Victims, Offenders and Trauma

Although societies like to differentiate between victims and offenders, in reality offenders are often people who have been victimised.  The following is a fictional case study that represents some of the male offenders I have met as a therapist providing counselling inside prison.

Ian is a young man who is in prison for a ten year sentence for aggravated assault against a young man he fell into a dispute with in a bar. At the time of the offence Ian was very drunk and he says that he does not remember much from the incident, only that he ‘lost it’, that he was consumed by rage and lashed out at a young man he saw as being aggressive towards him. Up to the point of his incarceration, Ian had been drinking heavily and sometimes was also taking class A drugs.   Ian had experienced a difficult childhood because his father was a heavy drinker who would physically assault his mother; his father was also aggressive towards Ian and his siblings. Violence was therefore a normal part of Ian’s everyday life at home. When Ian was 10 his parents separated and Ian and his siblings then had to move to a new area with his mother so that his father would not know where they were. Growing up Ian often became angry and could not understand why.

Ian clearly had been the victim of domestic violence; having to move home with his mother and siblings also meant that Ian had to create a new life for himself in a new area not out of his own choice. Ian is also likely to have experienced trauma as a child because witnessing and experiencing violence and aggression could have traumatised him in that the aggression from Ian’s father may have been episodically severe and overwhelming. Ian’s case also illustrates how victimisation, trauma and crime can be linked in that experiences of victimisation can be traumatic for the individuals concerned leading to symptoms like anger and anxiety, and some people may cope with these feelings by taking alcohol and/or drugs.

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