Academic journal article Nottingham Law Journal

Victims, Trauma, Testimony

Academic journal article Nottingham Law Journal

Victims, Trauma, Testimony

Article excerpt


The purpose of this paper is to explore the interconnections between the rising policy concern with the victim (of crime) on the one hand and the social recognition of trauma on the other. In so doing the paper will address three interconnected themes. In the first instance it will map some aspects of the changing contours of victimhood over the last fifty years. This section of the paper will be particularly concerned to address the changing nature of claims to victim status: who can and who cannot legitimately claim the label victim. The second part of the paper will overlay this map with an appreciation of the changing nature of the concept of trauma: who can and who cannot legitimately claim to be traumatised. In the light of these considerations the third section of the paper will ask some questions about the legitimacy of the policy concern to listen to victims' voices: the problem of testimony. Here the paper will be concerned to ask some questions concerning the efficacy of such policy developments if the claim to victim status rests on a presumption of trauma. All of these considerations will be presented in the spirit of exploring what might be called a critical victimological imagination.


Arguably, over the last fifty years or so, there have been two phases in the contours of victimhood. These phases cannot be separated from each other easily but thinking of them as separate, if not separable, is a heuristic device that facilitates an understanding of the issues with which this paper is concerned. The first phase takes us from the late 1960s until the early 1990s. During this phase it is possible to map the emergent concerns of victimology as a discipline alongside those of feminism. The second phase takes us from the mid 1990s to the present. Here our attention is drawn to the emergent concerns of what might be called a 'culture of victimhood' that resonates with the work of Furedi. (1) In what follows something will be said about each of these phases in turn, but first it will be useful to make some observations about the origins of victimology as an area of investigation.

Victimology, rather like criminology, is an eclectically informed meeting place for academics, practitioners and policy makers who share a common concern with the victim (of crime) and the processes associated with victimhood. Its life began in the late 1940s. A number of different people have been attributed as the Founding Fathers of this (sub)discipline, notably, Benaimin Mendelsohn, Hans Von Hentig and Frederic Wertham. However what is without doubt is that Mendelsohn is widely regarded as proposing this area of concern as a scientific study of the victim. Moreover their collective concern with the victim needs to be situated in its historical context. These men, as emigre lawyer-criminologists, were concerned, as many other intellectuals were from the 1930s onwards, to try and make sense of the events surrounding the Second World War, particularly The Holocaust. Their interest in the victim, stemming from these wider concerns, generated two key concepts: victim precipitation and victim proneness. These concepts lay the foundation of what Miers was later to call 'positivist victimology'. (2) This version of victimology informs one of the strands of work that can be associated with what I have called here the first phase of the contours of victimhood.

The refinement of each of these concepts over the years, but particularly the latter of the two, became transformed into what became known as the 'lifestyle exposure model' of criminal victimisation and this underpinned the development of the criminal victimisation survey. The introduction of this survey method, in the late 1960s in the United States and in the early 1980s in the U.K. contributed not only to the emergence of victimology as a discipline but also to the dominance of this version of victimological work: positivist victimology. …

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