Professor Callie Rennison was selected as the 2016 recipient of the Bonnie S. Fisher Victimology Career Award. She will receive the award on Nov. 17, 2016, at the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology in New Orleans.
We sat down with Callie and talked about the award, how she got interested in victimology, and her hopes for the future of the field.
What does receiving the Bonnie S. Fisher Victimology Career Award mean to you?
I was very much surprised by it — it just wasn’t on my radar. To receive an award named after Bonnie is very special: first, because I know and respect her and her work so much. And second, because I’ve always tried to conduct research that I thought mattered in the lives of people. I tried to create knowledge that can be used to develop policy that affected people in positive ways.
I feel I’ve accomplished this in my discipline. In a previous position, part of the annual review process was listing every citation of our work. It was tedious because I have a lot of citations. Being forced to do that helped me see that my work was being used in a lot of important ways, including in court cases. I knew that it was valuable at the U.S. Department of Justice and in the federal government.
This award from my peers affirms that they agree that my research has had a positive impact; it means my peers agree that my research matters. I am really touched by that message.
What got you interested in victimology?
What motivated me was great data and interesting questions that I felt needed to be answered. I had the ability and skills to answer questions that I felt would help people who have been affected by violence.
Though mentioned in the literature centuries ago, victimology research is considered to have begun in the early 1900s. At that time, those working in the area were males and their work resulted in basic (and by today’s standards, crude) typologies.
Victim precipitation, a theory that analyzes how a victim’s interaction with an offender may contribute to the crime being committed, was presented in Wolfgang’s classic 1957 publication that focused on homicide. This work was followed by a very controversial 1968 publication titled “Victim-Precipitated Forcible Rape,” which included a ‘blaming the victim’ perspective that was met with a major backlash. At about the same time, more women entered the field and the availability of data and analytic power increased.
Since that time, victimology has grown into a major field of research with an increasingly diverse group of researchers.
What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about victimology?
Many people working in the field have made a lot of important strides for victims, but we have still have a really, really long way to go. Consider sexual violence. Too often even today, the criminal justice system doesn’t treat victims well, so victims — especially sexual assault victims — don’t go forward with their case, or they stop cooperating. Too often, it is still the case that victims of sexual violence have to prove that they didn’t want to be violently victimized.
That reality is evident to others as well. There’s a saying about sexual assault cases among prosecutors: You must first acquit the victim before you can convict the offender. This must change.
Improvement is needed in the perceptions found in the general public as well. I still hear people say that there’s an inordinate amount of false reporting of rape and sexual assault, and that’s just not true. There’s no more false reporting of rape and sexual violence than there is of other major crimes. These societal perceptions must change.
Happily, there is some evidence of improvement. Many people were appalled by the paltry three-month sentence that Brock Turner, the Stanford rapist, received, but as a victimologist I was thrilled that he was convicted and sentenced at all. It actually gave me some hope that things are getting better for victims of violence. We still have a long way to go, though.
I’m honored that I can continue to be a part of that change. A major recent way I’ve worked toward that is found in our (with Mary Dodge) Sage textbook Introduction to Criminal Justice: Systems, Diversity and Change. Existing criminal justice books have focused on three elements: cops, courts and corrections. They speak little about victims, reflecting how they have effectively been in the shadows of our criminal justice system. In our book, victims are front and center with equal emphasis as cops, courts and corrections. This is the way it should be.
What publications in your victimology research are you most proud of?
I am really proud of all of my work. In my earliest research, like everyone else, I had ideas about who was a victim of violence. I now know that I was wrong in every single belief I had!
I approached my research from the standpoint of answering basic questions that could help inform the public. I focused on topics such as race and violent victimization: what does it look like? How is age associated with victimization risk? What does violence against Latinos look like and how is it different from violence against other groups?
I’ve never been able to engage in research that I don’t think matters. When I’m motivated and I think my work can fill a gap in our understanding, that is the best. I just can’t imagine doing research on something that I didn’t care about.
What advice would you give to a student who is considering a focus on victimology?
I tell them: Join us. And I really mean it, because it’s still a relatively small field and it’s still relatively homogeneous.
I think diversity really matters. By getting people involved from different races, ethnicities or socioeconomic backgrounds, and life experiences, our work can reflect that special perspective each brings that others couldn’t possibly have thought of.
When I visit with prospective students, oftentimes Latino students at community colleges, I show them my research and tell them: you can do this. The impact that increasing the number of diverse practitioners could have on the field is very exciting to think about. For example, if next year we graduated 50 American Indians who were qualified to do victimization research, imagine how quickly the field would grow!
That’s what I hope the future of victimology offers: greater diversity and greater attention to all people to minimize or even end violence.