Victimology: A Guide

In real life the chances of you falling victim to a serial killer are extremely slim, aren’t they? Perhaps not as slim as you thought. Every year approximately 437,000 people die violently around the world. That’s a rate of around 6.2 murders for every 100,000 people…

In this article I look at who the victims are according to statistics, how victims are categorised and how the FBI go about investigating who a victim was.


What is ‘victimology’?

Victimology refers to the study of a victim’s complete history in order to learn more about the killer. Identifying why a particular victim was chosen can often lead to the MOTIVE of the killer, which in turn may give us an idea of the identity of the suspect.

In the Crime Classification Manual developed by the FBI, law enforcement and profilers should use a worksheet like the following to build a complete picture of the victim:

If you’d like this worksheet for any reason, you’re welcome to download it for free here: Victimology Worksheet.


Classifying Victims

Once a full history of the victim is completed, investigators are able to classify the risk to the victim of being targeted by a killer:

High Risk

‘High risk’ classifies victims whose lifestyle put them at high-risk of attack. This may include people who regularly meet with strangers or travel to unsafe/remote locations e.g. drug users or prostitutes.

Low Risk

‘Low risk’ classifies victims who are safe. They don’t tend to visit unfamiliar areas alone or stray from home or work. Doors at home are usually locked, they do not fraternise with criminals and they hold steady jobs.

Medium Risk

‘Medium risk’ classifies victims who fall in-between. For example, they may lock their doors but venture out at night alone.


Who are the Victims of Murder?

Who do you think of when you imagine a typical ‘victim’ of murder? I am lucky enough to live in the UK which is relatively ‘safe’. My idea of victims then is solely based on the few famous cases of serial murder in the UK, or what I see on crime shows and films. For me, that victim is a young, white woman.

How does this idea of a victim hold up against global statistics?

You may be surprised to hear that, according to the Homicide Monitor 33% of murders occur in Latin America and the Caribbean; in 2012, 1 in 5 people violently killed was Brazilian, Colombian or Venezuelan. This is thought to be attributed to the higher-than-normal rates of organised crime and gang activity in the Americas than elsewhere in the world.

The most recent worldwide study of murder is the Global Study on Homicide 2013, carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The study gives us an idea of the individual characteristics of victims globally:

  • 79% of all homicide victims are male
  • Female homicide rates are lower than males in every country in the world
  • 43% of victims are aged between 15-29 years old
  • Two thirds of intimate partner/family-related homicide are women

According to statistics this means that more than one in seven homicide victims globally is a young male aged 15-29 living in the Americas… is this what you expected to see?


Why is a Victim Chosen?

Only the murderer will know for sure why they picked a particular victim but usually the reason will fall under one of these categories:

  • The victim fits a fantasy of the murderer
  • The victim of opportunity
  • Wrong place, wrong time
  • The victim is vulnerable in some way and therefore easier to capture/control


Over to you

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