What Is a Victim?

What is a victim? In this day and age, the tern victim is tossed about with abandon. Indeed, the word is so widely used in a myriad of settings and situations that the word “victim” itself has lost some of its intended impact. Understanding what fairly might be called the overuse of the word, taking a moment to soberly consider what is meant by “victim” is appropriate, if not necessary.

Common Definitions of Victim

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines victim as:

“One that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defined victim in this way:

“A person who has suffered the effects of violence or illness or bad luck.”

While these definitions aid in focusing on what is meant by the term “victim,” a broader consideration of victimization is warranted. This includes a consideration of circumstances in which people are true victims, including of crime. It also necessitates an examination of situations in which false claims of victimhood negatively impact people who are actual victims of incidents like crime. 

Understanding Victim’s Rights

Because of the broad use (some say misuse) of the word “victim,” those who truly are the victims of crime are seeing their rights diminished to some degree. The widespread claim of victimization in situations in which the seriousness of such a contention is at issue has diluted sincere contentions arising from the aftermath of being the target of crime. 

A fair, reasonable definition of victim as associated with crime and criminality is:

“A victim is defined as a person who has suffered physical or emotional harm, property damage, or economic loss as a result of a crime.”

A victim of a crime is not a formal party to criminal proceedings in any jurisdiction in the United States. The formal parties are the government and the individual charged with a crime. With that said, the government stands in the shoes of the victim of a crime in an effort to obtain justice. 

Although not a formal party to criminal proceedings in any court in California or anywhere else in the country, a victim of a crime is bestowed with certain rights. Examples of the types of rights to which a victim is bestowed include:

  • Right to be informed of charges brought against the alleged perpetrator of a crime
  • Right to be advised if charges are declined to be brought against a person identified as the perpetrator of a crime
  • Right to be kept generally abreast of the status of a criminal prosecution
  • Right to be present at the major court proceedings of a criminal prosecution including: preliminary hearing, hearings on motions and other key matters, trial, and sentencing
  • Right to speak during a sentencing hearing
  • Right to know of upcoming parole hearing (if defendant was sentenced to prison and subject to release via parole)
  • Right to receipt of restitution

Many states, including California, have created what broadly are known as crime victims’ bills of rights. A crime victim bill of rights codifies specific rights which accrue to an individual who has suffered injury, damages, and other losses at the hands of an alleged criminal offender. Many of the rights mentioned here are included in a typical crime victims’ bill of rights. 

Misuse of Victimhood 

As noted previously, the term “victim” has been used in an overbroad manner, arguably victimhood itself has been utterly abused, according to Psychology Today. Researchers have focused on the impact of the continual cry of victimhood. These professionals report that when individuals habitually believe they are hurt, taken advantage of, or victimized, a very real chance exists that the underlying complaint is untrue. In other words, in this day and age, when particular individuals regularly or routinely proclaim that they are victims, they usually are not. 

People who continually and erroneously contend they are victims usually are pointing their fingers at imagined perpetrators who’ve done nothing untoward. Moreover, people inappropriately alleging victimization typically have some sort of emotional or mental health issue that is not being addressed. Finally, people who make unfounded claims of victimization harm true victims. With the clamor made by individuals lacking true grievances, actual victims are faced with situations in which very real and serious grievances aren’t appropriately recognized and appreciated. 

Justice and Victim Compensation

In an effort to protect the rights and interests of victims of crime in this challenging era, states like California have established compensation programs. The California Victim Compensation Board provides an array of resources, including financial ones, to aid and assist people who are the victims of crime. Included in the array of compensation potentially available to a victim of crime are money for medical care, therapy and counseling, and even crime scene cleanup.