Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Some, I gather, have taken the time to read what I have written, here and there, on the subject of victims of crime. And then misunderstood me. The blame for this must, largely, rest with me. After all, a writer who fails to properly convey his meaning is doing a pretty shoddy job, no?

To clarify, then. I have no inherent problem with victims of crime. They are entitled to their suffering and their opinions. It is only reasonable that their suffering should, if possible, be ameliorated. If not by the criminal, then by society as a whole. That there is a Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is hardly a bad thing, and that Victims Support exists to guide and assist victims through the criminal justice maze is equally unobjectionable. Victims should be supported and they should be compensated.

My objections, if such they are, relate to the political activities of victims and their cultural elevation. Being a victims does not make you an expert on crime, not even the one you have suffered from. It does not give you any special insight into criminology, sociology or penology. And as being a victim gives no special insight or expertise, it follows that the vocal opinions of some victims should have no more status than, for instance, my opinions.

Despite this, the body politic and their media shadows have taken to embracing high-profile victims...that profile being determined by media interest. For every Sara Payne, there are hundreds of others who the media ignore. And so government, in turn, ignores them.

The high profile victims then set about making policy demands. They don't campaign for broad aims, they actually prescribe the minutiae of specific policies they want to see enacted. And, sometimes, they get their way. That the policies they demand may be criminological nonsense, or that they may even lead to greater crimes or injustices, is of no interest. Not to the victims, nor to their political and media sponsors.

It is in this area that I part ways with victims. No particular group, let alone an ill informed one, should determine public policy. No matter how sympathetic these individuals may be, they must not be allowed to warp the criminal justice process in their sectional interests.

Justice is a matter for the whole of society and it is a fragile thing. To attempt to warp the system in favour of one party should be anathema. So I make this argument, and I repeat it in various writings. If this is seen as being anti-victim, I must stress that it is not intended to be. All it means is that victims shouldn't get a free pass into the policy arena and that their ideas and demands should be as open to debate as any other.


  1. Ben, I suspect that these 'celebrity victims', are chosen and nurtured by the national web of political agents.

    When a political executive wants or needs a new legislation passed, it can activate its legion of spin doctors, and their contacts, to find an appropriate victim; who may already be in the public attention from some sensational media coverage of their notoriety.

    Said victim will then be liaised with professional spin merchants, to build a coherent 'solution', that just happens to fit in with the executive aims.

    Many of the changes enacted by ZanuLabour were clear breaches of natural justice and liberty, and therefore a lot of wool had to be pulled over the public's eyes to make such changes, without losing votes. Hence causes celebres aid radical governments to breakthrough the inertial barrier of democracy: you can fool the people all the time.

  2. Maybe some good news:


  3. I really enjoy this blog. I recently came across a fantastic article about Norwegian prisons. You get the sense that Britain and America are stuck in the Stone Ages while Norway is surging ahead. There prisoners get to leave to visit their families, get to work outside of the prison, etc. Here's a link:

  4. "Some laws of state aimed at curbing crime are even more criminal" Engles.

  5. Anonymous, above, did you take the time to read the post? Being the mother of a murdered child is a terrible thing but it does not mean that all she says is right.

  6. Anonymous #1,

    That Time article is very interesting. I can't imagine the population of the UK being ready to accept something like that any time soon :(

    One thing did jar a bit though, the writer says Norway finds it easier to do this sort of thing because of their low criminality (70 per 100000 vs 750 per 100000 in the US), but utterly fails to see that they might have cause and effect round the wrong way. Perhaps Norway's low criminality is due to their progressive attitude towards imprisonment and rehabilitation, not the other way around?!


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