Victimology, branch of criminology that scientifically studies the relationship between an injured party and an offender by examining the causes and the nature of the consequent suffering. Specifically, victimology focuses on whether the perpetrators were complete strangers, mere acquaintances, friends, family members, or even intimates and why a particular person or place was targeted. Criminal victimization may inflict economic costs, physical injuries, and psychological harm.
Victimology first emerged in the 1940s and ’50s, when several criminologists (notably Hans von Hentig, Benjamin Mendelsohn, and Henri Ellenberger) examined victim-offender interactions and stressed reciprocal influences and role reversals. These pioneers raised the possibility that certain individuals who suffered wounds and losses might share some degree of responsibility with the lawbreakers for their own misfortunes. For example, the carelessness of some motorists made the tasks of thieves easier; reckless behaviour on the part of intoxicated customers in a bar often attracted the attention of robbers; and provocation by some brawlers caused confrontations to escalate to the point that the instigator was injured or even killed. More controversially, women were sometimes said to bear some responsibility for misunderstandings that evolved into sexual assaults. By systematically investigating the actions of victims, costly mistakes could be identified and risk-reduction strategies could be discerned. Furthermore, those who stress the culpability of injured parties for their victimization, such as defense attorneys, tended to argue in favour of mitigating the punishment of offenders.
Although the field originally focused on the varying degrees of victim blameworthiness, by the 1970s this preoccupation became overshadowed by studies intended to prevent victimization, to improve the way complainants are handled by the police and courts, and to speed recovery. Victimology is enriched by other fields of study, particularly psychology, social work, sociology, economics, law, and political science. Whereas lawyers, criminal justice officials, counselors, therapists, and medical professionals provide the actual services, victimologists study the kinds of help injured parties need and the effectiveness of efforts intended to make them “whole again,” both financially and emotionally. Victims of murder, rape, spousal abuse, elder abuse, child abuse, and kidnapping have received the most research attention, but entire categories of victims that were formerly overlooked have been rediscovered (e.g., people with disabilities that make them unusually vulnerable and targets of workplace violence, hate crimes, and terrorist attacks). Other groups have been discovered and protected, such as individuals who have fallen victim to identity theft.