Contemporary Issues In Victimology: Identifying Patterns And Trends

Authors: Carly M. Hilinsji-Rosick and Daniel R. Lee
Publisher: Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018. 272p.
Reviewer: Melanie Clark Mogavero | October 2018

Contemporary Issues in Victimology: Identifying Patterns and Trends edited by Carly M. Hilinsji-Rosick and Daniel R. Lee is a compilation of various criminological issues across different populations and across different settings. This book is more than just identifying patterns and trends, it is a chronicle that dives into the relevant crimes plaguing our society today, with an emphasis on the victims of these crimes. Victimology is a relatively new area of study, as outlined in the Introduction, and focuses on the victim, context, and physical setting, all which all have an important role in the commission of crime. The field of victimology has expanded in recent years, which allowed criminologists to explore crimes and social problems that are often poorly understood or have been largely ignored. Each chapter concludes with responses from the criminal justice system and criminal justice policy, which until recently, victims had little role in. Many of the topics in this book are often missing from other victimology textbooks, which makes this a valuable resource for a contemporary victimology course, or a supplement to a traditional victimology academic course.

The editors sought a variety of scholars to contribute to the book, each who are clearly knowledgeable in their field of study. Each chapter reviews a plethora of research on the topic, including classic studies and current research, many of which were published within the last two years. The book is organized into two parts: Victimization of the Individual, and Situational Victimization. Part One includes information describing child-to-parent violence, elder abuse, sexual and violent victimization of our jail and prison inmates, human trafficking (for both sex work and forced labor), same sex intimate partner violence, and recurring victimization. Part Two explores the situational aspects that are conducive to crime and includes information on rape and sexual assault on our college campuses, mass shootings, cybervictimization, institutional victimization (mainly education and religious institutions), and the situational aspects that lead to a fear of crime and victimization.

The first two chapters highlight common, but underreported crimes due to their private nature, child-to-parent violence, and elder abuse. At first glance, it would appear these topics overlap; however, the first chapter focuses on children and adolescents who inflict emotional abuse or violence against their parents. As with both child-to-parent violence and elder abuse, there are various definitions and cultural differences as to what constitutes abuse, which makes these crimes difficult to measure and research. This lack of knowledge and understanding leads to further challenges with regards to determining proper interventions, including the law-enforcement response, and enacting criminal justice policy. Further, the chapter on elder abuse includes not only physical abuse and neglect, but how senior citizens are at risk for human trafficking for their financial resources and how they are often victims of various frauds, including cybercrime.

Criminologists with a focus on mental health will certainly value the information in this book, however, the chapter on victimization with in prison in jails was particularly insightful. The authors of Chapter 3 include a valuable and insightful quote that calls for concern from not only criminologists, psychologists, and professionals in the criminal justice system, but the general public, including inmates’ loved ones. “…persons are sent to prison (or jail) as a punishment not for punishment” (MacDonald & Stover, 2005, 1).  This quote is a reminder that inmates, regardless of their crime and why they were incarcerated in the first place, do not deserve further punishment by other inmates or staff. In addition to the current tends of violence and sexual assault among inmates (which are underestimated), the authors detail the psychological victimization inmates experience by not only their violent and sexual victimization, but also by witnessing victimization of others and living in such a volatile environment. The constant fear of victimization negatively effects their emotional well-being, physical health, and often leads to the development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This also raises concerns about the impact of this stress and victimization has upon release, including community re-entry and recidivism. The authors also include victimization and similar stressors among those working in these environments. Although various policies have been implemented, this is a problem that needs continued research and evaluation, and improved methods for measuring the prevalence of such incidents.

Although Human trafficking is not a new the phenomenon, the author of Chapter 4 notes that this is a global problem that has only received substantial attention within the last 20 to 30 years. Human trafficking can take on many forms, and unlike other crimes outlined in this book, human trafficking has clear and formal definitions, both by the United States and United Nations. Although many acquaint human trafficking with sex trafficking, the authors describe many types or forms of human trafficking. Because this is such a vast and complex issue with various cultural, government, technology, economic, and individual factors that influence the commission of this crime, approaches to combat human trafficking have been met with challenges.  Such challenges include disagreements as to whether this is a criminal justice or human rights issue.

Intimate partner violence/interpersonal violence (IPV) is a vastly studied crime but until recently, has often been ignored amongst same-sex couples and the LGBTQ community. Chapter 5 highlights interesting and disturbing information about what is known about this crime to date. Similar to IPV among the opposite sex couples, the true prevalence IPV among same-sex couples is unknown and is likely underestimated. However, the authors note that research has shown IPV rates among same-sex couples to be more prevalent than rates among their opposite sex counterparts. Unfortunately, same-sex couples involved in IPV experience added problems and obstacles that their opposite sex counterparts do not face, including bias from law-enforcement and/or social service providers, (both actual and perceived fears), and fear of outing. In addition, many policies geared towards IPV have had unintended consequences for LGBTQ victims and, depending on one’s jurisdiction, they may not be entitled to the same legal rights and protections as their opposite sex counterparts.  Unfortunately, discrimination among the LGBTQ community exists, which creates many challenges in implementing policies to address IPV.

Part One concludes with a chapter on recurring victimization, which, in part, ties all the earlier chapters together by highlighting the various characteristics that lead to repeat victimization, with an emphasis on IPV and sexual assault. The author first noted the difference in definitions between recurring victimization and repeat victimization, two are not interchangeable, and have a temporal and environmental aspect to their occurrence. However, both are important events to study, as being a victim of crime statistically increases one’s chances of subsequent victimization. The major criminological theories in studying victimology have focused on lifestyle and routine activities theories.  As such, many of the explanations of crime victimization and crime prevention strategies have focused on what victims have done (or failed to do) to increase their risk. Such views have ignited controversy, as they appeared to be “victim blaming,” which has stalled many efforts to combat, for example, IPV and sexual assault. However, the authors note that such strategies that focus on victims, particularly identifying those at higher risk, may be a better use of limited resources, opposed to strategies targeted towards the general population.

