VICTIMOLOGY: THE STUDY OF VICTIMS IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
Risk assessment involves determining the risk of a particular person becoming a victim of crime. Occasionally we will hear reports about violent crime stating that the perpetrator had gone to great lengths to acquire the victim. In other cases, we may hear that the perpetrator has acquired a victim of opportunity. Perhaps in this last instance, something that the victim had done, or was involved in, had elevated their risk of becoming a victim of that crime. This is not to suggest that the individual was somehow responsible for being a victim, just that certain factors about lifestyle or situation had increased the chances of victimization. This may include such things as prostitution, excessive drunkenness, drug use, or traveling alone late at night in an area known for criminal activity. A risk assessment may also include an examination of the risk an offender was willing to take in acquiring a victim. This is known as offender risk assessment.
Victim risk is broken into three basic levels: low risk, medium risk, and high risk. They all refer to the degree of chance of someone coming to harm by virtue of their personal, professional and social life. An example of someone who has at high risk of becoming a victim would be a prostitute, as a prostitute is constantly exposed to a large number of strangers, may travel alone late at night, is often in contact with drugs or drug users, may be of low priority to police (if attacked or killed) and will usually not be missed until long after the event. A low risk victim may be someone who has a steady job, lots of friends, rarely travels alone, and does not have a predictable travel schedule. There are a large number of factors that contribute to the risk of an individual, and the above examples provide just a few of these.
Victim risk is further broken down into several subcategories, and for a more in depth review of these, perhaps the best work available is that of Brent Turvey. Much of the following information has been taken directly from that source.
The victim lifestyle risk refers to the overall risk present by virtue of an individual's personality and their personal, professional and social environment. Lifestyle risk is basically affected by who that person is, and how the person relates to certain risks in the environment. There are certain factors which will increase a person's lifestyle risk, and these include the following:
- Emotional outbursts
- Low self esteem
- Emotional withdrawal
To put one of the above characteristics in context, imagine the following example: If the victim is prone to emotional outbursts, the individual may be more likely to storm out of a house during a fight to "cool down." While out, the person encounters an offender who assaults and abducts him/her. The emotional outburst has contributed to becoming a victim by virtue of the fact that it placed the person in harms way, and may lead others to believe the victim will not be back for hours, as this is usual following such a disagreement. This increases the amount of time the offender has to get away.
The victim incident risk refers to the risk present when an offender initially attacks a victim by virtue of a victim's state of mind, or hazards in the environment. Say for instance, that a person has just left work after being fired from his job. He has just invested a lot of money in property and is preoccupied with paying off his financial commitments. When walking to his car in the evening, he fails to notice the person waiting around the entrance to the car park. The fact that he is preoccupied by his newly acquired financial state increases his incident risk because he is failing to notice unusual or potentially dangerous factors in his surroundings.
Now an examination of the risk as it relates to the offender will be made. The offender risk is very important as it tells you what risks the offender was willing to take in order to get this particular victim, at that particular time, and in that particular location. The first type of offender risk is known as the modus operandi risk. The MO risk refers to the nature and extent of the skill, planning, and precautionary acts taken by the offender before, during and after the crime. As the MO refers to those things the offender had to do to successfully complete the crime, the MO risk refers to those things that the offender does to reduce his own risk of being disturbed, thwarted or apprehended.
The MO risk is broken into low risk (referring to those offenders who show a high amount of skill, planning and precautionary acts) and high risk (referring to those offenders who show a low amount of skill, planning and precautionary acts). The MO risk is low because the offender plans many aspects of the crime, thereby reducing their risk for committing the crime. The opposite applies to high MO risk offenders.
Offenders may also be exposed to incident risk, which refers to the possibility of them suffering harm or loss. Offender incident risk is subjective in that it is the risk perceived by the profiler for that offender. The following example will provide an idea as to how an offender's perceptions of a situation will misinform them as to the offender incident risk:
A 22-year-old college student attends a costume party where everyone has to come dressed as something starting with the letter "D." While he is strictly heterosexual and has a steady girlfriend, as a joke he decides to go as a "Drag Queen." Later that night, after the party is over, the student calls a taxi but is told there is a two hour wait. He decides to walk the short distance to his home. While walking along a darkened street, he is accosted by three men who believe him to be an actual "Drag Queen," and put him in hospital, where he later dies as a result of his extensive injuries.
This is not the usual attire that the victim would have been dressed in, and the offenders may not have ordinarily targeted him. As their perception of the victim was that of a "Drag Queen," they believed that the victim may not have reported the incident, and even if he did, the offenders may have perceived that little attention would have been paid to him because of his choice of lifestyle. It would be important in a case such as this to examine the victim's actual lifestyle (a student), and then to examine the offenders' incident risk in relation to their perception of the victim's lifestyle (that of a "Drag Queen"). The offenders may have had similar convictions in the past, may already be known to police, and their apprehension is subsequently made easier.