"Your birth certificate is proof of your victimhood" -- George Carlin

    Victimology is the study of victims as caught up in asymmetric relationships or situations.  "Asymmetry" means anything unbalanced, exploitative, parasitical, oppressive, destructive, alienating, or having the quality of inherent suffering or strife.  Victimology is the study of power differentials.  That's why, obviously, a lot of feminist scholars have been attracted to this field of study, as well as a number of researchers in the area of minority relations.  Here, we are interested in the more criminological, than sociological, applications.  Granted, the harm to a victim can be physical, psychological, economic, or spiritual, and it is well established that besides "primary victims", there are sociological "secondary" and "tertiary" victims, but we are concerned here with what the nature of the harm done to a victim says about the offender.  Let's take a look at all the possible ways a person can harm another:

1. Physical abuse -- hitting, punching, pulling hair, slapping, grabbing, biting, kicking, bruising, burning, twisting, throwing, and of course, killing.
2. Sexual abuse -- any unwanted sexual contact, sexual intercourse without consent, rape, forced sexual perversion, forced unprotected sex, and forced sex with other people or animals.
3. Verbal abuse -- derogatory comments, insults, humiliations, or constant put-downs, usually with the victim told they are not physically attractive, inferior, incompetent, unable to succeed on their own, and are not a good role model. The intent is to keep the victim under total control.
4. Psychological/Emotional Abuse -- manipulation and/or intimidation intended to destroy the other's self-esteem or sense of self, usually over long periods of time, including but not limited to destroying or depriving someone of self-esteem, property, personal needs, food or sleep, and the comforts of pets.
5. Spiritual abuse -- spiritual abuse occurs as a deep sense of betrayal by religious traditions or other moral agents of the community when the victim feels that faith did not protect them or that the moral code of society has failed for them. 
6. Economic abuse -- insisting they turn over their money, possessions, or wealth, having them beg for necessities, giving them insufficient allowance for basics, or refusing to let them participate in things.
7. Social abuse --  Jokes, criticisms, or put-downs, usually about appearance, sexuality, or intelligence; false accusations, suspiciousness, constant monitoring and control of victim's activities or access to information; isolation.

    Victimologists study these behaviors and the characteristics of people who are vulnerable for them, as well as the characteristics of people who are capable of resistance. Mendelsohn (1937), for example, who was one of the first to ever study victims, concluded that most victims had an "unconscious aptitude for being victimized." He created a typology of six (6) victim types, with only the first type, the innocent, portrayed as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The other five types, the vast majority of victims, all somehow contributed to their own victimization, and this idea was termed victim precipitation.  The literature contains a lot of criticism over the victim precipitation concept, but the main point is that five out of six different kinds of victims did something to bring about their victim experience.  The sixth type can be as resilient as possible, but only has to be unlucky once.  

    Von Hentig (1948) also studied victims, and found that the most frequent type was the "depressed" victim.  They are the easiest target, careless and unsuspecting.  Another kind, the "greedy" type is the second most vulnerable because they are easily duped into believing something they want to hear or have.  The third most frequent kind is the "wanton" type, who is particularly vulnerable to stresses that occur at predictable points across the life cycle.  It is logical that serial killers may avoid the depressed type (for lack of challenge) and prey, instead, primarily on greedy and wanton types, although it is possible a depressed type may be sought by sophisticated criminals for a change of pace or as part of a con game. 

    Von Hentig's work provides most of the foundation for victim-precipitation studies that is still evident in the literature today. Wolfgang's research (1958) followed this tradition and later theorized that "many victim-precipitated homicides were, in fact, caused by the unconscious desire of the victims to commit suicide."  If this hypothesis is true, then it tells us something about the masochism-sadism dynamics behind the victim-offender attractions.  Schafer's theoretical work (1968) also advanced victimology toward the ways victims contribute - knowingly or unknowingly -- to their own victimization, and potentially, how they may share responsibility for the specific ways certain crimes are carried out.  In fact, Schafer's book, The Victim and His Criminal, from this approach, is supposed to be a corrective to Von Hentig's book, The Criminal and His Victim.  Admittedly, this review has been somewhat vague, but that is how generalized the early literature is in Victimology.  Hopefully, the following information will seem more applied.


