Prior to the formulation of the positivist agenda, due to the lack of literature and policy developments in the area of victimology, little reference was made to this sub-discipline of criminology and early victimologists did not attempt to explain patterns of victimisation. Consequently, in the decades following the second world war, scholars such as Von Hentig, Mendelsohn, Rock and Wolfgang began to explore and research the aetiology and characteristics of victimisation.
1 The plight of the victim I. e. the 'forgotten actor' began to take prominence from the 1940s onwards through the introduction of scientific methodology's so as to establish the causes of crime. I am going to focus upon this positivist tradition; assessing its particular strengths and I will also discuss the various methods employed by this notion which seek to establish the causal connections as to why some people are victimised whilst others are not.
It is also important that I assess the weaknesses of this theory in order to set the scene for more important developments in this area such as to make way for a rival radical perspective. Indeed, the introduction of radical victimology appeared to be inevitable given the contentious nature of positivism itself and its insufficient ability to explain victimological patterns. By contrasting both perspectives, I am going to explain why the radical interpretation and its methodology has helped to explain the patterns of victimisation more clearly.
Scientific methodologies inherent within the positivist agenda include quantitative research methods and the introduction of crime surveys as opposed to the former use of police recorded figures. The main weaknesses however, are not only the fact that positivism has established itself under a narrow framework that neglected wider social issues/realities such as poverty and social marginalisation, but also due to the fact that the early crime surveys did not uncover victimisation in the workplace or the private domain (corporate/domestic victimisation).
2 Indeed, by focussing upon conventional crimes, the notion of the 'hidden' victim was still largely untouched. Therefore, radical perspectives were inevitably going to be the natural progression on the positivist agenda. (radical left realist perspectives, the feminist perspective etc), which I will discuss later. I am going to critically assess two definitions within the positivist victimological theory. According to Walklate; Positivist victimology 'is a view of the data-gathering process which privileges traditional conceptions of science and scientific objectivity.
' 3 More specifically, positivism is a philosophical concept concerned with exploring: 'the aetiology of victimisation through the construction of victim typologies in order to categorise victims, to distinguish them from non-victims and to explain why some people appear to be more prone to victimisation than others. 4 The former definition is apparently concerned with the objective nature of the scientific method and premises to be 'value free' in nature.
In this respect, Walklate appears to prefer the use of empirical evidence (which can be obtained from sources such as interviews and victim surveys), in order to establish the patterns of victimisation. Understandably, there is reluctance to accept the idea put forward by positivist victimologists that this theory takes a 'value-free' approach, predominantly due to the fact that only a narrow range of crimes are taken into account and only a narrow range of explanatory factors are offered (based on highly individualised attributes).
Also, since these narrow range of conventional offences tend to be the most serious offences, the radical victimological advances were likely to be controversial simply due to the contentious nature of the offences raised by the theory of positivism itself. More specifically, the latter definition draws our attention to the need for more of a subjective element to be incorporated into the positivist agenda. This is due to the fact that all of our most certain knowledge (I. e.
knowledge of ourselves and our mental states), cannot be accessed by objective science. Therefore it would seem almost impossible that objective science would be able to give an accurate objective/quantitative account of the source of our own knowledge. Indeed our own knowledge is experienced, not only subjectively, but qualitatively, as opposed to quantitatively. So by categorizing victims, we are essentially reducing their experiences, and hence we are failing to acknowledge the true meaning of their experiences.
We must therefore acknowledge that a new methodology was needed to develop the positivist methodology and to get to the core of the problem. One way in which this may be achieved by investigating into the plight of victims much more deeply so as to access the subjective nature of their experiences. At the heart of the second definition is Von Hentig's controversial notion of 'victim proneness,' which suggests that some victims actively contribute to their own victimisation process I. e. the victim is not just a passive sufferer at the hands of the offender.
Indeed, Von Hentig's rigid typology includes both social categories: (children, old people and females; the mentally disabled; immigrants; minorities and 'dull normals') alongside emotional/personality traits: (the depressed, the acquisitive, the wanton, the lonesome/heartbroken, the tormentor and the chronic 'loser'). 5 Similarly, Mendelsohns' idea of 'victim culpability' (idem), includes a Six-fold typology ranging from the 'completely innocent'… to the 'most guilty' (e. g. the injured aggressor) and makes a distinction between the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' victim.
