Deborah has over twenty years of experience working with criminal justice agencies and a master's of science in criminal justice-forensic psychology.
These days, you can find many horrors in our news headlines. Victims of sexual abuse by religious clergy, women being stalked and murdered, and homosexuals beaten are just some examples. No one can dispute the horrific victimization suffered by the victims of crimes that make these headlines.
Throughout the last century and into this one, there have been strides towards advocating for victims, changing or enacting laws, and victimology research. Three current trends in victimology are hate crimes, institutional victimization, and victims' rights. Let's address just a fraction of the social issues contributing to the current trends in victimology.
Hate crimes is any crime such as murder, rape, arson, or vandalism that also has the element of racial, ethnic, disability, sexual orientation, or transgender bias as a motivating factor. This sort of crime was only recently defined an was largly precipitated by the suffering of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.
In 1998, Matthew Shepard was found severely tortured, beaten and left tied to a fence in a field to die. Matthew survived for six days after being found by a passerby 18 hours later. The FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) indicates approximately 60% of the hate crimes reported are crimes against homosexual males.
James Byrd, Jr. was an African American male who was targeted by white supremacists who murdered him by dragging him behind a truck and decapitating him in 1995.
After decades of protests by the LGBTQ members, Matthew's mother, investigative news reports, a book, and a movie, a law was finally enacted called the Shepard and Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.
The Shepard and Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act includes the hate crimes definition and allows the federal government to investigate cases when local jurisdictions can't or won't. It also expanded the definition to include bias against another's perceived nationality or religion. One major benefit to law enforcement and prosecutors of the Shepard and Byrd Act allocates funds and training for hate crime investigations in order to bring the offenders to justice.
Institutional victimization has evolved as part of victimology. Institutionalization victimization involves victims of sexual or any type of abuse by an offender who uses their position in an occupational setting such as an educational, religious, private business, or government institution to select a victim.
One of the most famous institutional victimizations occurred by Catholic priests who committed sexual abuse of children, mostly boys, over many years.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted a study of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in 2002, which was commissioned by the Catholic bishops of the U.S. The study found that between 1950 and 2002, victims alleged sexual abuse by about 4,400 priests.
While there are criminal laws addressing the sexual abuse of children, the Catholic church added a reporting requirement by the clergy to the hierarchy of the church. However, the main failure of the canon law does not require the abuse to be reported to law enforcement.
Victim's Constitutional Rights
Advocacy for and establishment of the rights of victims is another current trend. Take for example,
Marsalee Nicholas, who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in California in 1983. Immediately following Marsy's funeral, her mother happened to be in a local store and ran into the ex-boyfriend who was released from custody awaiting trial. There was no requirement by law enforcement to notify victims or their families of an offender's release.
However, Marsy's death was not in vain. Through the determination of Marsy's brother to advocate for victims' rights, 2008 saw the passing of the California Victims' Bill of Rights Act. Marsy's death became pivotal all across the United States as a movement for the national victims' rights. The movement has allowed for constitutional rights of victims, established victim assistance compensation, and developed victim advocates in support of victims in the criminal justice system.
Three of the current trends of victimology include a focus on:
- Hate crimes - any crime that has an element of bias against race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or transgendered persons. The Shepard and Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act was the first law to encompass hate crimes against gays and African Americans.
- Institutional victimization - when an offender in a position of authority uses their status to prey upon victims within the institutions of religions, educational, private businesses, or government organizations. One of the most famous instances involves Catholic priests who committed sexual abuse of children over many years.
- Victims' rights - constitutional rights of victims, established victim assistance compensation, and developed victim advocates in support of victims in the criminal justice system. These rights were established as a result of the stalking and murder of Marsalee Nicholas, which led to Marsy's Law, or the California Victims' Bill of Rights Act.
Victimology addresses past and current trends of social issues through research. The data continues to influence victims' rights and laws to serve the victims and the public.
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