The Victimization of Women: Law, Policies, and Politics

Meloy, Michelle L. and Miller, Susan L.
Oxford University Press USA,
9780199765119 (pb)

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Cover of book At one point in their book, Meloy and Miller state that "Up through the 1970s and early 1980s, the prevailing view was that a man's beating his wife or child was a private matter" (p.42). Although this sentence just flows within a general text, I believe it showcases the main idea behind this work - starting with factual information on sensitive issue, and then progressing with critical analysis of the current situation. This work will definitely appeal to scholars interested in gender issues in general and victimization of women in particular. Furthermore, the detail information on changing laws, police actions, court proceedings and other criminal justice procedures involved in addressing different kinds of victimizations as criminal activities brings this book to the attention of any criminology student or scholar.

At first glance, it may appear too expected that once again the focus is placed on 'typical' issue of male-on-female violence, yet the book goes beyond a simplistic view of victim-perpetrator dichotomy. Both conceptually and critically, the authors deliver on the promise of supplying a full picture for "the emergence of victimology as a distinctive area of study" (p.5).

More specifically, a comprehensive historical overview of victimization theories is provided in Chapter 2; even this early on we can see the perspective of victim empowerment that the authors courageously favor, debunking perpetuated myths and striving for connecting their claims with empirical data. The issues related to research findings from multiple studies are critically assessed and reviewed in a subsequent Chapter 3, where different methods and measurements of violent victimization of women are presented.

Chapter 4 addresses the contemporary entanglement of crime and media, looking at gendered implications of being a female victim of a violent and/or sex-crime. The selection of exemplary cases is phenomenal: from raising awareness of invisible victims trapped by their pre-existing traits and social exclusion (i.e. women of color), to highly-publicized cases of celebrities (athletes, pop-musicians), who appear to be mirroring the patterns of violence under the public eye, thus making the book accessible and thought-provoking as to which way of handling victims and their privacy is best for them and why. To some degree, this problem of exposure and post-trauma treatment is explored further in Chapter 5, where the voice is given to offenders, serving as an evaluation of existing programs, and in Chapter 6, where factors contributing to continuous violence and little room for escaping victimization are presented in the discussion of well-meant but ill-executed criminal justice policies.

The main strength of Meloy and Miller's work should be attributed to their use of intersectionality and critical theory, as they look at the instances of victimization from a multidimensional perspective, challenging universal definitions and limited choices that do not measure against complexities of social reality. For example, we read about precarious positionality of rape victims from non-white background (p.64), we gain perspective into female offenders' stories (pp.134-144) and listen to how male perpetrators differ in their accounts of violence against women (pp 102-112).

While the book is highly embedded in the US-American context and gives media and case examples that European reader/viewer will not necessarily be familiar with, it is explaining the contexts well enough to facilitate finding local examples and parallels, as well as identifying key pitfalls or advantages of different systems found locally. Perhaps more critical depth should have been given to the issues of sexual victimization, as the diversity of situational circumstances does not come through. Similarly, the issues of borderline victimisations of sexual harassment victims, extremely complex realities of sex industry workers, as well as intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships have been left out.

Nevertheless, given an extensive data and methods selection, Meloy and Miller manage to engage readers in their argument. The book will makes one aware of pressing issues pertaining to various victimisations today and encourages taking a research-grounded stand against the persistent violence and injustice that, unfortunately, still predominantly affect the most vulnerable - the women.

Paula Pustulka
Bangor University