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

By Vera Bergelson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THIS BOOK is about the “penal couple,”1 the two individuals most directly involved in a criminal act—the victim and the perpetrator. What roles do they play in a criminal episode? How should we evaluate their participation in it and attribute liability for the resulting harm? Should the perpetrator always be the single culprit or should his responsibility depend on the conduct of the victim? These questions are at the center of Victims' Rights and Victims' Wrongs: Comparative Liability in Criminal Law.

It is common to think of crime as something that “bad guys” do to “good guys” and of criminal adjudication as “us” against “them.” This thinking is reflected even in the way we identify criminal cases: “People v. John Doe.” We, “the People,” prosecute John Doe. If he is wrong, then we—all of us, including the victim—are right. The guilt of the perpetrator presumes the innocence of the victim. In fact, perception of victims as innocent has a long history, which significantly predates our legal system. In numerous cultures, as evidenced by linguistics, the notion of victimhood is tied to the religious sacrifice. Most Semitic, Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages have the same word for the victims of sacrifice and the victims of crime.2 This homonymy is rooted in the dichotomous vision of the world as split into two categories, the guilty and the innocent. Those who were to serve as victims of sacrifice had to be pure, without blemish, and today too we continue to associate victimhood with innocence.3

It is also natural to think of the victim in the passive voice, as someone who was harmed, someone who was an object rather than a subject of an offense. Perhaps this image has historical and religious connotations as well.

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