Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2014
In modern times there was in Western countries almost no place for the victims of crime in criminal justice. The victim had become the forgotten third party of the criminal trial. Likewise criminologists exclusively focused their studies on offenders and largely ignored the role and problems of victims. The first publications on victims dealt with the role of victims in the causation of crimes. The focus of these studies was on the degree of guilt of the victims for the crime committed against them (e.g., provocative behavior). This early interest in the culpability of victims has later been critiqued as manifestations of “victim blaming.” The inclination to blame victims of serious crimes for their misfortune has itself been the subject of social psychological studies. Experiments by Lerner and others have revealed that victims of serious crimes often elicit negative responses from their environment because their situation poses an acute threat to the fundamental belief in a just world. By assuming that the victim bears some responsibility for his or her victimization through irresponsible behavior, others can reassure themselves that they have nothing to fear for themselves.
Around 1970 grassroots organizations discovered the needs of victims of domestic and sexual violence and began to provide services for them such as shelter homes and rape crisis centers. Around the same time some criminologists took up an interest in the situation of crime victims as a special research topic. Victimization surveys revealed not only that many victimizations were never reported to the police (the dark numbers of crime) but also that many reporting victims were dissatisfied with the way their cases were handled by the authorities. A sizeable minority of reporting victims even complained that they had been retraumatized by their treatment by the police and the criminal justice system (secondary victimization). Soon an international movement came into being, lobbying for improved services for victims and for the introduction of victims’ rights in criminal procedure (Walklate, 2007; Wemmers, 2003).