    Over the years, academics have come to think of victim precipitation as a negative thing; "victim blaming" some call it.  Research into victim precipitation is looked down upon as both unacceptable and destructive.  Yet a few enduring models and near-theories exist.  Two or three of them are explained below:

1. Luckenbill's (1977) Situated Transaction Model - This one is commonly found in sociology of deviance textbooks. The idea is that at the interpersonal level, crime and victimization is a contest of character.  The stages go like this: (1) insult - "Your Momma"; (2) clarification - "Whaddya say about my Mother"; (3) retaliation - "I said your Momma and you too"; (4) counter retaliation - "Well, you're worse than me or my Momma"; (5) presence of weapon - search for a weapon or clenching of fists; (6) onlookers - presence of audience helps escalate the situation. 

2. Benjamin & Master's Threefold Model - This one is found in a variety of criminological studies.  The idea is that conditions supporting crime can be classified into three general categories: (1) precipitating factors - time, space, being in the wrong place at the wrong time; (2) attracting factors - choices, options, lifestyles (the sociological expression "lifestyle" refers to daily routine activities as well as special events one engages in on a predictable basis); (3) predisposing factors - all the sociodemographic characteristics of victims, being male, being young, being poor, being a minority, living in squalor, being single, being unemployed.  Sometimes the sociodemographic factors important to study are abbreviated as the SAUCER variables: Sex; Age; Urbanity; Class; Education: Race or Religion.

3. Cohen & Felson's (1979) Routine Activities Theory - This one is quite popular today, and briefly says that crime occurs whenever three conditions configure or come together: (1) suitable targets - the presence of vulnerable potential victims; (2) motivated offenders - people who will try to get away with something if they can; and (3) absence of guardians - a lack of defensible spaces (natural surveillance areas) and the absence of private security, since the government can't do the job alone.

    The phenomena that criminals and victims often have the same sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., are in relatively the same age or social class groups) is known as the propinquity hypothesis.  The hypothesis that criminals and victims often live in relatively close physical proximity to one another is called the proximity hypothesis.  Most sociopsychological profilers believe that the propinquity hypothesis is more likely to be true, while geographic profilers tend to believe the proximity hypothesis is more likely true.

    In sum, most victimological theories fall into one of three general categories:

Psychopathology theory

The offender is seen as a mentally disturbed individual, usually suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, who is venting frustration or anger at a target. The victim is also seen as mentally disturbed who somehow induced the offender to harm them.

Feminist theory

The offender is seen as acting out the current patriarchal (male dominated) makeup of society or in response to some other macrosocial influence. The victim is seen as a microcosm of this, and/or otherwise historically socialized to get what they deserve.

Learning theory

Three variations: (1) intergenerational transmission of violence - in which adults learn by having seen it as a child; (2) learned helplessness -in which victimization occurs because of economic or emotional dependency; and (3) cycle of violence - in which both victim are caught up in a tension - disinhibition cycle.

    There's no one good theory in victimology. The cycle of violence theory tends to apply well with repeaters, since one thing that both repeat victims and repeat offenders share in common is denial and minimization, common to all addiction-like cycles. Scientific prediction of addictive cycle violence is a rather inexact science. To be done properly would require awareness on at least four different levels in recognizing events that trigger joint offending/victimization.  At the biological level, for example, brain activity would need to be monitored. At the psychological level, how a person processes and distorts information should be considered. At the macrosocial level, interpretation of certain events in news coverage might need to be looked at. At the microsocial level, deficits with communication and reality testing are probably the most important predictors.


    Almost all criminals stalk their victims in some way.  Even noncriminals stalk.  Stalking is an acquaintance crime.  It is what converts a stranger crime into an acquaintance crime.  We know that, psychologically, a person is more likely to do more harm to an acquaintance than a stranger. The majority of criminals have been in some kind of contact or relationship with their victims.  However, stalking a complete stranger in hopes of establishing a more predatory relationship represents something completely different.  Such stalking can be considered a type of antisocial behavior bordering on sociopathy.  In other ways, it's like a long-term rape. The following is the standard list of stalking behaviors:

1. Watching or following someone
2. Making harassing phone calls or hang-ups
3. Sending harassing mail
4. Making threats to victim or victim's family
5. Vandalizing personal property or a vehicle
6. Making repeated drive-bys
7. Sending anonymous love notes, flowers, gifts, and so forth

