In general, there are four undeniable principles that you have to keep in mind before you even tackle the profile of the victim(s)
- there is always a reason why someone becomes a victim: it sounds harsh, even for some judgmental, but it is a reality. Here the point is not to say that if someone gets raped, it is because the person deserved it. THAT IS UNTRUE ! The idea behind this statement is that however absurd or twisted the reason can be, there IS a reason why the offender chose to victimize the person. Even in a case of total opportunity victim, the victim still had a reason to be where and when the offender chose to commit his crime, and even might have triggered (consciously or unconsciously) the offense. Therefore there is no such thing as just sheer bad luck in the victimization process.
- the victim has to be seen and studied while keeping in mind we deal with real people: of course that means first and foremost that even when a victim has succumbed to the offense, you have to treat everyone involved (the victim, the family, the friends and colleagues) with reverence and respect. But it also signifies that we all live multiple lives: a professional and public life that we show to the world, a private life that we share with our family and friends, a sexual life. Thus, when you study the victim's life, don't just take what family and friends tell you, try to dig deeper. You might discover that the married woman was having affairs or a that a respectful director and perfect husband and father was living a double life, or that the idealized son was hiding to everyone that he was gay, and so on... all these elements are vital as the victim can lead a public life that can be seen as very low risk of victimization (see the post on victim exposure analysis 2.3), whereas the secret life they lead can be one with a high risk of victimization (for example gay life is often seen as promiscuous with a high number of sexual encounters with total strangers).
- in his book "Criminal Profiling", Brent E. Turvey recommends to avoid deification (idealizing the victim as innocent and virtuous)or vilification (tendency to view or cast certain victim population as worthless or disposable by their nature) of the victim.
* deification has the capacity to
=> cause an incomplete victimology
=> provide coverage for the false reporter
=> remove good suspects from the suspect pool
=> provide coverage for suspects who are family and household members
* vilification can result in uncritical acceptance of evidence that supports that supports this image and blindness to evidence that does not. The main categories of people often vilified are
=> homeless/mentally ill
=> minority populations
=> drug dealers/addicts
=> teen runaways
=> individuals with particular religious beliefs
- the last principle is that victimology is fundamental when building an offender profile as very often, for each specific victim profile corresponds a specific offender profile.
The main goals of victimology are:
- to determine the possible links between the victim and the offender and the context of the victim/offender relationship
- to establish the origins of the victimization or why the victim was chosen or targeted
- to define and narrow the suspect pool
It is important to determine the mobile of the crime
- if the mobile is obvious (money, revenge, passion), you should focus more on the direct environment of the victim like relationships, family, friends, enemies, colleagues...
- if the mobile is not obvious the focus should be on a larger circle (people the victim crossed pass with, childhood friends...)
The victimology research should be as wide as possible, and should include
- physical condition
- life style
- family relationships
- social behavior
- possible history
- private life and environment
General victimology guidelines:
- Weston and Wells provide a checklist
* did the victim know the perpetrator?
* does the victim suspect any person? Why?
* has the victim a history of crime?
* did the victim have a weapon?
* has the victim an aggressive personality?
* has the victim been the subject of any field (police) reports?
- National Institute of Justice
* determine the victim's hard character (race, weight, height, hair color, eye color...)
* determine the victim's occupation or place of work, and shift schedule
* compile the victim's criminal history
* compile a list of he victim's daily routines, habits and activities
* compile a list of victim friends with contact information, and interview each of them
* compile the victim's medical history
* compile the victim's psychological history
* compile a list of victim's medication (compare with victim's toxicology)
* compile victim's financial, educational, residence history
* spend time, when possible, with the victim's personal items, in their personal environment. Examine any available photo albums, diaries or journals. Find out who they seemed they were, what they wanted everyone to perceive, and how they seem to feel about their life in general.
* compile all available information regarding the victim's mobile phone, computer and internet
* create a timeline of the victim's last known activities (using witness statements and physical evidence)
* travel the last known route taken by the victim in whatever manner the victim used. Try to see that route from the victim's perspective and then from the potential perspective of the offender. Keep the perspectives separate.
* look the security video cameras along the victim's route
Victim selection is the process by which an offender intentionally chooses or targets a victim. Each offender has particular selection criteria that satisfy his or her needs. The major factors that can influence this decision making process include:
- availability: many serial killers target prostitutes not only because they are easy targets (are ready to follow mostly anyone offering money), but also because you can find them everywhere (on the streets, internet, in almost every city)
- location: the Zodiac Killer, at least at the beginning of his rampage, was targeting couples in very specific locations where couples liked to elope for a romantic moment
- vulnerability: angels of death (nurses) prey on sick or dying victims, or women with the Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy (who prey on their own children, making them sick just to get the attention and show how well they take care of their children)
- relationships: Black widows and blue beards who get married for wealth and get rid of their new husband or wife to inherit the money
- symbolic criteria: Ted Bundy had a preference for women who would remind him of his former girlfriend
- fantasy criteria: Jeffrey Dahmer would only target men he wanted to date
If we can understand how and why a serial offender selects a particular victim, then we may also be able to establish the relational links between the victim and the offender. Additionally, if we come to understand the offender's overall strategy for the selection of the victim, then we have a better chance of predicting the type of victim the offender may select in the future:
- was the victim opportunistic or targeted?
- if the victim was targeted, what appears to be the offender's selection criterion? (location, physical characteristic, occupation, activity, vulnerability...)
- if the victim appears to have been targeted, what presurveillance behaviors would be required by the offender, given the activity of the victim?
- if the victim could not have been targeted, then did the offender have to step outside of his or her daily, non-criminal routine to acquire his victim, or was the offender likely trolling for a potential victim?
- if the offender was not actively trolling and the victim could not have been preselected or presurveyed, the the offender likely acquired the victim during his or her family routine. This suggests that a reconstruction of the victim's lifestyle, habits and routines may give direct insight into the lifestyle, habits and routines of the offender.
Finally, it is important to try to determine if the victim presented some kind of resistance to the offender, as it could explain an escalation from rape to rape and murder for example, or why a victim survived or escaped... and can give insight into the offender's fantasy and psyche:
- victim compliance: the victim acquiesces to an offender's demand readily and without hesitation
- passive resistance: the victim defies an offender by non aggressive means
- verbal resistance: the victim defies an offender with words
- physical resistance: the victim defies an offender with physical force