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Criminology and Victimology: Victim Stereotypes in Criminal Justice

The criminal justice system has several inefficiencies most of which can be interpreted under a variety of lenses. One of these explanations concerns the ideal victim mold that many law enforcers, criminal justice prosecutors as well as several other persons have held about crimes committed. The paper shall look at this matter of female perpetrated violence as well as male experiences of sexual violence and racial minority victims.

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How ideal victim stereotypes affect responses in the criminal justice system

The criminal justice system tends to side with female perpetrators of male violence as seen in a series of cases around the world. One particular issue raised eyebrows in the United States owing to its relevance to this matter. The case involved a female stripper who had been accused of raping a best man at a bachelor’s party. In this incident, the plaintiff asserted that the female stripper had forcefully placed a sex toy into his behind and that this was done without his consent. (Hunt, 2009)

The most outstanding matter, in this case, was that the defendant kept dismissing the matter as a joke and her judge seemed inclined to believing these same assertions as well. The prosecutor called the matter ‘accidental rape’ after the judge passed a sentence in favor of the defendant. Such statements revealed the underlying assumptions concerning the victim stereotypes. Even the sentence passed disfavoured the male victim and it can be argued that the judgment could have been influenced by underlying suppositions. Several analysts asserted that if the offended party, in this case, had been a woman, then the matter would have been labeled as a sexual assault automatically. However, because it was a man, then the crime became debatable. It is highly unlikely that a reasonable or sane man would put himself through an embarrassing ordeal in court if the crime had not yet really occurred. In the end, this individual missed a chance to regain his self-confidence. (Hunt, 2009).

A study carried out by the US Department of Justice revealed a disturbing study about victim stereotypes and what does or does not constitute them. In this research, it was asserted that there are several situations in which African American males frequently became victims of physical violence and that racial profiling often perpetuated this injustice. According to them, racial profiling (which identifies victims and then seeks crimes that can then be attested to the individual) has contributed tremendously to the negative stereotypes placed upon young black victims (US Justice Department, 2008).

The media also plays a crucial role in reinforcing racial stereotypes as they are in a position where they portray images of young black males that only denote negative aspects in what are classified as scholarly accounts. Besides this, overemphasis on these racial stereotypes makes the media propagating it become blind to other representations that particular races have been involved in. Consequently, it can be said that blacks and other racial minorities are often viewed as individuals whose relations are outlined by the common media perceptions. These groups are often looked at as being different and it becomes very difficult for them to continue with their daily lives without being looked at with suspicion from law enforcement representatives. Subsequently, the criminal justice system has been unfair to this group because most of the time, they are often judged even without being studied or being understood.

In his book “On becoming a victim”, Paul Rock (2002) asserts that there are several issues that are yet to be addressed in criminology and a number of them fall under victimology. Here, the author believed that one essential component of improving the criminal justice system is to look for new ways of understanding the ‘victim’. This means that if this is carried out, then criminology would be in a better position to be able to deal with matters surrounding crime control. Additionally, Rock (2002) claims that all crimes need to be treated as acts in which the offenders, as well as the offended parties, construct their respective paths through certain gestures. Consequently, it would be more helpful to refrain from the overarching stereotype propagated by politicians who claim that offenders are distant and different from the norm and that victims represent the conventional and that these two groups are often in conflict. The latter author claims that the criminal justice system would be very effective if it refrained from introducing moral aspects every time there was a victim that had been harmed. This would create more effective policies that would avoid backing crime perpetrators or that would protect people from future crimes.

The latter arguments can be interpreted in understanding the issue of ideal victim molds. According to this author, sometimes, criminals are not alien or removed from conventional systems. Consequently, law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors would be in a better position to deal with a male perpetrated crime if they understood the fact that women too can commit such crimes and that they need to face the law in much the same manner as their male counterparts.

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In the book “Perspectives on victimology’, the authors claim that several books and works on criminology have recognized the importance of the victim in unraveling crime. Also, these authors believe that different communities have their ways of understanding and interpreting crime victims. Consequently, there is a mold within which the ideal victim is placed and those who fall outside this description often end up being marginalized by the criminal justice system. Also, several groups need to understand the fact that there is a relationship between crime and victimization and that policies need to reflect this as well (Mawby & Walkate, 1994).

The latter assertions have been supported by a series of studies conducted on gender roles in the crime. Stewart and Maddren (2008) wanted to find out who police officers blame for cases of family violence. To do this, they chose fifty-one male officers and forty-six females. The study was carried out in Queensland Australia. All the officers were dealing with one of eight case studies in which they varied two major parameters i.e. alcohol consumption and genders of the victims and perpetrators i.e. It was found that police officers tended to blame male victims more than they blamed female victims. Aside from that, most officers also tended to blame drunk offenders more than sober ones. There was a link established between the possibility of charging a wrongdoer to the actual blame placed on the victim. Consequently, the latter research revealed that law enforcement officers are influenced by gender stereotypes as their decisions on family violence are largely determined by this.

Stewart and Maddren (2007) have shown that female perpetrators of male violence are often let off more easily than their male counterparts and this is therefore impairing the justice process. Besides that, the latter study has also shown that the stereotypes are not exclusive to law enforcement officers but are related to the surrounding community that may be addressing some of the challenges facing these particular groups at any one time. This study may have been dwelling on family violence but the findings can be applied in other types of crimes as well and they are very useful in placing crime within its context.