    Stalking begins innocently, in what appears to be a chance encounter.  Initial contacts are at the most innocent of places -- health clubs, church meetings, schools, day care centers, etc., and then the relationship quickly becomes a nightmare.  After about three weeks or so, the would-be stalker typically asks the victim to marry him or blurts out some other bizarre or inappropriately timed statement.  A professional stalker will also have tried to take control of the victim's finances, the victim's vehicle, the victim's house or apartment, any and all possessions or things that need fixed up or taken care of.  Stalkers try to move quickly (in order to be quicker than the criminal justice system) and are continually forcing the victim into early decisions, yes or no situations, and then they do what they want anyway.

    Many stalkers have major mental illnesses.  Some have schizophrenia, manic-depression or erotomania.  Most come from an abusive or emotionally barren family background with a poor sense of their own identity.  They hold tight to some false belief that keeps them tied to their victims.  In erotomania, the stalker’s delusional belief is that the victim loves him.  People who stalk celebrities are examples of erotomania, and they may or may not want to bask in the limelight that the celebrity enjoys.  Besides love, a stalker may be delusional about fate, luck, destiny, or irony. These types will pursue their victims long and hard, using the relationship to forge an ever-evolving identity complex. 

    In general, the more delusional the stalker, the more dangerous they are.  The dangerousness lies within their belief system, not their prior behavior pattern.  One of the false trails a profiler can go down is to look into the sexual history of a stalker.  They rarely have extended sexual relationships since they are both threatened by and yearn for closeness at the same time.  They often pick victims who are unattainable or not easy to establish a sexual relationship with, such as a married woman, a therapist, a member of the clergy, a doctor or a teacher. Those in the helping professions are particularly vulnerable to such stalkers.  Some seek out victims of higher status (doctors, lawyers, teachers); others seek out celebrities. Celebrity stalkers often psychotically "hear" or "see" something in the words or appearances of the victim. They are often convinced that the celebrity is sending them cryptic messages intended only for them to understand.  Any kindness shown to them will be blown out of proportion into a delusion of intimacy.  Even when a stalker cannot consummate a relationship with a victim, what they cannot attain in reality is achieved through fantasy.  To understand the dynamics behind the fantasies of a stalker is to understand the fantasy dynamics of serial killers.  The delusional belief system may last an average of ten years.

    A more sophisticated type of stalking is called cyberstalking.  Cyberstalkers typically conceal their true identities, and often do things like post fake web pages with doctored (or nude) photographs of their victims. They have usually researched their victim's genealogy, hacked into their computer, and know everything there is to know about their victim that is available via the Internet. They sometimes hang out in chat rooms with sexy or sophisticated screen names. Pedophiles, in particular, prey on their targets this way. Others are just angry, young people, often paranoid, delusional, obsessional, self-centered, arrogant, manipulative, extremely jealous and possessive. They are usually "control freaks" who enjoy manipulating other people. The cyberstalker mentality cannot take NO for an answer and cannot conceive that they might themselves be in the wrong.  They are extremely vengeful.  Because they are convinced of their need for vengeance or because of the arrogance of their superiority, they often seek out like-minded others they share a common interest with.  This "group" aspect of cyberpredation exists because this kind of crime almost requires some kind of social support network.  What research exists in criminology on this is limited to the study of sex rings which are more active than social support networks.  While a full examination of pornography networks on the Internet is beyond the scope here, it is useful to simplify our focus on sex rings as a basic type of group formation.  Sex rings are arrangements in which at least one adult is involved sexually with several underage victims (Lanning & Burgess 1989), and sex rings exist for one or more of the following purposes:

    A sex ring may involve bizarre or ritualistic activity, but most are about money.  One of the largest was found in 1977 in Revere, Massachusetts involving 24 men (including psychologists and educators) and 63 boys where the boys were drugged and rented out to other men for 50 dollars a visit.  Sex rings have also been discovered in day-care centers around the country.  Taylor & Quayle (2003) report that the long-term impact of being a sex-ring participant is to act out sexually against others when the child grows up.  Children who are participants in sex rings tend to have the same backgrounds as child prostitutes; i.e., from a dysfunctional family system, raised by only one parent, criminal tendencies in one or more parents, and a likelihood of sexual abuse (incest) in the family (Flowers 2001).  Boys ("chickens") and girls ("hustlers") tend to have different reasons for going into prostitution, with "easy money" being a more significant factor for boys and self-esteem being a primary issue for girls.  So-called "circuits" or bordellos exist across the nation's cities in which child prostitutes work, and travel between.  Most child prostitutes are part-time, and Flowers (2001) identifies four types:

