Victims' Rights and Victims' Wrongs: Comparative Liability in Criminal Law

By Vera Bergelson | Go to book overview

1

VICTIMS' CONDUCT IN CRIMINAL LAW
AND CRIMINOLOGY

CRIMINOLOGICAL STUDIES OF VICTIMS
AND VICTIM-OFFENDER RELATIONSHIPS

For years, social scientists have been calling attention to the incomplete, decontextualized approach taken by the law—with respect not only to the victimoffender relationship but also to other aspects of criminal behavior relevant to the concept of personal responsibility, the overarching concept of criminal justice.1 This narrowness has been the source of great frustration among social scientists whose work has been systematically excluded from the lawmaking process. A scholar complained: “Much that a social scientist would want to know about the historical, social, contextual, and even immediate situational influences on criminal behavior—knowledge that otherwise would be crucial to meaningfully analyze and truly understand the actions of a criminal offender— is deemed irrelevant by the criminal law.”2 One of the major shortcomings of criminal law, in their view, is that penal statutes do not adequately reflect the variations of human interactions. Criminal law has been criticized because

[i]t introduced abstraction as a domineering force, it introduced the rule of
the paper, and it made criminal justice merely the interpretative machinery of
the printed law: the goddess Justicia probably was impartial and knew the law
very well, but her blindfold deprived her of the sight of complex interactions,
group characteristics, and social problems. The criminal-victim relationship,
like many other aspects of crime, therefore remained unknown to her.3

Of course, as a normative code, the law ought to be selective in choosing relevant facts; however, to be fair and effective, it may not ground its doctrines

-9-

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