Victimology is the study of crime and its victims. The perpetrator or offender is at one end of the spectrum and the victim at the other. The criminal and the victim represent opposing sides in the war against right or wrong. The victim is typically perceived as the innocent person who became prey to the guilty person who was on the opposing side of morality. The criminal was the bad guy and the victim was the good guy.
In 1948, however, Hans von Hentig, a German criminologist, began to change the societal attitudes towards crime following his study of several homicide victims. Hentig is credited as being a founder of the theory of victimology and was the first to suggest that the victim himself is “one of the many causes of crime,” reports Stephen Schafer, The Criminal and his Victim. Hentig’s theory altered societal attitudes and influenced change by altering the focus of a homicide investigation from the criminal to the victim.
Hentig’s approach was considered brilliant in the late 1940s. It was a new concept that quickly evolved and expanded into a theory. The victims were categorized and labeled while the investigators searched for what we now call an “unknown suspect.”
Investigating the victim’s lifestyle through interviews of friends and family helped law enforcement agents focus their resources and efforts on the victim as an attempt to locate the unknown criminal. They tried to understand why and how one person became a victim when another person did not. It is similar to reverse psychology and the reason victimology is sometimes referred to as “reverse criminology.” These strategies and tactics are still used today. The homicide investigator investigates the victim in an effort to understand the psychological aspects of the criminal which may lead to further clues about the whys and wherefores that led to one person’s death.
As a result of Hentig’s analysis of victims, he further theorized that there is “reciprocality” between the criminal and victim. This means that the victim and the criminal somehow share in the crime by providing somewhat of a reciprocal agreement and, therefore, some shared satisfaction as a result of the crime. Hentig’s theory stated that the victim shapes and molds the criminal and his crime. The relationship between perpetrator and victim, Hentig believed, created an intricate relationship and reciprocal arrangement between the criminal and the victim.
Then, in 1963, another criminologist, Benjamin Mendelsohn, refined Hentig’s theory by expanding on it. Mendelsolm developed a similar idea which he called “victim precipitation.” Victim precipitation is a term which suggests that the victim of a crime had “an aptitude, although unconsciously, of being victimized,” reports Karola Dillenburger, The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. Mendelshom concluded that victims “look, think, and act differently” than non-victims which increase their likelihood of becoming victims. There are as many types of victims as there are types of criminals.
Types of Victims
In 1948, when Hentig developed his theory about victimization and …