VICTIMOLOGY: THE STUDY OF VICTIMS IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
From late 1989 to late 1993, in the Australian state of New South Wales, a dozen or so young tourists had gone missing along one of the countries major highways. Many of the bodies were later found in the Belanglo State Forest, in varying stages of decay. Some traveled in pairs, others alone. They were both males and females, aged between 19 and 22. They come from different backgrounds, different countries, and were traveling to different destinations.
Despite these differences, all of the victims shared a common characteristic that linked them: they were hikers and backpackers. These similarities had the possibility of providing investigators with a clue about the likely perpetrator of the crimes, and provide the profiler with vital information not only about the perpetrator, but about the victims themselves. Collectively, this information is referred to as "Victimology," or the study of victims: an examination of every facet of their lifestyle, background, health, and physical characteristics. It is hoped that through an in-depth examination of the victims, we may know the perpetrator a little better.
Victimology is important in the overall investigative process because it not only tells us who the victims were, their health and personal history, social habits and personality, but also provides ideas as to why they were chosen as victims. In many situations, the offender will hold back from choosing a victim until one that meets his needs comes along, possibly allowing him to fulfill some fantasy or desire he has. Because of this, the way the victim is chosen is important and gives an insight into how the offender thinks, which subsequently affects how the perpetrator acts. If we are able to determine how the offender is acting now, we may be better able to determine his future behavior, possibly leading to a successful arrest.
Closely related to victimology are the concepts of method of approach, method of attack and risk assessment. If we know details of the victims' personalities (i.e. they may be naturally cautious), then we may be able to determine, in conjunction with an analysis of the crime scene, how they were initially approached by the offender. The same will apply for the way they were attacked and overpowered. If this information is not distinguishable through the crime scene, then an analysis of the victims' overall risk, that is, the chances of them becoming a victim, may be of some help. If we examine this along with the risks the offender was willing to take to acquire a certain victim, then we will have an overall picture of who the victim was and what drove the offender to choose this particular person as a victim.
This article is the second part in the Basic Concepts and Issues series, and will provide the reader with an overview of the concepts of victimology, method of approach, method of attack and risk assessment. It will not provide an insight into why a particular offender will choose a particular victim, but will cover some of the general considerations of victim selection and acquisition.