Criminal justice professionals work to solve crimes and ensure that justice is served; however, they also play an important role when it comes to helping victims of crime. It’s important to note that criminal justice professionals do more than put criminals away. They also help victims cope using approaches grounded in victimology.
Victimology is the study of victimization. It includes the relationship between offenders and victims, along with the role victims play in the criminal justice system. Victimologists also study how victims are portrayed in the media to understand both the short- and long-term impact of being affected by crime.
In victimology, the victim is any person who has been harmed by a perpetrator. Perpetrators, or offenders, are individuals who have committed a crime. Though criminal justice professionals seek to understand the mind of perpetrators to solve crimes and rehabilitate offenders, law agencies also use victimology to understand why a victim was targeted.
Victimology is concerned with three categories of victim: primary victims, secondary victims and related victims. This is because crime creates a ripple effect, depending on the severity of the offense. The following are the three main types of victims discussed in the study of victimology:
- Primary victims are individuals who are injured or otherwise directly affected by a crime committed against them. For example, the primary victim of an armed robbery loses his or her possessions and may require therapy to cope after experiencing violence.
- Secondary victims are present at the scene of a crime and may be injured as a result of witnessing it. They might also be the parent or guardian of the primary victim. The family and friends of the robbery victim above would be considered secondary victims because the crime has indirectly affected them.
- Related victims are people who are dependent on the primary victim, have a close relationship with the primary victim or are connected to the victim in some other way. For example, the neighbors of the robbery victim would be considered related victims if the crime occurred on their street.
Victimology vs. Criminology
Though both victimology and criminology are vital in the criminal justice field, they are different from one another both in aim and scope. Victimology focuses on helping victims heal after a crime, while criminology aims to understand the criminal’s motives and the underlying causes of crime. Victimologists are concerned with fostering recovery, while criminologists seek prevention.
Criminologists seek to understand the social impact of crime. They “look at every conceivable aspect of deviant behavior. This includes the impacts of crime on individual victims and their families, society at large, and even criminals themselves,” according to The Balance. Criminologists study elements like the frequency, location, causes and types of crime, then work to develop “effective and humane means of preventing it,” The Balance continues.
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How to Help Crime Victims
Often, victims experience trauma after being exposed to crime. Of course, this trauma may stem from physical injury, but emotional trauma is just as common. The National Center for Victims of Crime notes that common effects include intense stress reactions and exhaustion, along with “emotional wounds or shocks that may have long-lasting effects.” No two victims are alike, so providing advocacy and access to resources is personalized to each case. Though they may not carry out all of these services directly, criminal justice professionals can help victims access resources such as the following:
- Assistance in filing compensation claims
- Counseling or therapy
- Domestic violence shelters
- Grief counseling for secondary or related victims
- Crisis hotlines
Criminal justice professionals have the unique opportunity to work with victims and help them take steps to recover.
Undergraduate study in criminal justice is an ideal way to prepare for many law enforcement careers in victimology and more. West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree that gives students a theoretical and practical understanding of the modern criminal justice system. With a curriculum informed by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, this program features an in-depth study of the causes of crime and the relationship between criminal justice and society. WVSU also offers criminal justice certificate options in investigation, corrections, law enforcement and more.