing process. Often times, victims are simply not aware that they have a right to be heard in this respect (Doerner & Lab, 2008).

[Related Article: The Challenges of Domestic Violence Investigations]

Further, victims may be intimidated by the criminal justice system and may fear being blamed for the crime, criticism, or retaliation. Some victims decline to participate with victim impact statements for fear of having to emotionally revisit their victim scenarios.

Informing victims of their rights is an important to stopping domestic violence. Law enforcement agencies must have robust victim assistance programs (VAPs) in place to assist victims after they are victimized. These restorative justice programs offer the opportunity to help victims recover from the harm they experienced from their victimization.

Jade PumphreyAbout the Author: Dr. Jade Pumphrey has worked in higher education since 2006 and has taught more than 65 different criminal justice courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She currently serves as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. Dr. Pumphrey obtained an AS in General Science, BS in Criminal Justice, MS in Forensic Science Investigations and a PhD in Public Safety/Criminal Justice with a 4.0 G.P.A.  In addition to currently working in higher education as a faculty member, Dr. Pumphrey also volunteers for her local police department as an on-call, victim assistant.

References
Doerner, W., & Lab, S. P. (2008). Victimology (5th ed.). Newark: Matthew Bender & Company, Inc.

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