When Victims Become Offenders: Towards Coherence in Rehabilitation Policy and Practice

Judith Rumgay, London School of Economics

The criminal justice system has traditionally relied upon a sharp differentiation between innocent victims anc ulpable offenders. While such a distinction simplifies procedures and decision-making, thus assisting the smooth operation of the criminal jsutice process, it is well established in criminological research that the identities of victims and offenders often overlap. A particular example of this is the frequent finding of criminal behaviour among women with histories of abuse, in distal or immediate relation to their offending. The tension between a dual identity as both victim and offender has presented a considerable obstacle to the development of coherent rehabilitative policy and practice. Recognition of a victim identity arouses concerns that women are to be excused from responsibility for their offence and that rehabilitation will focus on personal need at the expense of personal change. The result, ironically, has been to suppress development of responses relevant to their offending. This paper explores the tension between the dual identities of victim and offender and suggests a theoretical pathway to devloping a coherent approach in policy and practice.

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Updated 05/20/2006