Every year, thousands of people, are abused, bullied, harassed, and killed by various forms of crime. A person can be a victim of rape, robbery, murder, etc. The rights of victims have not received much attention from the criminal justice system. “A victim is someone who has experienced economic harm, physical or mental suffering, or property damage as a result of a crime”. Victimology, which is defined as the study of victims, is a relatively recent academic discipline. Enhancing our knowledge of the psychological impacts of crimes on victims, the interaction between victims and law enforcement agencies, and the relationships between perpetrators and victims are the goals of victimology research. The increasing importance of victimology filled a gap in criminology and significantly changed how crime is studied. After all, “you cannot seek to understand the psychology of the criminal if you do not first understand the sociology of the victim”.
Meaning and evolution of victimology
In common usage, “victim refers to anyone who suffers harm, loss, or hardship as a result of many factors, including crime”. Victimology is thus a study of those who endure loss or injury caused by any reason and such harm or injury may be psychological, physical, financial, or emotional. As a result, the “victim of crime is defined as the individual who has suffered at the hands of a criminal”.
According to Section 2(wa), the term victim is defined as: “A person who has suffered any injury or loss caused because of the act or omission for which the accused person has been charged, and the expression victim includes his or her guardian or legal heir”.Victims were given priority under ancient criminal law, ensuring them an advantage over the entire criminal justice system despite certain drawbacks. Even some animals and trees were considered holy and harming them was a grave sin for which offenders were subject to severe punishments and incarceration. Stephen Schafer refers to it as the “Golden Age of Victims” for this reason.
There was an evident transformation in every aspect of life in the 16th and 17th centuries as a result of the Industrial and French Revolution which gave birth to the ‘Adversarial System’. According to Stephen Schafer, this was the time when the victim’s importance in the “criminal justice system” began to erode and the focus of criminal law shifted to the perpetrator. After the Second World War, some criminologists began to examine the link between criminals and victims to better understand the cause and consequences of crime.
PURPOSE & IMPORTANCE OF VICTIMOLOGY
Victimology is vital for assisting professionals who work in the legal system, mental health facilities, and law enforcement agencies, as well as for informing the public about behaviors that increase their risk of becoming victims. Identifying the factors that could render someone prone to become a victim is the fundamental goal of the study of victimology. There are various factors regarding the significance of victimology –
- The analysis of criminal victim relations helps us to recognize the persons or groups which may be the targets of crime.
- The seriousness of the crime can be well determined by ascertaining the fact of what the victim feels about the crime. Establishing efficient victim services, and compensation schemes require an adequate understanding of the various requirements of victims of all kinds of crime.
- A dynamic, circumstantial approach to criminology that sees criminal behavior as the result of changing modes of interaction rather than a static, partial examination of the qualities and attributes of the offender holds enormous potential for transforming criminology.
- Victimology serves to aid psychologists working in forensics in enhancing several facets of the law enforcement system.
Victim blaming is the deliberate act of making a victim of a crime bear full or partial blame and responsibility for crimes committed against them without their consent and fault. This blame may manifest in the form of harsh remarks from the media, acquaintances, as well as from doctors, lawyers, and mental health specialists. Victim blaming allows people to assume that they are immune to crime. Melvin J. Lerner first proposed the just-world theory, commonly referred to as the “just-world hypothesis”, in the 1960s. He noted that many individuals felt that the world is just, equitable, and pure to comprehend or overcome with many atrocities. Through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme of 1964, England became the first nation to formally establish a legal structure for the ‘protection of crime victim rights’ and victim compensation by the State.
EFFECTS OF VICTIM BLAMING
Imagine you are already traumatized and destroyed after surviving a brutal crime and suddenly you are bombarded with comments like – ‘The victim was just asking for it’, ‘The victim probably made it up’, or ‘The victim should not have been in that area’. This is the cost of being a victim. Victim blaming can have several serious and disastrous impacts on vulnerable victims. One effect of victim blaming is that they will be less likely to report future abuse which can be destructive, inflicting additional trauma to the victim. It intensifies feelings of shame, remorse, and self-blame. To ensure that criminal bears the burden of the crime they have committed, we have to relocate our perception of culpability from the innocent victim to the offender of the criminal activity. Having a community response is one strategy to ensure that a criminal is held responsible for their acts.
DEFENDING VICTIMS’ RIGHTS THROUGH STATUTORY REFORM
Many nations have made significant advancements since the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice, for Victims of Power Abuse and Crime, was adopted in 1985. According to reports, “England was the first nation to develop a legal framework for the protection of crime victims’ rights along with providing victims’ compensation by the State under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme of 1964”.
In its report, the ‘Justice Malimath Committee Report on Victims of Crime and Reforms in Criminal Justice System (2003)’ recommended that the rights of victims to appeal against orders made by the trial court be strengthened and that, in cases where the prosecution declines to file an appeal, the accused also have the right to file an appeal against an acquittal to the High Court. As a result of the Malimath Committee’s recommendations, Section 372 of the Criminal Procedure Code, as amended by the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act of 2008, states that victims are no longer required to obtain permission from the prosecution before filing an appeal against an accused person’s acquittal. Additionally, the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act included a new section 357-A to the Criminal Procedure Code that safeguards and compensates crime victims’ constitutional rights.
The criminal justice system’s primary goal is to uphold justice and protect victims. Justice, however, is only carried out in letter and not in spirit due to the consequences, fear of victim blaming, and ignorance regarding the offender’s liability. This blog focuses on specific issues unraveling the ever-increasing importance of victimology and indicating that the administration of justice for victims of crime is not only a legal concern but also involves psychological, social, economic, and moral consequences making it necessary for a collaborative, multifaceted approach from experts in different fields. Legislative policy and law reform regarding victims’ recourse and assistance should be based on fundamental principles, such as ensuring that victims have the right to recover costs associated with law enforcement, legal proceedings, and compensation for monetary loss or harm suffered, including healthcare expenses. To foster accountability for offenders and aid victims of abuse in healing from what they endured, the justice system and social welfare institutions require cooperation. Thus, it can be said that the path is still paved with obstacles and challenges but to eradicate and address them we need to be consistent and make progress in meeting the challenges and resolving the issue of the victim.
Author(s) Name: Tejaswi Rathore (University of Allahabad)
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 Ministry of Home Affairs, Report of the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System (2003), Malimath Committee Report 2Id, Report, p.175,14.6.3