    Prostitutes are frequently the victims of serial crime, 69% of the time according to Quinet (2011), and 78% of the time according to Egger (2003).  Few other studies have found such high numbers, and it may be more accurate to say that "young females" are the most frequent target of serial killers.  The target category includes: hitchhikers, students, women seeking employment, nurses, models, waitresses, and women at home.  Prostitution homicide research is complicated by the problem that no one really knows the exact number of prostitutes out there.  It is an "evanescent" occupation that a woman may engage in infrequently or sporadically.  As a target group, they share some similar characteristics with the homeless.  Both groups tend to have proximity to high crime or transient areas, and both groups tend to provide ease of access and opportunity for killers.  For example, the Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgway, killed 48 prostitutes and had this to say about it:

    "I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught." (State of Washington v. Gary Leon Ridgway, 2003, p. 7) 


    The phrase "stranger crime" stems from Wolfgang's (1958) early research on homicide which divided murder into two categories: primary homicide, involving nonstrangers or acquaintances; and secondary homicide, involving assailants unknown to the victim. Rather than using the awkward phrase "secondary homicide", the phrase "stranger crime" caught on. Wolfgang and at least one of his students, Marc Riedel (1993), held to a belief that understanding stranger crime unlocked secrets about the development and functioning of a society.  Stranger violence is behind most fear of crime.  It's what people think of when they talk about "street crime".  It's what the criminal justice system spends the most resources on.  The number of murders in the United States fluctuates between 20,000-25,000 annually. As many as 25% go unsolved, as many as 40% involve assailants unknown to the victim, and many others never come to justice. Perpetrators of stranger murder have a better than 80 percent chance of going unpunished.

    The most important fact about stranger violence is that it tends to occur in certain geospatial locations where people seem to compete for space, recognition, status, or other resources.  Most criminological explanations are therefore geographical in this regard; or sociological, as certain places or circumstances, with high urbanization or anonymity factors, are seen as "ripe" for attacks by strangers.  Such crimes occur in public places more than private places.  Lifestyle and routine activities were theories designed to explain stranger crime.  Some serial killers prefer to target major transportation or high traffic areas of big cities.  Stranger crime is relatively unknown in rural areas.  The reasons why spaces where people compete (or congregate) tend to be problem areas comes from the sociological literature on collective behavior.  From that literature, there are three (3) sociological explanations that have existed historically, all revolving around the presumed "social" or symbolic status of that place or the presumed "guilt" of the victim group occupying that place.  Those three explanations are as follows:

1. Group competition over scarce resources
2. Long-standing social rituals
3. Early socio-psychological trauma

    These are all explanations of inter-group conflict, which may or may not involve stranger crime.  Much of it may involve what researchers call the "actuarial" dimension. For the perpetrator, it doesn't matter what specific race or nationality the victim is, only that they're different or a stranger. It's the absence of information, the uncertainty about the social status of the victim that is important.  Hate and grievance may be all that matters.  There is like some kind of actuarial or accounting-like thinking going on in the perpetrator's mind. The victim is seen as "the last straw" in a long-imagined count of many insults, economic defeats, or lost opportunities the perpetrator (or his social group) have suffered. The manner and methods used in the violent attack usually tell whether the crime was expressive (satisfying for the perpetrator) or instrumental (to teach "those people" a lesson). Premeditation may be present by the offender planning the crime for weeks, or there may be none at all, with the crime being a spur-of-the-moment event.  The actuarial dimension of crime, or at least the grievance aspect of it, is one of the more common theories about the causes of terrorism.

