Victim as a relative status

Published date01 May 2024
AuthorHannah Marshall
Date01 May 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Victim as a relative status
Hannah Marshall
University of Cambridge, UK
This article advances a theory of the relativenature of vic tim status, demonstrating that
whether an individual is identif‌ied as a victim is, in part, conditional on their relationships
with others. Using the example of victim identif‌ication in cases of child criminal exploit-
ation, this article demonstrates that youth justice practitionersperceptions of young
peoples peer relationships and their relationships with their families had a signif‌icant
impact on whether young people were identif‌ied as victims of child criminal exploitation.
To explain this dynamic, this article then further explores the conceptual nature of vic-
tim status, focusing on its transient and f‌inite qualities. In doing so, this article begins to
address the relational gap in the study of processes of victim identif‌ication.
child criminal exploitation, county lines, critical victimology, relational sociology
Research within victimology has long emphasised that being treated as a victimis
dependent on more than simply experiencing harm. In particular, work within the sub-
f‌ield of critical victimology demonstrates not only that victimis a socially constructed
category (Quinney, 1972; Jankowitz, 2018), but also that becoming a victim is a social
process (Miers, 1990; Rock, 2002; Spencer and Walklate, 2016); and that victim status
is precarious (Strobl, 2004), contingent (Christie, 1986; Duggan, 2018) and negotiated
(Dunn, 2001).
Interactionalapproaches, which examine the interpretive and descriptive work
through which assignments of victim status are made(Holstein and Miller, 1990:
Corresponding author:
Hannah Marshall, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
Theoretical Criminology
2024, Vol. 28(2) 157174
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/13624806231186393
104), have been a key focus within research aligned with the broad tradition of critical
victimology. Existing work has explored the interactional production of victim status
in a variety of ways: focusing particularly on assessments of victim credibilitymade
by practitioners, jurors and bystanders (Dunn, 2001; Ellison and Munro, 2009; Pugh
et al., 2016), and on the role that the communication of narratives of victimisation
plays in individualsunderstandings of their own victimhood (Meyer, 2016;
Pemberton et al., 2019; Thunberg and Bruck, 2020).
Interactional approaches provide an insight into the roles played by acts of communi-
cation between individuals in the emergence of victim status. This article argues for an
extension of this focus on interactions to explore the inf‌luence of relationships
between individuals. The ongoing development of our understanding of processes of
victim identif‌ication requires us to recognise victims as enmeshed in a network of
social relationships. In doing so, we must be attentive to the impact that relationships
between an individual and their peers, friends and family members may have on how
and whether they are identif‌ied as a victim. As such, I argue for the importance of a rela-
tional turnin victimology, to compliment increasing attention to relationships within
criminology more widely (Weaver, 2015; Weaver and Fraser, 2022).
This article uses child criminal exploitation as a case study through which to explore
the inf‌luence of relationships within processes of victim identif‌ication. Child criminal
exploitation refers to the coercion, control, manipulation or deception of a person
under the age of 18 into criminal activity (Home Off‌ice, 2019). It provides a particularly
useful case study for exploring the relational aspects of victim identif‌ication because it is
a highly relational offence, occurring within networks of interconnected individuals. In
addition, it refers specif‌ically to the exploitation of young people, whose social status
means that they live uniquely interconnected lives, marked by a particular degree of inter-
relation with parents, practitioners and peers (Brown, 2005).
Although child criminal exploitation can in theory relate to any type of crime, in
current policy and practice in Britain, it has most often been linked to county lines
drug dealing. County lines refers to a model of drug distribution in which a dedicated
mobile phone line, or other form of deal lineis used to coordinate the transportation
of drugs out from urban areas, to sell in coastal, rural and market towns (Coomber and
Moyle, 2018; Spicer, 2019). Child criminal exploitation occurs in the context of
county lines when children are coerced, controlled, manipulated or deceived(Home
Off‌ice, 2019: 3) into storing, moving or selling drugs that are being distributed via the
county lines model, either within or outside their local area (National Crime Agency,
2019). Young people involved in county lines drug dealing may either be convicted of
drug-related offences, or they may be identif‌ied as victims of criminal exploitation
and, at least in theory, can instead be diverted out of the youth justice system towards
victim-orientated support services (Home Off‌ice, 2019).
Drawing inspiration from relational sociology, which asks us to centre relationsas
a focus for analysis in the study of social life, this article explores how young peoples
relationships with others in their lives affected whether youth justice practitioners iden-
tif‌ied them as offenders involved in drug dealing or as victims of criminal exploitation. I
develop the idea of victim as a relativestatus to capture the conditionality of a young
persons status as a victim on their relationships with others. This article proceeds as
158 Theoretical Criminology 28(2)

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