Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods



"In the rush to examine a criminal's behavior, it is not difficult to become distracted by the dangling carrot of that criminal's potential characteristics and forget about the value of understanding his victims"

Brent Turvey

Victimology in its most simple form is the study of the victim or victims of a particular offender. It is defined as "the thorough study and analysis of victim characteristics" (Turvey), and may also be called "victim profiling" (Holmes). The reason a good victimology is important is that the victim constitutes roughly half of the criminal offence, and as such, is as much a part of the crime as the crime scene, weapons, and eyewitnesses. This is especially true when we are presented with a live victim, as this was the last person to witness the crime, and may be able to provide the best behavioral and physical description of the offender.

Apart from the above considerations, the victim's background may provide us with important information about past activities or lifestyle, possibly leading directly to the generation of a suspect. The victim has traditionally been neglected in police investigations, and when a profile is requested, the victim information is often missing from the police reports. This should not be taken to mean that no police services use victim information, rather, until recently many have neglected to consider the victim's past as important. Often, the best way to approach a profile is through the victimology (Ressler), and is one of the most beneficial tools in classifying and solving a violent crime (Douglas).

In a perfect world, the following information should be available for the profilers on the victim before they begin to work the case (Turvey, Holmes):

  • Physical traits
  • Marital status
  • Personal lifestyle
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Medical history
  • Criminal justice system history
  • Last known activities, including a timeline of events
  • Personal diaries (if known and available)
  • Map of travel prior to offence
  • Drug and alcohol history
  • Friends and enemies
  • Family background
  • Employment history

The above list is not "exhaustive" in that it does not provide a total and absolute checklist of those things that should be included in the victimology. It is a rough guide only and each case, with a unique perpetrator and victim, will require its own unique victimology.

There are some important questions that should accompany any study of the victim, and these will hopefully lead not only to some answers, but also to more questions which should also be addressed. Again, this list is not complete, but should give the reader an idea about what to look for and ask of the crime:

  • Why was this particular person targeted?
  • How were the person targeted, or was the person a victim of opportunity?
  • What are the chances of the person becoming a victim at random (and therefore opportunistic)?
  • What risk did the offender take to commit the crime?
  • How was the victim approached, restrained and/or attacked?
  • What was the victim's likely reaction to the attack?

The answers to these questions will provide some ideas about the offender's motive and MO, and possibly his signature. From this, other examinations can be made about the offender's likely background including his knowledge of forensic and police procedures, his possible occupation, his physical characteristics and social skills. Where possible, inferences made by the profiler about the offender should be checked off against other inputs such as eyewitness accounts and the information available from the crime scene. If the information "fits," it is more probable that the conclusions are correct. If it does not "fit," then further support should be sought, or other possibilities explored.

The following case study should provide the reader with a greater understanding of the need for an extensive victimology. It is drawn from the author's own files, and the conclusions were provided to a media source upon request.

The offender was dubbed the "Granny Rapist" by the media, for reasons which should be obvious. From January 1998 to January 1999, a lone offender had been breaking into the homes of elderly people in the capital city of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. All of the victims were elderly and some were sexually assaulted, while some managed to fight off the attacker. When he met with resistance, he simply got up and left without much further struggle. The attacks occurred between midnight and 4.00 a.m., and all occurred in Housing Commission residences. There appeared to be premeditation in all of the offenses, suggesting that each victim was specifically targeted by the offender.

The entry was made to the premises in varying ways: in one case a hole was cut in the mesh so he could reach inside and unlock the door; in another, a set of keys had been stolen prior to the incident, a copy made, and the originals returned. The offender was always heavily clothed, and wore a mask and gloves. He spoke in a whisper.

In examining the victimology in this case, the victims' ages and current living arrangements meant that the odds of this occurring by chance were very slim indeed, suggesting that the victims had been pre-selected. It was felt that older victims had been selected because they were more easily controlled and were less likely to have visitors at those early morning hours. Also, the fact that he had stolen a set of keys, duplicated, then returned them signalled his intention to return at a later date.

So how did the offender come to meet all of these victims? Given that they all rented through the Housing Commission, it was felt that the offender probably worked for the Commission in some capacity. This could have been as a maintenance man, gardener, or painter or builder. It appeared that the offender knew the layout of the property, so more likely than not, he had been inside at some point prior to the offences. Given the lengths the offender went to in an attempt to conceal his identity also suggested he had personally encountered some if not all of his victims at some point. He felt that they may be able to identify him if he was not well concealed.

These inferences are somewhat basic, and just an example of the ways that victimology can provide information about many aspects of a criminal investigation. Simply by looking into victimology, we can determine whether the victims were chosen at random, possibly by whom, and we may even be able to determine some of the offender's characteristics through a good victimology. In the above case, the offender had pre-selected his victims, had entered their properties prior to the assaults, and was employed by the Housing Commission as a painter.

There are three main issues that can be provided through victimology and these are context, connections, and investigative direction (Turvey). Using the above case, it would have been possible to provide investigative direction in that the police should look for a male who had prior access to the properties, may have been employed by the Housing Commission, and was probably employed in a profession such as a painter, builder, lawn-mower or general maintenance man.

By understanding how and why the above victims were chosen, a "relationship" between the offender and victims was established. The other kinds of links that may be provided between the offender and victim include work colleagues, geographic links (such as a neighbor), hobby related links (sports clubs), or social links (victim met the offender in a bar). The number of possible links is endless, so a good victimology is essential to narrow this down.

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