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How Stereotypes Surrounding Ideal Victims Affect the Response of the Criminal Justice System when Victims do not fall in these Categories Essay Example

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The ‘Ideal Victim’

How Stereotypes Surrounding Ideal Victims Affect the Response of the Criminal Justice System when Victims do not fall in these Categories

The ‘Ideal Victim’


Characteristics of a victim and an offender together with the circumstances in which a crime was committed influence how society reacts towards the victim to give them a valid victim status. An ‘Ideal Victim’ is one who gets most sympathy from society. The individual has to have power and visibility that is convincing to society as ideal victim. Majority of offenders and victims are ordinary people and not ‘ideal.’ Ideals are people who fear crime and are far from it
(Mathew, 2009).

An ‘ideal victim’ is a person or entity that when attacked, fulfils the genuine status of a victim. An ideal victim is characterized as being vulnerable, defenceless, guiltless and deserving sympathy and compassion. Young children and the elderly pass easily for ideal victims. Youthful men and drug abusers may experience difficulty to gain actual victim status even in a court process. This paper will look at who makes an ideal victim and the stereotypes that hinder victims from getting justice for the crimes committed against them. It will also look at the key elements of victomology and its theories.

Ideal victim characteristics

The victim’s locus of control is likely to be external and stable. The external locus orientation is a belief that whatever happens to the victim is dependent on external factors that the individual has no control over instead of the individual’s activities. The victims have feelings of self insufficiency such that they can’t successfully influence neither their surroundings nor themselves. They again hold the responsibility of their own actions and conduct to their circumstances and other external forces instead of their internal forces. They also likely to have psychological elements such as low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, bleakness, immorality and shame that make up an ideal victim (Zur, 1995).


One author argues that only the stereotypical ideal victims get to attain the legitimate victim status in society and even in the criminal justice system. The author mentions the following characteristics that make an ideal victim: weakness, undertaking a ‘worthy’ cause, free from any kind of blame and be unfamiliar to the ‘big and bad offender
(Christie, 1986).’ In western countries, victims are battered wife, a raped woman, a coloured person or a poor individual while men are the stereotypical offenders as soldiers, politicians or wife battering husbands
(Zur, 1995).

Stereotypes advanced by feminists tend to view men as the perpetrators of all crime in society. These include wars, domestic violence, sexual harassment, toxic wastes, bribery and other crimes
(Zur, 1995). This may be attributed to men’s aggressive and violent character and women’s innate goodness
(Zur, 1995). The society and criminal justice system sometimes do an injustice to rape victims when they are blamed for orchestrating their misfortune. The woman is said to have been seductive, suggestive, provocative or simply ‘asking for it.’ Men are viewed as vulnerable, sex-starved individuals who only responded to a need
(Zur, 1995).

Unless a victim fits into the stereotype of vulnerable, innocent, incapable of fighting back and thus worth sympathy and assistance, it is then that they will receive justice. But when they do not fit in, they are likely to be blamed from their misfortune or questioned on whether it ever occurred. An example is a woman kidnapped from her home country and taken to the United Kingdom to do commercial sex. When reported the matter to authorities, she is likely to first, be treated as an illegal immigrant before she is viewed as a victim of crime. This is because she is an illegal immigrant and involved in prostitution though not willingly. She does not fit in the stereotype victim and therefore not likely to receive the justice she seeks (Williams, 2005).

She is not seen as a minor who has been kidnapped, raped repeatedly, emotionally traumatised and in dire need of protection which squarely falls into the stereotypical ‘ideal victim.’ The justice she will receive is deportation without questioning the child traffickers and the atrocities they have committed against her. It is difficult for authorities to view beyond the prostitute and consider the ‘clients’ who probably knew she was a minor and an immigrant. It is also clear she did not consent to any sexual advances and therefore amounts to rape (Williams, 2005). Even is she gave consent, she is a minor and still a rape offence.

Criminal law is largely based on individual behaviour and guilt. It inadequately focuses on organisational form of deviance. This may be the reason why victims who do not fall into the ideal victim status may be denied justice and instead be blamed for their victimisation.

Elements and Theories of Victimology

Andrew Karmen defined Victimology as ‘the scientific study of victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders, the interactions between victims and the criminal justice system that is, the police and courts, and corrections officials and the connections between victims and other societal groups and institutions, such as the media, businesses, and social movements (Karmen, 1992).»

Theories of Victimology

Several theories have been advanced to explain Victimology. These are: life-style theory, proximity and routine activities theory.