    To truly understand the geospatial distribution of crime, it's important to recognize that all societies are divided along lines of social class. Sure, there are racial, age, and occupational divisions, but social class and crime are correlated very strongly together.  Let's take a look at the American class structure using Lloyd Warner's 6-class model:

 1. UPPER-UPPER is a class that we know little about. One of the most common things you hear about them is the phrase "Less than 2% of the population controls over 65% of the wealth" (or some variation of this). Unfortunately, these figures have never been proven as it's remarkably difficult to even count the very rich as it is to figure out from their various tax havens how much wealth they have. They have low visibility, luxurious living, and a lot of inherited, unearned privilege (which they usually keep within their own social class). Since there's no easy way to measure their wealth, researchers turn to other methods: reputational (they ask others who the super-wealthy are); educational (they look at certain prep schools & associations attended); or city social registers. This class doesn't have much to worry about from serial killers or any other kind of violent criminal because of the protection they can afford.

2. LOWER-UPPER is a class of the new rich (nouveau riche), consisting of lottery winners, self-made billionaires, savvy investors, people who have benefited from one type of economic windfall or another. This is a small group, and instead of being carted around in company limousines, they usually drive their own automobiles, so you might have contact with one of them. They tend to seek out visibility and high-prestige occupations, often in politics or higher education (they like honorary degrees). Not much is known about them either, especially in the way of lifestyle. Some protect themselves, and others use bodyguards. Most are too smart to get into predicaments where they might be victimized. 

3. UPPER-MIDDLE is the class which always answers "well off" or "comfortable" on those surveys about how you think you're doing economically these days. They are living the American Dream, and they spend most of their time worrying about how "good" their possessions are; their house, their neighborhood, their city. They tend to be active professionals or successful college professors working long hours, and they are relatively silent on most social issues except the family. They avoid crime by thinking they're too smart for it, but actually it's because they live solitary, isolated lives.

4. LOWER-MIDDLE is the class which always answers "getting by" or "living paycheck to paycheck" in those surveys. They are surburbanites or soon-to-be suburbanites because they're always looking for some faraway subdivision to "flight" to. They tend to be active in churches and some civic affairs, but generally are not interested in politics except for taxation issues. This is the group that relies on and receives the bulk of public police protection. 

5. UPPER-LOWER or the Working Class is the largest class in America. They make up the bulk of the labor force in both skilled, semi-skilled, and service professions. Apartment or mobile home dwellers, usually, this group is living in so much debt that it's economic slavery. Interestingly, they tend to concentrate much of their attention on the so-called "classes beneath them", and they have extremely strong pride and a lot of contact with the criminal justice system. This is the group with the largest percentage of potential victims of crime and serial killing.

6. LOWER-LOWER or the Underclass is a fairly permanent class that is so dependent on government services, subsidies, and assistance that they might even starve if not for some kind of intervention that always seems to be needed. Lower-lower class membership is not the same as poverty or welfare, however, because we're talking about measuring class by lifestyle, reputation, or other means. Poor health and lots of contact with the criminal justice system occur regularly with this class. They are society's "throwaways" which some serial killers prey upon.

    Now, all this is well and good, but the point is that social classes are geospatially distributed in different parts of a city. There's some special features of rural areas, such as whether the houses are set back in the woods or along the roads, but by and large, almost all small, medium, and large cities are one of three (3) types:

    1. Zone cities -- where concentric circles radiate out in circular fashion from a downtown circle

    2. Grid cities -- where streets (and alleys) run parallel to each other, North-South, East-West

    3. Star cities -- where big boulevards or avenues connect cross-town traffic to other parts of town

    The ZONE model was developed to explain cities like Chicago. CBD stands for Central Business District. Next to it is Zone I, a layer of warehouses, supply centers, and other things to support the downtown. Next to it is Zone II, called the Zone of Transition. It consists of mixed-use buildings; some commercial, mostly residential. Zone III (and further out) are primarily residential. Zone II is where the crime occurs. Zones grow out from a CBD or fixed object (like lakes, beaches, mountains, or borders). There's been a lot of research on this kind of city, and the exact number of miles can be measured to delineate the zones and/or predict where the next crime is going to be (using mapping technology). A relate theory, called Cultural Transmission, states that the crime rates will be the same regardless of which ethnic group lives in the zone of transition.  Gang crime tends to be a problem in this kind of city.

