Victimology vs. Criminology

Criminology is, broadly speaking, the study of crime. It developed as an academic field in the 19th century, and for much of its history, it has examined how and why people engage in criminal activity. The field of criminology proposes multiple theories for why people commit crimes and how they can be prevented or discouraged from doing so, and these ideas continue to evolve as our understanding of psychology and human nature deepens.

But those who commit crime are only half of the equation. While not all criminal incidents have a tangible victim, many—especially violent crimes—do. Victimology is a subset of criminology that examines criminal activity from another perspective, focusing on the impact of crime on victims. Victimology measures crime by studying victimization, patterns of victim-offender relationships and the role of the victim within the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Victimology focuses not only on victims of individual crimes, but also on victims of human rights abuses on an international level.

By focusing on the victim, rather than on the crime, and supporting the victim, victimology is a key element of restorative justice—the idea that healing, rather than punishment, is the better approach to addressing crime.

Why is victimology so important?

Criminology is not merely an academic pursuit; it has direct real-world relevance and consequences. Criminologists often engage with local communities affected by crime, making communication an essential skill for anyone wishing to succeed in the field of criminology. Victimology provides a perspective that allows professionals to better communicate with victims and earn trust from their communities.

Foregrounding the victim of the crime is a compassionate choice that respects the humanity of the people affected.1 Especially in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, two forms of crime with a long history of law enforcement distrusting or even disrespecting victims, it is imperative that those working with these crimes acknowledge and listen to victims. Taking special care to consider the needs of victims of these crimes can lead to better outcomes for victims, greater trust within communities and solid support networks between law enforcement, shelters and other resources.

The study of victimology also seeks to understand why criminals target specific victims. Victimology can be regarded as a more holistic approach than criminology, acknowledging the systemic injustices that may lead former victims to become perpetrators themselves. It also helps reduce the likelihood that perpetrators will commit additional offenses, because it can help them reframe how they think about the individuals they might otherwise victimize.

Environmental Theory

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