Part 2 continues the victimization perspective but shifts the focus to particular environments and/or situations that can create a “perfect storm” for crime to occur. The first chapter in Part 2, Chapter 7, takes a critical look at rape and sexual assault on college and university campuses and the policy interventions aimed to combat sexual violence. Research on this topic has spanned decades, and although vastly common, it continues to remain under-reported for a host of reasons. Like many of the chapters throughout this book, this chapter includes a case study that provides a detailed and personal account of a sexual assault of a female coed. The authors describe the case of the Florida State University student who accused a popular football player of raping her. Her story was portrayed in the award-winning documentary, The Hunting Ground. As this case study suggests, the status of the offender, in addition to the victim-offender relationship has a pivotal role in not only whether the victim will report the assault but influences the aftermath and level of support they receive. The authors further examine the various strategies and policies implemented in recent years to prevent sexual victimization and their effectiveness. However, the lack of reporting continues to be a tremendous obstacle in understating and preventing sexual assault among college students.

Mass shooting have received immense media attention in recent years and the author of Chapter 8 attempts to clarify this complex crime by addressing some common questions and the highly controversial and politically-divided ideas to combat and prevent future carnage.  The author first highlights the major problem with examining the prevalence this phenomenon; the lack of a consistent definition of what a “mass shooting” entails. With no agreed upon definition, it is virtually impossible to understand not only the scope, but any trends about its prevalence. Study results have been mixed as far as whether mass shootings have increased or decreased over the last decade or last several decades. The different definitions or factors included in what researchers identify as a “mass shooting” are largely responsible for these inconsistences. The author thoroughly examines the key issues surrounding mass shootings, including psychological and behavioral characteristics of the shooter(s), mental illness, violence in the media, and gun control policy. The authors take a pragmatic and objective stance on this crime that has been a focus of political pundits. This chapter in particular was not only informative but satisfying for the reader to be able to obtain a wide variety of information, including political ideas and debates, but without political bias or subjectivisms. This chapter is highly recommended for anyone concerned with mass shootings.

Many crimes have shifted from the physical space to the virtual space, and Chapter 8 on cybervictimization examines the role of the victim in cybercrime. Cybercrime is vast, and this chapter provides a brief glimpse into the complexities of the victim experience. The author discusses the age-old problem of bullying, which has now shifted from school grounds to cyberspace. This shift has made this phenomenon more difficult to identify and combat, particularly the disciplinary role of the school or school board and whether this is a role appropriate for the criminal justice system. Cyberstalking is another crime that has shifted from physical to virtual space. A problem facing both cyberbullying and cyberstalking victims is their perception of these experiences and their failure to identify themselves as victims. Considering the emotional and psychological consequences of such victimization, failing to identify as a victim, and failing to reach out to others or report the crime is a concern.

Chapter 10, the final crime addressed in this book examines the issue of sexual abuse in the context of institutions. By definition, institutional crime can occur in any organization of work or volunteer, were offenders use their occupational status to access victims. However, the author focuses on sexual abuse occurring in educational settings and religious institutions. Sexual abuse among the clergy and high-profile cases among the Catholic Archdiocese has gripped the nation with not only shock, but also anger of the pervasive cover-up and protection of abusive clergy members. The author details how institutions are structured and how poor institutional policies can encourage such victimization. The status of the offenders compared to victims presents many challenges, both with believing the victims’ allegations, and the handing of the offender. The author also profiles characteristics of victims of clergy sexual abuse, and common physical locations where such abuse tends to occur and why. Similarly, sexual abuse in educational institutions have met similar challenges. Many working or volunteering in such settings are in positions of trust with continued access to potential victims for rapport building. The chapter concludes with policy recommendations for preventing such abuse. However, acknowledging the existence of such crimes, validating victims, and increasing the understanding of sexual abuse occurring in institutional settings must be a priority.

The book concludes with a chapter on fear of crime and perceived risk, which is largely situational, but also influenced by individual factors. This not only makes for an appropriate conclusion to Part 2, but it ties the entire context the crimes outlined in the book, our fears of becoming victims of crime. A compelling feature of this chapter is the title, Fear of Crime and Perceived Risk. The author describes that these two concepts are related but are two separate concepts that must be operationally defined and measured separately. These separate concepts are explored and described, which would make this particular chapter useful in undergraduate and graduate research methods courses in criminology and criminal justice. The author further details the research on fear of crime, including ecological theories, the individual characteristics of those who have elevated fears of crime, as well as crime in school settings. The author also examines the role of the media and policing strategies in the fear of crime.

Collectively, Contemporary Issues in Victimology: Identifying Patterns and Trends crosses several social science disciplines, and will interest a vast audience, including victim advocates, lawyers, criminal justice system practitioners, legal analysts, criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals involved in sexual assault prevention and other victim services. The use of real life examples in case studies allows the reader to feel connected to the issues. Because the book is a compilation of diverse topics, this book can reach an even wider audience and is a valuable text or supplemental text for faculty teaching victimology courses, and a valuable reference for upper-level undergraduate students, graduate students, and various stakeholders, and for those interested in offense legislation and criminal justice policy.

Melanie Clark Mogavero, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Georgian Court University

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