Victim profiling is a subject that has continued to attract a lot of public imagination. Many investigators have studied human behavior and crime in the broad context of victim profiling. Currently, victim profiling is not a subject that can be viewed secretively as a mysterious technique employed by the U.S police force when seeking to solve crime. Its main objective is to understand a crime from both the victim and perpetrator’s perspectives. It involves both investigative psychology and crime scene analysis. The subject has also received a lot of media attention as a technique employed by the police. As the police try to ensure public safety, they will use several tools to apprehend criminals. Despite the tremendous advances made in victim profiling, the technique is characterized with various problems. Victim profiling systems needs to be improved to ensure it provides accurate and reliable information. It should be noted that if victim profiling is improved and properly implemented, it will continue to be a valuable and exciting scientific tool for criminal investigations.
Keywords: Victim profiling, criminal investigations, crime scene
Victim profiling can be defined as a set of approaches and techniques used to predict the characteristics of an unidentified offender through investigating and analyzing the evidence obtained from the scene of crime. By analyzing the scene of crime, an investigator aims to understand the personality, demographic and behavioral characteristics of the offender. The characteristics obtained from the crime scene can be used to identify the behavior patterns of the unknown offender. The paper will address the issue of victim profiling, problems that make it less effective and also provide evidence of ineffectiveness. Finally, it will suggest how these problems can be addressed in order to improve the effectiveness of victim profiling.
Victim profiling generally determines the cause and effect relationship aspects between the scene of crime, victim, witness and the offender. The technique is mostly used in crime scenes where the identity of the offender is not known and in serious types of crimes such as murder and rape. The process uses crime scene information to create a psychological portrait of the unknown perpetrator (Muller, 2000).
A profiler will take information such as the state of the crime scene, nature of weapons used and what was said or done to the victim to come up with a victim profile. In addition, it can include information such as geographic pattern of the crime, mode of entry and exit from the crime scene and where the offender resides. The real process of victim profiling may differ from one investigator to another depending on one’s level of training. However, the aim of the process will still remain the same which is to deduce the personality, physical and behavioral characteristics of the perpetrator (Muller, 2000). It should be noted that a victim profile by itself will not catch a criminal or solve a crime. However, the profile will play a big role in assisting the police in their investigations.
A victim profile may not be very accurate in suggesting with certainty the real perpetrator of a crime. Nonetheless, it greatly assists the police by providing the right direction in crime investigation. For instance, when the police have not found any leads in a crime, a victim profile can prove potentially important by suggesting helpful hints which the police may have overlooked. According to Muller (2000), there are some crimes where victim profiling may not be necessary. However, it is very suitable in crimes where the unknown offender leaves behind signs of psychopathology or in situations where the crime scene illustrates some form of ritualistic or violent nature.
There are several approaches of victim profiling such as geographic profiling, crime scene analysis, investigative psychology and diagnostic evaluation. Diagnostic evaluation basically relies on clinical judgment. Crime scene analysis approach is the most popular technique of victim profiling and was developed by the Behavioral Science Unit of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Crime scene analysis approach relies on deductive reasoning, intuitive thinking and pattern identification done by experienced investigators. On the other hand, investigative psychology relies on behaviorism. It is based on the fundamental principle that the manner in which a crime is committed can illustrate the behavioral characteristics of the offender (Young, 2006). Geographic profiling approach emphasizes on the crime scene location in providing offender’s information.
The Problems of Victim Profiling
Since victim profiling cannot be regarded exclusively as a science, debates have been raised over its effectiveness. There are various methods of carrying out victim profiling. As a result, varied opinions have emerged over which approach is considered the best. Some people question the scientific validity of an offender’s victim profile because it is seen that it is hugely based on guess work. For instance, in a murder case, the manner in which a victim’s body is left can mean various things which may not really be the same considering the many factors that may need to be looked at. Therefore, if victim profiling is not done accurately, it can generate wrong leads and throw off investigations (Young, 2006).
Over-generalizations and stereotyping can also impact on the effectiveness of the victim profiling technique. For instance, a cloud judgment may be used to reason that most offenders in rape cases are single men living with their parents. However, this may not necessarily be the case and can lead to creating a false victim profile if the offender turns out to be a married man with his own family.
The other problem that hinders the credibility of victim profiling is lack of adequate data or insufficient interpretive capacity (Kocsis, 2007). These problems may fall short in providing a definitive and comprehensive identification of an unknown offender. This can be the case considering the uniqueness of offender’s variables such as the modus operandi.
The validity of victim profiling has emerged as a major problem. According to Kocsis (2007) the validity of the technique may be questioned since offenders information is based on anecdotal accounts. Despite the usefulness of these accounts, they cannot be confidently relied upon to confirm the validity of victim profiling. Most of these accounts are co-authored by investigators who might be led by typical human psyche of success rather than failure (Kocsis, 2007). As a result, these anecdotal accounts may sometimes lack objective reasoning which may affect the accuracy of the process. Several people have criticized the psycho-investigative techniques currently used in victim profiling. These techniques are based on intuitions/instincts which affects the scientific validity of victim profiling.
Another problem in victim profiling that needs to be addressed is the absence of regulation. Due to lack of regulation, several unreliable statements may be made on the media by inexperienced or self-appointed profilers (Kocsis, 2007). Due to lack of regulation, disparities exist in the level of skills required from a profiler. Also, disparities in the skill levels may affect the overall quality of the process.