    The GRID model is based on cities like New York, with numbered avenues running East and West and numbered streets running North and South (the corner of 47th & 33rd, e.g.) This type of layout lends itself to turf-conscious behavior, but the most interesting thing about it from a geographic point of view is the altitude. Crime, disorder, and poverty tend to accumulate in the lower altitude or worn-down parts of this kind of city, the so-called "skid rows", "bowery districts", or waterfronts. The same holds true for city parks, which almost always have a lake, or some other low-altitude place, and your problems are going to be in these recreational park areas. Outlying rural areas also tend to concentrate their crime in recreational park areas.  Hate crime tends to be a problem in this kind of city.

    The STAR (aka HUB & SPOKES) model (and as I'm using it also includes the Radial model, a technically separate type, but similar for these purposes) is usually a planned city, a Western state megalopolis like Los Angeles with giant avenues, arteries, boulevards, and drives. However, it could apply to many towns today where the downtown has just disappeared. People shop in the hubs, those malls on the outskirts of town. A true hub & spokes type town has four (4) malls, with names like Northtown, Southtown, East Village, and West Village. Then, there's strip malls, banking establishments, and all those QuickMarts along the avenues, or spokes. The crime, poverty, disease and so forth tends to be hidden just along these avenues or spokes, and you can displace it by police patrol up & down a corridor, with a St. Patrick's Day effect pushing it to another corridor. You get temporal displacement with some types of towns, and spatial displacement with other types.  Copycat crime tends to be a problem in this kind of city.

    Other patterns exist with respect to age, for example, the Juvenile/Adult Crime pattern. It's always the case that when the economy is doing good, we see terrible increases in juvenile crime (like school shootings) while adult crime is down. When the economy is bad, adult crime goes up and the juveniles start behaving good again. This is why juvenile delinquency is sometimes called a crime of affluence. Another interesting phenomenon is the Imitation hypothesis. This idea has been linked to major sporting events (SuperBowl Sunday syndromes) that result in wife battering. It seems that some kind of modeling occurs when violence is portrayed on the media. It also occurs after rises in capital punishment (a legitimation of violence effect).

    Another pattern is the Urbanization (or Modernization) thesis. It's intended to explain the effects of rapid urban growth, when there's suddenly a rush of newcomers, immigrants, or tourists to the neighborhood or city. It also describes when rural areas become encroached upon by urban areas. It's known sometimes as the Violence-to-Theft ratio. Violence crime starts to skyrocket with the influx of people, then it drops dramatically (an upside-down V pattern). Across this upside-down V, there is a straight line going steadily upward intersecting it. That straight line is the property crime rate. Some historians have learned to precisely measure this pattern to mark population spurts. Violent crime rates always fluctuate up and down (rape is fairly steady, but it fluctuates also), property crime rates change more smoothly, producing this distinctive intersected upside-down V pattern.

There are a variety of explanations for stranger crime:

Instinctual, or evolutionary, explanations are drawn from the fields of biology and anthropology, suggesting that males build up vast amounts of aggressive, sexual energy, and come to prey upon more vulnerable human beings to eliminate competition for sexual partners or to hoard more "stuff" than others in some kind of instinctual competitive instinct for survival. 

Personality trait theories often include some mention of impaired neurological function, but psychologists also often link violence to watching TV, traumatic childhood experiences, low intelligence, mental illness, impaired cognitive processes, and abnormal personality structures.  Stranger violence is an area where neurosis and psychosis are not all that uncommon.

Drug, or psychopharmacological, explanations have strong empirical support.  Up to 80% of stranger violence is drug-related.  The alcohol-violence link is the strongest.  Drugs can entrap people into a life of crime (the enslavement hypothesis), escalate already-existing criminal tendencies (the escalation hypothesis), and/or produce spin-off violence related to the drug trade (systemic violence).

Gun, or firearm availability, is a facilitating factor in most stranger violence.  Most guns (80%) used in crime are stolen or obtained via an illegal black market.  The mere presence of handguns is strongly related to stranger crime, almost as if the trigger pulls the finger instead of the other way around.

Family ineffectiveness, or dysfunction, has been implicated in stranger violence. Extensive research implicates rejecting, ineffective, or abusive parents.  Parents who fail to set appropriate limits or use inconsistent discipline (up to and including abuse) often produce children who prey on strangers, but this is more strongly associated with sociopathy.

Gang membership always requires that members embrace the use of violence. All other characteristics or motives for joining a gang are secondary to this primary valuation of violence.  Nearly 100% of gang members possess a gun or other weapon.  Gangs create stranger violence with initiation ceremonies, retaliations, and turf protection.

