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Study Notes

The Social Construction of Victimhood

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 7 Aug 2018

Some sociologists argue that victimhood is a social construction: an identity or label that is created and can become a master status, in the same way that "deviant" can. Similarly, society can fail to see someone as a victim because they do not conform to an idealised image of a victim.

The CSEW 2017 data showing the strong correlation between being a victim of bullying and being a victim of crime might suggest that some people come to see themselves as victims. Indeed, two individuals could have had exactly the same experiences and, when asked in a survey if they had been the victim of a crime, one would say "yes" and the other "no" because of their individual self‐concept and the extent to which they perceive themselves as a victim.

Then there is also how society labels people. For example, two women might work as prostitutes; a transgressive feminist sociologist might argue that both have been the victims of grooming and of sexual assault. If one is under 16 and the other older, society and the law see the child as a victim, but the adult as not, indeed may suggest that she is herself a criminal. It might be that the two individuals' ages are only months apart. If we take the example of child sexual exploitation in some British towns and cities by grooming gang: it took a long time for the police and social services to take these crimes seriously because they saw the girls as prostitutes not as the victims of child abuse. They had an image in their head of the victims of predatory paedophiles and it did not fit with these victims. Similarly, they also had an image of predatory paedophiles themselves, imagining "dirty old men" rather than often young men, sometimes described as the girls' boyfriends.

Interactionists, then, would suggest exercising the same caution over statistics relating to victimisation as should be shown to those relating to offending.

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