Lack of uniformity is the other problem faced in victim profiling. For instance, the nomenclature used in describing the process lacks uniformity. The process has been referred to in many terms such as “victim profiling”, “criminal profiling”, “offender profiling”, “criminal personality profiling” and “criminal psychological profiling”.
The reliability of data used in victim profiling is a major issue that affects its effectiveness. The unreliable information relied upon may lead to inaccuracies hence affecting the usefulness of the techniques. The problem of unreliable data affects the reputation of the technique among professionals. Some critiques have argued that victim profiling is based on false typologies not supported by empirical theories. Due to problems associated with its unreliability, it can lead to inaccurate profiles which may derail investigations or may lead to biasness towards a wrong suspect.
Evidence of its Ineffectiveness
The “2002 Beltway Serial Sniper Shootings” that happened in Eastern United States as an evidence of over-generalizations involved in victim profiling. Several victim profiles were made after the shootings. When the suspects were later apprehended, it emerged that the victim profiles had little similarities with the suspects.
Another example of over-generalizations in victim profiling is the case of “Granny Killer” which occurred in Sydney, Australia in 1989(Kicses, 2007).The victim profile identified the unknown killer as a young male of African descent. When the culprit was eventually found, he turned out to be an elderly Anglo-Saxon.
Evidence to illustrate lack of uniformity can be observed in the several terminologies used to refer to the process. The process does not have a uniform baseline of defining a serial murder. According to Muller (2000) some people classify a person who has killed two people as a serial murderer. To others, one needs to have killed up to four people to become a serial murder. Therefore, a cut-off point is necessary of identifying whom to label as a serial murderer. Pinizzotto and Finkel (1990) carried out a research to determine the accuracy of victim profiles and the qualitative differences among profilers in a series of cases. The profilers included professional profilers, psychologists, students and detectives. According to the findings, the accuracy of the different profilers varied depending on the case investigated. Profilers were found to be more accurate than other groups in cases of sexual offense. However, the profilers were realized not to be accurate as the detectives in cases of homicide. The study also realized that professional profilers wrote more detailed and richer reports than non-profilers (Pinizzotto and Finkel, 1990). This study can act as evidence to show that not just anybody who bears the name “profiler” has the capability to effectively do victim profiling. Therefore, there is a need for a proper regulation to ensure that only professional profilers with the required set of skills engage in victim profiling.
How to Improve victim Profiling
Since victim profiling is still developing, it’s credentialing and regulation needs to be given more focus. This can be achieved through better communication among investigative agencies on better ways of linking the different approaches of victim profiling. Victim profiling practice needs to be incorporated into a professional body to ensure that it is regulated. Such a regulatory body will help ensure that only people with the required set of skills are allowed to do victim profiling.
Secondly, more research needs to be done on victim profiling practice. Such research needs to be open to scientific scrutiny to ensure that they provide reliable and accurate information. Currently, victim profiling is regarded more as an art. If more research is done, the practical techniques of the field will be improved by scientific approach. This will ensure that victim profiling delinks itself from using literature based unreliable data to becoming a vital tool in crime investigation.
In addition, victim profiling can be improved through development of standards which will provide the process with uniformity. Developing standards of uniformity will ensure that communication problems are reduced through use of common terminology. Also, creation of standards will minimize cases of disparities in the practice which arise due to different methodological procedures. Also, victim profiling can be improved through training and educational requirements for the profilers. Improved training will improve the profiler’s competency and skill set. As a result, the profiler will be able to avoid biases regarding offenders from influencing a victim profile.
Implementation to the System
As technology continues to develop, there is a need to integrate modern computer technologies in victim profiling. For instance, the Canadian police have introduced Computer-Based Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (VICLAS) (Young, 2006). VICLAS allows detailed documentation of all solved and unsolved cases of sexual assault, homicide and missing persons. The computer program contains a feature that links various crime databases to improve the analytical capacity of the system. Implementation of such systems among various investigative agencies and the police will improve victim profiling technology. Furthermore, it will give the process a more scientific inclination.
The different approaches of victim profiling need to be integrated into an effective tool for predicting criminal characteristics and behavior. Geographical profiling, crime scene analysis and investigative psychology need to be correlated to standardize and conceptualize victim profiling technique. Implementing such developments will increase the validity and reliability of victim profiling.
Profilers and investigative agencies need to develop better trust to ensure the success of victim profiling. Profilers and investigative agencies need to share crime scene data to assist in determining the existence of similar cases in surrounding areas. Similarities can be realized through comparing notes on offender’s modus operandi and any form of signature left.
In addition, profilers need to avoid inductive and indiscriminate profiling and adhere to sound decision making and behavioral science principles. Biasness, personal beliefs and over-generalizations need to be set aside in favor of deductive reasoning.
Victim profiling is a technique that is still developing and there is a lot that needs to be done. Victim profiling needs to be accurately and reliably in order to be helpful in crime investigations. There are several problems associated with victim profiling such as lack of uniformity, absence of regulation, inadequate information, validity and accuracy concerns. However, the effectiveness of victim profiling can be improved through better training and education of profilers. Also, more emphasis on research is necessary in order to make it more scientific. Furthermore, the technique needs to be professionalized by incorporating it into a professional body to regulate the competency of people who can perform it. Creation of uniform standards in the different approaches of victim profiling, improving linkages between profilers and other investigative agencies, and adoption of modern technologies are other ways of improving the effectiveness of victim profiling.