Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

The Importance of Integrating Victimology in White-Collar Crime: A Targeted Comment on Barak's Analysis in Theft of a Nation

Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

The Importance of Integrating Victimology in White-Collar Crime: A Targeted Comment on Barak's Analysis in Theft of a Nation

Article excerpt

My first reading of Theft of a Nation was last year when Gregg Barak was awarded the 2012 outstanding publication from the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). The nomination of the book received by NW3C's Research Consortium gave high praises to the work-with good reason. Barak's important contribution reminds of us of the disturbing reality of the ongoing, often ignored, blatant financial crimes occurring at troubling rates nationally and globally. While Barak addresses the complexity of financial wrongdoing and regulation, or lack thereof, in an insightful manner, I chose to focus this commentary on his analysis of victimization. In early research, white-collar crime literature decried the vast and unknown financial, physical, and emotional harm to victims as the greatest travesty, yet with little acknowledgement of victimology. Barak and other prominent scholars, to their credit, are attempting to improve our understanding of victimization by focusing on the target of the harm beyond macro-level social constructs and vague damage estimates (see e.g., Ganzini, McFarland, and Bloom 1990; Lewis 2010; McGurrin and Friedrichs 2010; Szockyj and Fox 1996).

Barak accurately notes the difficulties of separating individualized and organizational victimization, particularly related to the Wall Street financial meltdown. The widespread nature of victimization includes all levels of society without regard to age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. In other words, white- collar crime creates a status of vulnerability for a wide and diverse group of citizens.

Barak identifies the victims of white-collar crime as the entire spectrum of the population. The characteristics of the victims of financial crime move beyond traditional views of criminal behavior and victimization associated with street-level offenses as committed primarily by and toward the disenfranchised. Barak initially focuses attention on race and poverty, variables seldom recognized in most financial cases, with the exception of environmental pollution and, in some instances, the mortgage crisis.

His application of the "weathering framework" and resulting stress, though thoughtful, creates complexities, such as social level changes, that are seemingly impossible to overcome in terms of improved programs and policies designed to assist and compensate victims of white-collar crime. The weathering framework, according to Barak, was developed to "measure the rates of aging that link social inequality, racism, and biology to socioeconomic and racial/ethnic group victimization" (p. 115). Barak argues financial fraud victims' experiences are similar to institutionalized victims; all of who face racism and gender bias. How to make sense of this approach at a policy level may puzzle the most thoughtful legislator, though as Barak notes, blaming the victim under the guise of capitalism and free markets ignores the social and cultural aspects of fraud.

The noted lack of criminal prosecution in cases of financial crime is reminiscent of the Sutherland and Tappan debate in which a major hurdle to reducing victimization and organizational misbehavior stems from the fact that such practices are more likely to be labeled as civil wrongdoings or regulatory violations, than criminal behavior. Clearly, any attempt at prosecution in cases as widespread as the Wall Street financial crisis may be viewed as folly on the part of federal prosecutors, and large monetary settlements appear to placate a small portion of the victims.

As Barak indicates, the identification of a victim should be a relatively easy task, although this is seldom the case in white-collar crimes because of the socio-legal traditions as well as political, economic, and cultural values that are enmeshed in constructing the role of the victim (p. 117). Additionally, victim rights measures already in place for traditional street crimes, rarely apply to suite crimes. The recourse, as suggested by Barak, is civil lawsuits. …

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