Lifestyle theory

According to this theory, lifestyle choices determine an individual’s susceptibility to crime. Some lifestyles predispose persons to criminal offenses and victimization while others reduce the risk. People who live in urban areas, visit public places at night, are single and a woman who associates with many young men is likely to be a victim of rape or robbery. A lifestyle characterized by living in the rural areas, married, staying at home and earning a regular wage reduces a person’s risk of crime. Crime is likely to happen when victims place themselves in danger. For instance, for rape to occur, a victim is walking in isolated paths and alleys. A woman’s dressing too is likely to provoke rapists (Czaja, 2013).

Proximity Theory

This theory suggests that crime is less a function of lifestyle but instead is a function of closeness to high crime areas. Criminals are not likely to commit offences far from their neighbourhoods. It is their neighbours who become the victims of their activities. It is on the basis of this theory that some individuals in the U.S suggested that people with previous criminal records are announced to the locals when they move to a new neighbourhood. That way, they will be alert in case of any suspicious activities by the ‘criminal (Czaja, 2013).’

The equivalent group hypothesis is quite similar with the proximity theory posits that criminals and their victims share certain similarities as they are not totally different cadres of society. It also suggests that criminals by themselves are at a greater risk of becoming victims. This is because of the high risk associated with their activities. Such risks are: going out at night and the company they keep which are fellow criminals. This however does not suggest that all victims are criminals (Anon., 2013).

Routine activities theory

This theory posits that the chances of victimization depend on the routine activities that an individual engages in their daily lives. It also outlines three conditions that should coincide for a crime to occur. These are:

  • Availability of a suitable target.

  • The absence of able guardians who could be parents, police or neighbours who can take helpful action in the event of criminal activity.

  • The presence of a motivated offender.

For instance for a rape case to occur, there has to be a woman, left alone with no guardians to assist her and a man, a rapist. Rape cases especially among children are on the rise because neighbourhoods are left isolated during the day as women and men to go to work leaving vulnerable children alone. Idlers in the neighbourhood find a suitable chance to attack the children with nothing to fear as there is no one to defend them (Czaja, 2013).

Typology of Victims

. (Zur, 1995)The criminal justice system hold the assumption that in a dispute, one party is wholly responsible for the crime and the other party that is totally innocent. However this is not always the case. In some instances, each party bears some level of responsibility and power to control the situation. The categories vary from innocent to total guilt (Zur, 1995). First is the non guilty- innocent victim: this is one who does not share any responsibility in the crime with the offender. They were did not anticipate nor avoid the offence. An example is a rape victim who was unable to foresee and did not provoke the act done by total strangers. Such is an ideal victim

. (Zur, 1995)Next is victim with minor guilt. Such are those who were aware or consciousness of danger and could have done something to avoid or minimise the danger. Such is a drunken woman who’s raped. She contributed to her helpless state or was at a wrong place at a wrong time. Victims with equal responsibility are those that lured or provoked the offender. Another category are victims who bear more guilt than the offender. This may be drunkards who assault sober people and get hurt in the process. Finally there are offenders who bear the entire responsibility for their ill-treatment. An example would be a rapist who is killed in self defence

The various degrees of responsibility mentioned show the variations that exist in assessing varying circumstances of ‘victimhood’ and are employed by legal systems to determine guilt and responsibility of parties in dispute.


In conclusion, it is worth noting that victimology is a field of criminology that is quite essential in the world today. It enables the people involved in the criminal justice system those are the victims, the perpetrators and the criminal justice system to know their roles and act accordingly. Victims of rape and any other criminal cases need to be handled in a more sensitive and empathic manner, realizing how sensitive they are. Victims should also be fully involved in the quest for their justice; not just as means to justice (witness) but rather as part of the process.

List of References

Christie, N., 1986, ‘The Ideal Victim. In A.F. Ezzat, ed. From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. London: Macmillan. pp.17-30.

Jordan, J., 2004, The Word of a Woman? Police, Rape and Belief. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Karmen, A., 1992, Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole.

Light, R. & Campbell, B., 2010, Prisoners’ Families: Still Forgotten Victims? Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 28(3), pp.297-308.

Mathew, H., 2009, Victims of Crime: policy and practice in criminal justice. London: William Publishing.

Strang, H. & Sherman, L., 2003, RepairingtheHarm:VictimsandRestorativeJustice. UtahLawReview, 15(1), pp.15-42.

Sullivan, B., 2007, Prostitution and Consent.. Rape, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 40(2), pp.127-42.

Van, Z.P.d., 1998, Heroines of fortitude. In Balancing the Scales: Rape, Law Reform and Australian Culture. Sydney: The Federation Press. p.125.

Williams, B., 2005, Victims of Crime and Community Justice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Zur, O., 1995, Rethinking: Don’t Blame the Victim. Journal of Couples Therapy, 4(3), pp.15-36.