A common thought in the minds of many people after hearing about a certain crime is that the victim of the crime must have been at the wrong place, or that the offender killed the victim just because of his/her violent greedy nature or greed. Despite this being true in some instances, in the other situations, this type of thinking is ill-placed. Most of the time, a victim is the one who leads to his/her demise. This can either be done directly whereby the victim offends the criminal, or indirectly by performing actions that cause the crime to occur. Whatever the case, the victim is the driver of the homicide; a situation is known as a victim precipitated homicide. Research on victimology has therefore changed what existed in the minds of many people and led to the adoption of certain theories.
Victimology is defined as the study of victims and the various patterns that exist during their victimization. Numerous contributions by scientists have been made in the field of victimology. The difference between victimology and criminology is that the former studies the patterns of victimization while the latter deals with various patterns of crime occurrence. Victim precipitation refers to an event where a victim is the direct cause of the victimization incident. This paper focuses on victim precipitation and the various effects it has during the homicide.
Victim-precipitated homicide is a suicidal act on the side of the victim in which the victim who is determined to self-destruct or kill him/herself engages in a move that is usually pre-meditated in the presence of a criminal, forcing a police officer or someone else to kill them. Precipitation refers to situations where the victim in the first to use physical force to the offender. Victim precipitation can occur in one of two ways: the victim participates in the crime by being the one who acts first, or the victim provokes the offender, typically using harsh words such that the offender feels obliged to act back in the same way. In many crimes, the victim is the person responsible for his/her demise. Due to this possible provocation by the victim, the law considers victim precipitation as a reason to mitigate a murder to manslaughter, or to excusable homicide from criminal homicide. For such a move to occur, there are several things that have to happen. The amount of provocation must have been adequate, the homicide must have been at the very exact moment of provocation, the homicide must have been in the heat of passion, and a close connection existing between the heat of passion, the provocation, and the act of homicide. Therefore, in precipitated victim homicides, the victim is usually the first in provoking the killer. This can be done physically or using words. Therefore, victims of precipitated victim crimes do not necessarily cause the crimes to occur, but the occurrence of the crime is influenced by a decision which they made. According to Doerner & Lab, precipitated victim homicides have certain factors including prior interpersonal relationships. The homicide is an act of a disagreement, and in most of these murders, alcohol is a common ingredient. An example is when one forgets something in the house and goes back hurriedly to fetch the forgotten item. In the process of hurrying back to the house, he/she leaves the car door open. In the car, there is the phone. During the victim’s stay in the house, the phone is stolen. Therefore, this crime was not caused by the victim, but influenced by his/her actions.
In victim provocation, the victim is usually the cause of his/her victimization. An area of victim precipitation known as symbolic interactionism defines criminal events as interactions in the social circle that resemble actions in the play. The only difference is that the scene of the crime in never scripted hence the result cannot be determined. However, the actions of one party influence the action of the other party. The victim and the criminal engage in the one on one confrontation, most of the times in the presence of audience. According to many researches, most of the homicidal incidents are initiated by the victim, either verbally or physically.
Some steps are followed during a scene that results into a homicide. According to Luckenbill, a situated transaction is a group of steps that occur in a certain setting resulting in a homicide. The first step in a situated transaction is the opening move. This is the initiation of the back and forth confrontation between the victim and the offender. In most cases, the victim initiates this step. In the next stage, the interpretation of the opening move occurs. For a homicide to occur, the opening move is viewed as offensive to the party interpreting it, and the interpreter is usually the offender. The next step sees the offender giving back a verbal challenge to the victim. This is usually a response to the second stage. After this phase, both parties reach a situation where they have to engage in a physical confrontation. It is here that the offender sees that the victim seems ready to give it a fight. In the last step, the offender kills the victim, and the situation becomes a homicide. Luckenbill in his study found out that in most homicides, the victim challenged the offender. The latter, in his/her turn, viewed this as a way of settling the dispute using violence. Both parties then start fighting or engaging in violence that leads to the death of the victim and the offender is charged with homicide.
For the homicides that involve parties that are intimately related, the victim provocation theory offers some good insights to the how these crimes occur. According to Felson & Messner, 46% of spousal homicide incidents in a sample of females arrested for killing their spouses were initiated by the male counterpart physically attacking the female (victim). 9% of these events were also acts of self-defense. Again, more men are killed than their female counterparts in victim precipitated homicides. In these homicides, there is a distinction in that the most male spouses had a previous history of violence against women. Therefore, victim precipitated homicides sometimes have an extension to prior violence incidences. The reverse is also true. A woman can also precipitate her killing by her spouse. This is in the form of competition from another man, or the woman is actively showing interest in another man.
Victim precipitation offers some advantages and disadvantages. The theories used to describe victim precipitation show a bigger picture. They shift the focus from the categories of the parties involved in a homicide, typically the victim and offender, to how the actors were influenced by situational factors, and how they engaged in these factors, resulting in the occurrence of the crime. If much of the focus goes to how the offender behaved, then a big deal of information about the causes of victimization, mostly concerning the violence of social interaction, is lost. Despite these advantages, theories involved in victim precipitation also have their disadvantages. These approaches are limited to specific crimes such as particular forms of unlawful violence, and violent crimes. Therefore, these theories are only limited to events of homicide that they can only explain.
Demonstration of force or use of harsh language plays an important role in victim precipitated homicide. These aspects are the main initiators of the situation transaction. A victim either physically shows aggression or uses a harsh language to the offender. In both cases, the latter feels offended leading to a response to the victim. After this, both parties engage in actual violence leading to the demise of the victim.
However, not all circumstances have victims being the direct cause of their killing. In many cases, the victim usually has nothing to do with his/her demise. One of such situations is when the killing was an accident. In this example, an offender can kill a victim by accident. The killer can also be compelled by his/her colleagues, or by the situation in which they are in to kill the victim. For example, in a burglary, when someone shows up, the criminal can decide to kill the victim so as to get away with the burglary crime.
Therefore, in today’s society, there are various factors that promote suicide or lead to precipitated victim homicides. To prevent such homicides, the government has a huge role to play. In collaboration with the media, the government should provide public awareness of the phenomenon, and shape the attitude that various people have. There should be increased awareness about victim precipitation. With it, people will restrain themselves from such behavior. Again, various law enforcers should be trained and educated on how to deal with precipitated victim incidences. This is because they can be likely offenders of such crimes since they are the only ones in the society that have access to weapons. They should be trained how to approach such situations, and how to deal with likely victims of crime precipitation.
In conclusion, homicides are not only caused by rage or greedy criminals but can be initiated by the victims knowingly or unknowingly. Therefore, offenders should not always be faulted for homicides since, in some cases, the victim was the one who initiated the said conflict. Whenever people find themselves in situations where precipitation of a crime is taking place, they should be careful to prevent bad eventualities.