V.N. Rjan tells this story:
Many moons ago, in days of yore, the empress of India accidentally killed the husband of her laundress. Now in those days of kingdoms and monguls, it was customary for the emperor to hold a daily court so that the people of the kingdom could present their griveances. The next morning the laundress came to the court, but stood there mute. Finally the emperor entreated her to speak, and she said, alas, her husband had been killed. "Killed! In my kingdom! How could this happen?" demanded the emperor. Alas, the poor laundress said, it was at the hand of the empress.
The emperor was stunned. Slowly he rose from his throne and descended to a level with the laundress. He drew his jeweled sword from its scabbard and handed it ot her. "Here," he said. "Take it. Your emperor commands it. The empress killed you husband. Now you must kill the empress' husand with this sword."
But the laundress refused. And the emperor, in his joy, lavished jewels and riches upon her and made her one of the riches people in the kingdom. Then, it is said, based on this case he instituted a series of reforms in the kingdom and she became the first case of victim compensation . . .
"Now this," said Rajan, who is director of India's Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, "may be an apocryphal story. Or it may be true. But the concept, seemingly so new to the Anglo-Saxon system of justice, is something we have had for a very long time."
V.N. Rajan is one of a number of victim champions in town this week for the First International Conference on Victimology.
A lot of victims are represented at the meeting, including dogs, cats, cocks and chickens (by animal ombudsman Dr. Michael Fox). In general, though, the participants are not victims themselves, but a rather eclectic goulash of criminologists, lawyers, doctors, nurses and feminists, representing any man, woman, child or beast who could somehow fit under the umbrella term of victim .
In meeting room after meeting room across two levels of the Shoreham Americana's vast warren of conferring chambers, groups gathered to share reports, offer suggestions, debate on approaches, philosophies, techniques:
Parent abuse. Take this example: Mrs. Jones, 83, comes into an emergency room all black and blue. She's brought by her daughter. "What happened?" asks the doctor. And the daughter answers, "Oh she fell," and mama says, "Well yes I fell."
"Parent abuse," says Jordan I. Kosberg of Case Western Reserve University, "is one of those invisible problems. The mother, who may well have been beaten by the daughter, may want to protect her or she is embarrassed or she fears that if the daughter is put in jail, she, the mother, might have to go into a nursing home. It's a problem where the solution is often viewed as worse than the problem itself. Just because a person is a blood relative, doesn't mean automatically he or she is a loving tender person. They may be drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill."
Incest. Another-so-called invisible problem, meaning that little new research is being done on it despite increasing data on its existence. What there is hints that incest involving grandparents is not uncommon and that male children are not exempt.
Children's rights. How to protect a child from the psychological side effects of the criminal justice system?A system in use in Israel requires that the child victim/witness in a criminal case be interviewed only by official "youth examiners," psychiatrically trained personnel. In a sex offense involving a child under 14, no questioning or testimony may take place without the examiner's permission.
In his presentation to the rights panel, Gary Melton of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia noted that this system would undoubtedly be ruled unconstitutional in this country because the offender would be denied his right to face his accusers.
Emilio Viano is director of the National Institute of Victimilogy. And it was he and his International Journal of Victimology that brought this week's conference into being.
The concept, he concedes, was broadened greatly by the women's movement and its concern for rape victims, and it has been broadened to include as well, victims of natural disasters and of other phenomena -- such as the Holocust.
He and his contacts in all parts of the world are moving to bring together police, prosecutors, medical personnel, emergency room personnel, politicians and legislators to try switch concern away from the offender to the victim -- mainly in terms of crimes, but also in disasters where, he says, "people get their coffee and doughnuts under a tent and planeloads of medicines and food are rushed to the scene, but the psychological first aid is lacking and victims are bitter . . . ."
Viano, who is Italian born, feels it is in part because of this country's "winner" philosphy that victimology has only just begun to assert itself as a force.
"You see," he says, "being a victim is really not that interesting. It is much more interesting to be an offender because although you may be an outlaw, you are still in control of the situation."
He proves this point almost every time he speaks to a community group."Who here remembers who Gary Gilmore is?" he will ask. After a few seconds someone says, "Oh the guy in Utah who was executed . . . ."
"And who were his victims?" Viano will ask. Almost never does anyone remember.
The one thing that ties all these disparate victimizations together is that victims are not in control.
"It troubles me," says Roberta Gottesman, a lawyer with the Child Legal Rights Information and Training Program, "that we talk about victims. In terms of children, we speak of their rights, rather than their victimization. It's so much more positive."
But whatever the favorite victim of the individual participant, most victimological types agree that, as keynoter, Dr. Seymour L. Halleck of the University of North Carolina, told them, vengeance is not where they're coming from.
And if they needed to have it underscored, Dr. Halleck reminded them of one of the favorite statements of ex-Soviet strongman Joe Stalin: "He used to say," Halleck recalled, that "the best moments in his life were sitting down at the end of the day and contemplating vengeance against his enemies."