The victim precipitation theory posits that, in a given criminal act, the victims themselves behave or act in certain ways that inadvertently provoke the victimizer’s attack on them. In other words, a criminal act is a mutually undertaken process.
“The guilty is often times the victim of the injured.“
― Khalil Gibran
Every criminal act involves a victim being attacked by a victimizer. Initially, criminologists believed that an offender was solely responsible for a crime, and hence focused on the victimizer’s actions alone. However, over the course of time, it has become apparent that the victim also plays a role in the occurrence of a criminal act, and this has given rise to the field of victimology, which studies the relationships between the victim and victimizer, and tries to determine the dynamics of the criminal act. It examines how victims contribute towards their own victimization, and whether they share any responsibility for the occurrence of a criminal act. The criminal act is dependent on a variety of factors, such as social ecology, gender, age, social and marital status, race, and ethnicity, that determine the nature of the victimization. The entire process is explained in the form of theories, of which the prominent ones are:
- Lifestyle Theory
- Routine Activity Theory
- Victim Precipitation Theory
The lifestyle theory claims that, the lifestyles of certain people increase their exposure to the criminal elements of society, thereby facilitating their victimization. Situation examples include being in public places late at night, regular excessive alcohol consumption, substance abuse, having affiliations to criminals, and indulging in criminal activities. The routine activity theory proposes that, victimization is an opportunistic event that occurs due to the favorable combination of everyday factors. These factors include the availability of a vulnerable target, the absence of any protective agents, and the presence of a motivated offender. Lastly, the victim precipitation theory claims that, the victim initiates confrontations that eventually lead to his/her own victimization. This is the most commonly seen scenario in case of homicides, sexual assault, and other violent crimes.
Victim Precipitation Theory Definition
This theory was put forth by Marvin Wolfgang, an American criminologist, in the year 1958. He proposed that, in certain scenarios, the victims themselves behave or initiate confrontations, such that the offender is provoked, precipitating into an attack on the victim, i.e., the victim sets into motion their own victimization. This observation was achieved as a result of Dr. Wolfgang’s analysis of homicide cases in Philadelphia. His analysis revealed that, the victim-offender interactions or altercations were initiated due to aggressive actions of the would-be victim, in most cases. This led to the conclusion that, in any criminal act, the victim is not entirely blameless and innocent, and that the crime is a precipitation of the victim’s actions and the offender’s reaction. In other words, the victim’s actions provide criminal motivation to the offender.
There are two types of precipitations – active and passive. Active precipitation occurs when the victim knowingly provokes the offender by way of provocative clothing, vulgar language, provocative body language, use of threats and swear words, or by minor attacks. Passive precipitation, on the other hand, occurs when the victim possesses behavioral, character, ethnic, or personality traits that motivate or threaten the attacker. A competing interest can also be considered passive precipitation, if it motivated the offender to attack the victim. Here, the victim is not conscious or aware of the provocation he/she provides to the offender.
Drawbacks of the Theory
★ Victim is held responsible for the crime
★ Excuses the offender’s behavior and actions
★ Victim’s behavior is blamed for the occurrence of the criminal act
★ Leads to the assumption that the victim deserved the crime due to his/her actions
Examples of Victim Precipitation
➤ A woman kills her husband due to a prolonged history of regular domestic violence.
➤ In the midst of a heated argument, the victim physically lashes out at the offender, causing him to shove or hit the victim so hard that he/she falls and gravely injures himself/herself.
➤ Constant derogation and humiliation of an employee, in public, by the employer, causes the employee to lash out and physically harm the employer.
➤ A drunken man engages in eve-teasing a woman, keeps chasing her, and eventually tries to get physical with her. In desperation, the woman reaches for any sharp object she can find, and stabs the man.
➤ The horrifying practice of lynching (hate crime) that was carried out by Americans against people of African origins, due to racism.
➤ One employee is passed over for a promotion that is offered to his/her colleague (victim). This motivates him to physically harm or spread rumors about the victim.
➤ Two men competing for the love of the same woman may indulge in antagonistic acts towards each other.
➤ The act of terrorism against a select community of people.
In general, according to studies on victimology, victim-precipitated crimes are largely those crimes that involve acts of terrorism, hate crimes, racial hatred, physical and sexual assaults, etc. These tend to be spontaneous and crimes of passion. Very rarely are these crimes premeditated. Analysis of various victim-precipitated crimes suggest that, males are more likely to be victimized by strangers, whereas women are likely to be victimized by friends and known acquaintances. Almost one-third of all violent crimes involve the use of mind-altering drugs or alcohol.