This notion of the 'Born victim' reflects his deterministic viewpoint of the human nature and is overtly contentious because of its refusal to delve into any wider social issues which could be instrumental in finding out exactly why some people are more likely to be victimised than others. From Mendelsohns' limited viewpoint, we can infer the importance of structural/societal factors when determining the true causes of victimisation (later introduced in the methodology's inherent within the radical perspective).
The argument that a person may not be merely passive and can actively contribute to their own victimisation (inherent within positivism), is not only contentious, but due to the sheer abruptness of such a concept, would seem to inevitably create a gateway for an even more advanced development on the positivist agenda, due to our concerns with the explanatory factors behind this notion. The notion of victim precipitation can be defined as; 'acting out with unwise haste… or exhibiting lack of due care or consideration.
'6 Fortunately, with the increasing prominence of the plight of victims, and moves towards penal populism and retributive justice, the positivist methodology refuses to acknowledge the notion of the irresistible impulse syndrome I. e. the law of rape refuses to recognise provocation or seduction by the victim as a possible reason for mitigation of the offence. 7 Indeed, with the introduction of positivist methodologies, the law became more concerned with the offenders responsibility.
Due to their subject matter, the two most worrying adoptions of positivist methodologies are the investigations carried out by Amir and Wolfgang. 8 Indeed, Wolfgang's research is based upon the police records of 588 murder cases in Philadelphia and concludes that in 26% of these cases, the victim had initiated the events that led to their death. Similarly, Amir based his investigation on the police records of 646 cases of forcible rape in Philadelphia, with the conclusion that 19% of the victims precipitated their own victimisation.
These links to the controversial blame culture have little to say about the broader perspective since they are only concerned with purely individualised factors (criticised by feminists in the context of radical perspectives), and detract any attention away from the state and its responsibility for how it has constructed our society. (criticised by left realists in the context of radical perspectives).
Furthermore, we tend to associate the term 'radical' with connotations of a extremist point of view; a term which would seem necessary so as to counteract the worrying and forthright viewpoints put forward by positivist researchers such as Amir and Wolfgang (and their association to the paradigm of victim precipitation). The positivist methodology is clearly inefficient and is essentially too narrow to provide an adequate explanation of the patterns of victimisation. A radical approach was much needed.
The generalised assumptions created by the positivist reliance upon data collection (large-scale victim surveys such as the British Crime Survey 1972) largely displaced the use of police records and disclosed a non-random pattern of victimisation. 9 However, in its quest for factors that might help to explain it, the positivist methodology largely fails. Indeed, the lifestyles approach is one method that has been incorporated by the positivist agenda to explain the patterns of victimisation. This includes an individuals' 'routine activities' within the context of constraints such as age, sex, race etc.
The inclusion of these factors appear to demonstrate how the positivist methodology's have started to develop more plausible explanations for the causes of victimisation by finally beginning to acknowledge structural factors (albeit in a limited and superficial sense). Also, criticism must be vented regarding the idea that factors such as the amount of time spent in public places, the amount of time spent with non-family members and the extent to which a victim resembles the offender; all increase the risk of victimisation.
Indeed, the rigidity of such criteria cannot be as clear cut as one would initially believe I. e. not all situations can be covered by this framework created by the positivist approach and its stereotyping attempts to classify all patterns of victimisation. This is particularly notable in crimes such as rape and domestic violence, where it is often the 'nearest and dearest' of the victims who are responsible and where wider structural factors have constrained womens' lifestyle choices so as to add fuel to these kinds of 'hidden crime.
' Women are often economically dependent upon their partner, they may hope their partner will change their behaviour, or they may simply have nowhere else to go/lack of alternative accommodation. 10 Radical perspectives subsequently presented an advance on the positivist agenda by declaring that maybe we should be looking more at how our society has been ordered and the responsibility of the state, if we want to find out the true causes of victimisation.
Also, the series of false assumptions premised on the lifestyle approach seem to add insult to injury to some victims of crime. Sweeping statements that most crimes take place in the public domain and are more likely to be committed by strangers; does not hold true of violence involving women and children, nor do the ideas that victims are always aware of their victimisation and may change their lifestyle so as to reduce the risk.