Cultural values (sometimes called the subculture of violence thesis) posit that in large, inner-city areas, subcultural norms develop that are at odds (disreputable crime) with society's conventions and traditional ways of doing things, and that these norms are stratified along racial and class lines.  It's believed by many criminologists that this is the primary explanation behind the growth of urban violence.

Regional values (sometimes called the Southerness hypothesis or Gastil-Hackney thesis) involve the idea that there exists a distinctive Southern culture predating the Civil War that tolerates violence.  Researchers often study such things as the South's propensity for violence, gun ownership, dueling, strong military traditions, frontier living, and exaggerated sense of honor among males.


    The selection of victims is different from one type of serial killer to the next. The more delusional (visionary) the serial killer is, the less important are the selection criteria; the more comfort-oriented the serial killer, the more likely the victim is an acquaintance; and, of course, the more likely the serial killer is gay, the more likely the victim is gay. However, the most common types of serial killers have an ideal victim type - such as the blonde, blue-eyed, unmistakably female, cheerleader variety. It's not just the way they look, but the way they walk, carry themselves, the tilt of their head, and so on. The victim must be an ideal match with both the fantasy in their mind and the ritual which they may have practiced  before.

There are at least four common (4) "hunting grounds" for serial killers to find their ideal victim:

1. sin strips
2. gay bars or single bars
3. skid row areas
4. college campuses

    All serial killers select a hunting ground where there is an ample supply of potential victims overlapped by the offender's "awareness map" of activities that go on in that area. It may or may not be important that this mental map the offender has in their head include a knowledge of police presence or escape routes (some offenders are quite daring), but it does matter that this mental map include a fairly complete sense of the social and psychosocial relations that go on in this area. In other words, like a sociologist, the serial killer has to get a handle on what type of place it is, who frequents it, who talks to whom, the traditions, norms, and folklore. They then must be capable of establishing a ruse or able to manufacture a story that helps them "fit" in that place. Hunting grounds converted into such activity spaces are called COMFORT ZONES, and they are characterized technically by a distance decay function, originating outward from the primary hunting ground and decreasing in significance with distance away from the activity space. The most important thing to remember is that it's the victim's activity space that matters, not really the offender's. The zone of comfort concept means that both killer and victim have a high degree of comfort. Somewhere in-between is going to be the ABDUCTION SITE.

    It's also important to note that there's such a thing as a BUFFER ZONE. This is the area centered around the offender's home or residence, which is generally avoided because it is too risky to victimize anyone close to the proximity of one's own residence. Estimates of the buffer zone average from 3-8 miles outward from the offender's residence.

    Once abducted from within or near the edge of a comfort zone, the victim is then transported to an ATTACK SITE where they are held, tortured, and murdered. There will additionally be a VEHICLE DUMP SITE and a BODY DUMP SITE or DISPOSAL ZONE. In some cases, the attack and dump sites will be the same. In some cases where frequent bodies are dumped, the area constitutes a disposal zone. Media coverage and police investigations, of course, create displacement effects. There's not a whole lot of uniformity on terminology, but here's a list of all the different event sites and zones:

2. COMFORT ZONE (activity spaces, hunting grounds, stalking sites)
3. BUFFER ZONE (offender's residential location)
4. ATTACK SITE (edge of comfort zone)
5. HOLDING SITE (sometimes used)

    Of these, perhaps the dump sites are the most important. They are intended to get the investigation away from the other event sites. Often, dump sites are quite distant from the place where the killing occurred. Dump sites have message value. If the body is dumped haphazardly, one message is given. If it is placed in a position to shock the public or the police, other messages are given.  Quick kills are more likely to be associated with a fairly tight grouping of dump sites, and slow, tortuous kills are more likely associated with fairly distant attack and dump sites.  In geographical profiling, several computer programs exist which allow plugging in some of these data, and using the mathematical properties of an ellipse (discriminant function analysis or nearest neighbor analysis) to get a statistical estimate of where the offender lives.  An illustration appears below:

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Last updated: July 25, 2011
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright Megalinks in Criminal Justice 
Citation: O'Connor, T. (2011). "Advanced Applied Victimology," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from accessed on July 25, 2011.