Resurrection of Victims

By Petrovec, Dragan | Social Justice, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Resurrection of Victims


Petrovec, Dragan, Social Justice


The Traditional Approach to Victimology

Even some of the oldest legal sources refer not only to the offender and to punishment, but in some cases also talk about the victims of a crime. A certain type of redress (restitution, compensation) was envisaged for the victim, either in money or through the granting of certain rights or benefits that the victim could not have acquired had he not been the victim of a particular act.

The Code of Hammurabi granted special "redress" to a woman who was a victim of a crime. If she was insulted by her husband without her being at fault, if he strayed from the home or seriously humiliated her, she could take her dowry and return to her father's house (Korosec, 1954: 71).

The victim appears in all subsequent legal sources, but it was three millennia before Mendelsohn in 1947 coined the expression "victimology" (Separovic, 1985: 10), a term he arrived at 10 years after writing about the personality characteristics of victims and six years after Hans Von Henting had attempted to explain the victim-criminal interaction (Ibid.).

This opened up a new field of criminology. Anttila (1974: 5) writes that:

for decades the offenders had been the focus of interest. Now the same type of questions about anomalies, peculiarities, mental illness, intelligence, or character defects may be raised with regard to the victims. The scope of crime research is thus enlarged 100% and somehow balanced.

Victimology set about the task of studying various subjects. Tyndel (1974: 5562), for example, wrote about offenders without victims, Silverman (1974: 99-110) raised the idea of victim precipitation, Landau (1974:137-154) looked at the offender's perception of a victim, and many writers made victimological surveys of specific crimes (theft, burglary, rape, domestic violence, etc.). The conclusions and recommendations adopted by the First International Symposium on Victimology (1973) presented a definition of victimology, discussed the causes of victimization, and proposed measures of prevention and treatment, stating that all nations should establish systems of state compensation for victims of crime (Drapkin and Viano, 1974:209-211).

The victim in penal proceedings is a chapter unto itself. On the one hand, there is the victim as evidence and, on the other, the question of the rights that the victim in penal proceedings should have concerning the protection of his or her own interests. Tartaglione (1974: 5) states that in much legislation the victim of a crime is granted the possibility to intervene in penal proceedings with special powers of action to gain a judgment that can satisfy his individual rights (compensation, restitution, etc.).

In the 1980s, victim protection was discussed at United Nations congresses. The Seventh Congress of the U.N. Committee on Crime Prevention (Milan, 1985) dealt with, among other things, the problem of victims of crime, paying special attention to particularly vulnerable groups such as children, young people, women, and ethnic minorities (Separovic, 1985: 245-246).

The U.N. Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (1985) contains a broad definition of a victim, recognizing that millions of people throughout the world suffer harm as result of crime and the abuse of power and that the rights of these victims have not been adequately recognized. The annex to this declaration calls upon member states to inform victims of their rights in seeking redress.

In this article the following two terms are particularly important: "victims of the abuse of power" and "redress." Essentially, victims of the abuse of power have existed for as long as victims of crime have. Yet the term victimology, despite the broad definition contained in the U.N. Declaration, first conjures an image of victims of ordinary offenses - theft, burglary, violence, fraud, and traffic accidents. Only exceptionally do we think of the uncommon violence carried out by the state against its citizens (victims), and even then mainly from a historical perspective. …

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