A Holistic Approach to Victims and Victimology

To mark the publication of Victimology: A Canadian Perspective, author Jo-Anne Wemmers explains the emerging field of victimology and why the book’s victim-centred, holistic approach is important.

Wemmers_VictimologyEvery day, around the world victims of crime make news headlines. While society reacts with outrage and cries for justice, victims are often given relatively little attention or the attention given to them is short-lived. Even the criminal justice system, which relies heavily on victims as witnesses, generally fails to recognize victims as persons before the law. This despite the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that each and every one of us has a right to recognition as a person before the law. Crime constitutes a violation of the victims’ rights as well as an act against the state. Victims’ rights are human rights.

Victimology is an exciting new science which has emerged in recent years into a well-defined domain of research. It examines the causes and consequences of victimization with a view to preventing victimization and reducing its negative impact on the individual as well as society. Originally a product of criminology, victimology was born in the ashes of the Second World War in order to help explain crime. However, over the last sixty years it has come to change the way we look at crime. Victimology has matured from a progeny of criminology to a source of knowledge and inspiration for criminology, influencing the kinds of questions that criminologists focus on.

Research on poly-victimization (Finkelhor et al 2007) or multiple crime-type victimization (Hope et al 2001) reminds us of the importance of viewing victimization as a sign of vulnerability and a predictor of future risk of victimization. For example, victimization experienced during childhood is associated with a high risk of violent victimization later on in life (FRA 2014; Perreault 2015). An individual may experience many different types of victimization across the course of their life and by focusing exclusively on specific types of victimization at once we risk losing sight of the bigger picture.

Books on victimology often approach victimization in a segmented way with each chapter focusing on a different type of crime. There may be a chapter on sexual violence, one on domestic violence, and another on burglary. Sometimes they focus on particular categories of victims, such as the elderly. While it is important to recognize the specificities of different types of victimization and victims, it is also important not to treat victimization in isolation.

Victimology: A Canadian Perspective provides students with a holistic approach to the study of victimology. The book devotes an entire chapter to victimological theories, which encourage students to understand and explain victimization and its effects in order to prevent re-victimization in the future. Applying a victim-centred lens to victimology, this book reminds us of the impact of victimization on the individual and the importance of victim support in order to prevent future victimization.

Based on the Canadian criminal justice system, Victimology provides a comprehensive understanding of victims’ legal rights in Canada. It offers a timely, state-of-the-art overview of key federal and provincial legislation pertaining to victims, including the Canadian Charter of Victims’ Rights. Victims’ rights and services are approached from a need-based perspective, providing a critical analysis of victim compensation programs across Canada.

While Victimology presents research from around the world, it is uniquely Canadian in its approach to criminal justice policy and practice, making it an ideal teaching tool for victimology students in Canada. At the same time, the Canadian context is contrasted with systems found elsewhere around the world, providing a rich, comparative analysis. This makes the book a valuable resource for anyone interested in comparative victimology.


Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R.K. & Turner, H.A. (2007b). Poly-victimization: A neglected component in child victimization. Child Abuse and Neglect, 31, 7-26.

FRA-European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). Violence Against Women: EU Wide Survey Main Results. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Hope, T., Bryan, J., Trickett, A. & Osborn, D. (2001). The Phenomena of Multiple Victimization: The relationship between personal and property crime risk. British Journal of Criminology, 41, 595-617.

Perreault, S., (2015). Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2014. Juristat, Catalogue No. 85-002-X, Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Jo-Anne M. Wemmers is a Full Professor in the School of Criminology at the University of Montreal and an international expert on victimology. She has published over 100 articles, chapters, and books on the subject, is a past secretary-general of the World Society of Victimology, and is the editor of the International Review of Victimology.

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