In their article ‘myths and stereotypes of actors involved in domestic violence’ Harrison and Willis (1998) assert that there are several stereotypes concerning gender as well as race. These two aspects of the study are particularly important in understanding the experiences of male victims of sexual violence. In the latter study, three major factors can influence perceptions of culpability to domestic violence, and these include:

  • Marital status
  • Victim resistance
  • Perceiver’s gender

The study commenced by acknowledging that perceptions of domestic violence are nothing new in criminology as they have influenced several writings. Nonetheless, the authors were quick to point out that something was missing when it came to the inclusion of men and women of color. In this regard, the study sought to look into the role of stereotypical notions on perpetrators and victims of color. The authors asserted that people of color are often susceptible to biased responses in the legal system. Also, they have difficulty understanding victimization that occurs within their race and that this can play an important role in determining whether they seek justice. The latter problem can be carried forward to experiences of male victims of sexual violence because they often face similar issues (to people of color) of marginalization.

Larcombe (2002) asserts that several factors can impede the administration of justice especially in cases of sexual violence. This author claims that most law enforcement officials tend to believe in the issue of false complainants and more often than not, label victims of sexual violence as such without much investigation. However, this writer claims that it is more difficult for victims to come forward with their allegations than it is for them to keep to themselves. Consequently, the issue of false complainants is far-fetched or removed from reality. He states that this is a myth distorting the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

The latter article brings in a very important aspect in this paper as it addresses one of the major explanations that law enforcers or other criminal justice stakeholders resort to when dismissing persons who may not fit into the ideal victim mold. It is often common to find that male victims of sexual violence are labeled as false complainants and dismissed yet an expert has asserted that the latter notion is a myth. Laws need to be altered to disfavor this kind of reasoning. (Larcombe, 2002)

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Sainz (2005) wrote an article on sexual assaults for males and how they deal with them. The latter author’s assertions largely dwelt on a program catered for such victims. Although this program was created specifically for psychological purposes, several revelations can still be applied to the field of criminology. According to the victims narrating their experiences, it was found that sexual violence among men is heavily marginalized in society. Consequently, most of them tended to refrain from reporting the matter to law authorities because this could potentially make them exposed and it could affect their self-confidence very deeply. Also, the victims asserted that it made them very angry to be placed in such a vulnerable position and that they often looked for methods of coping with these feelings. Lastly, the research pointed out that male victims of sexual violence were treated as being less masculine by society. While the latter assertions were about society at large and their perceptions, one cannot ignore the fact that law enforcement officers and other criminal justice stakeholders are also actors in society and that their views and opinions are heavily influenced by the perceptions of others outside the criminal justice system. Consequently, policymakers need to understand these facts and look for effective ways of dealing with such matters especially about sexual assaults and male victims.

It should also be noted that victims of violence among ethnic minorities are highly affected by radio, television, and print media because of the relation of certain stories. For instance, several asylum seekers have been highlighted on several media platforms in very negative ways. Usually, the media covers a story that is then racialized by the people watching it. For instance, after the September eleventh attacks, there were a lot of terrorism fears that spread throughout the world and most crimes carried out by these individuals were often stereotyped. Consequently, the public was not sympathetic to victims of violence who had emanated from these marginalized communities. The latter matters started showing several flaws within the criminal justice system. In other words, Warner (2004) indicated that judges needed to go past the public interpretation of a crime and that there was a need to change the sentencing process for such victims. This study was particularly important in understanding the fact that most communities tend to mistrust persons who do not fit into the ideal victim mold especially when that person belongs to a marginalized race/ group that has previously been associated with negative actions such as terrorism.

VAWSU (2006) affirms that victims of sexual violence have several needs and experiences. Also, they added that the following issues must be addressed when assisting these victims

  • explanations on procedures and laws
  • charging
  • investigation
  • compensation
  • medical care
  • access to services
  • other information on their cases

It was affirmed that the provision of all the latter services and entitlements was heavily dependent on the nature of the victim and whether the said individual was a typical case. It was found that the latter issues were not administered fairly in all situations and that instances such as female perpetrated violence were not treated with as much diligence as other matters (Farris & McFall, 2008).

The paper has looked at three particular issues i.e. female permeated violence, male victims of sexual violence as well as experiences of racial minority victims. It has been found that stakeholders within the criminal justice system are affected by biases and concepts held by the wider society. Also, most of these stereotypes are perpetuated by the belief in an ideal victim where male offenders and female victims represent this. However, researches have shown that such a mold is indeed inaccurate and this has come in the way of the administration of justice. Several circumstances do not fall within these stereotypes and policymakers need to reflect these findings in their underlying methods.


  1. US Justice Department. 2008. Black men misunderstood.
  2. Rock, Paul. (2002). On becoming a victim. Routledge: London
  3. Mawby, R. & Wlkate, S. (1994). Perspectives of victimology. London: Sage Publishers
  4. Stewart, A. & Madren, K. (2008). Police officers’ judgements of blame in family violence – impacts of gender and alcohol. Journal of sex roles 37(12), 56
  5. Harrison, L. & Willis, C. (1998). Myths and stereotypes of actors in domestic violence. Journal of Aggression and violent behaviour 4(2), 129-138
  6. Larcombe, W. (2002). Cautionary tales and telling anxieties: false complainants. Journal of Australian Feminist Law 16(9), 5
  7. Sainz, R. (2005). Feminist thinking in male sexual assault programs. Journal of Psychotherapy in Australia 11(2), 49
  8. Kate, W. (2004). Gang rape: crime, rape, sentencing and politic. Journal of violence against women 11(5), 613
  9. Violence Against Women Special Unit (VAWSU)(2006). Improving services and criminal justice response to victims of sexual assault. Community Services Department Report
  10. Walkate, S. (1989).Victimology: the victim and the criminal justice process. London: Unwin Hymen
  11. Farris, C & McFall, M. (2008). Misperceptions of sexual intent. Clinical Review of Psychology 28(3), 46
  12. Hunt, E. (2009). Female stripper found not guilty of raping man at buck’s party.

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