Mr Matthew Goode


Matthew Goode
Criminal Law Consultant
Attorney-General’s Department
University of Adelaide

The Conference of the Australasian Society of Victimology which took place in Adelaide on November 29 and 30, 1990 was, so far as all concerned with it could tell, the first time that a colloquium was devoted to the organisation (as opposed to the individual) as a victim of crime. It was, therefore, not surprising that the speakers and participants at the conference spent a good deal of their time exploring the utility,
nature and extent of the concept itself, and that the papers delivered covered a variety of topics and themes.

On the first day, a number of common thematic threads ran through the presentations. A starting point was the unsurprising proposition that the organisation as a victim was a low visibility theme in crime and criminology work. This theme commenced with the paper delivered by Commissioner David Hunt, who went on to state that the situation was now changing and that some facts were now emerging as a result of attention being drawn to specific examples such as shoplifting - often trivial offences in their own right, but of considerable importance when considered from an organisational or (in this case) industry perspective. This beginning was reinforced in the paper delivered by Arie Freiberg, who pointed out that the lack of recognition and research devoted to the organisation as a victim of crime has distorted our perceptions of crime, the criminal and the victim. Mr. Freiberg went on to point out that one crucial factor in organisational victimisation was that the organisation can and is victimised by its own members, often because the organisation is seen as “fair game” - it has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked. Mr. Freiberg also emphasised that a reason for the low visibility of organisational victimisation lay in the unwillingness of organisations to report crime for a variety of reasons, and that the wide variety of the nature of organisations also contributed to low visibility.

A number of the papers then developed the idea that, however low the visibility of the problem at present, the problem was real and important. Ms. Kolbe, for example, articulated the victimised perception of the Education Department, Mr. Harrison the victimised perception of commercial
organisations, and Mr. Anderson the victimised perception of an industry. All of these papers emphasised again and again the interesting theme that the victimisation of an organisation also victimised the individual members of that organisation, customers, employees, shareholders and/or creditors. An apposite example is the victimisation of school staff and students by graffiti and vandalism attacks on the Education Department as an organisation.

Building on the observation by Sir Walter Crocker that realism is the first essential, almost all papers given on the first day emphasised again and again the need for preventative strategies of various kinds, some, like Commissioner Hunt, calling for recognition of the reality that organisations contribute to their own victimisation and the need for organisations to deal with that reality by contributing to the reduction of organisational crime by institution of their own preventive strategies; others, such as Mr. Challenger, pointing out that too often organisations rely on scarce or non-existent public resources to solve their own inadequacies or their own organisational failure to address institutional practices conducive to their own victimisation. Mr. Challenger spoke about “work place deviance” in particular, and, while he rightly emphasised the need for preventative strategies to address the organisation problems raised by such behaviour, he also raised the interesting question whether or not a variety of behaviours which harmed organisations and which were not now criminal offences ought to be criminal offences, or treated as deviant behaviour in some other way. He instanced theft of time and theft of information. Mr. Brown concluded the first day with the challenging observation that all crime affected insurance in one way or another and that it might be thought to be worthwhile to privatise some law enforcement by handing the policing function directly to the insurance industry.

On the second day, the paper by Mr. Smith re-emphasised the three interlocking themes that:

(a) crimes committed against organisations also victimised individuals;

(b) organisations were still not commonly seen as victims for a variety of reasons and hence were seen as "fair game”; and

(c) organisational victims have a responsibility to reduce the capacity for that organisation to be victimised by management and other preventive strategies.

These themes re-emerged in more depth - the relationship between individual and organisational victimisation was explored in more detail as a more complex interaction than commonly thought. Not only do individuals become victims as a result of criminal behaviour directed at organisations - but also individuals become victims because of their employment by or belonging to organisations. This latter theme was explored by Dr. Wilson in the context of police as victims. She spoke of the need to identify risk variables by research in order to frame and implement risk management programmes for individual police as members of the policing organisation. This theme was also explored by Mr. O’Connell, who
argued that the simplistic nature of the crime fighting model of police work victimised police officers as individuals and hence the police organisation - and thus also incorporated the idea that the police, individually and collectively, are at least partly responsible for their own victimisation.

But the work of outstanding interest on the second day focussed much of this and brought it together under the general heading of preventive strategies by risk management audit. The papers delivered by Mr. Roberts and Mr. Traeger in particular should be read with close attention by those interested in the field of organisational victimisation. Here can be found not only the notions of organisational victimisation and individual victimisation, not only the idea of the fundamental importance of the need to recognise reality and base remedial work on preventive strategies, but also how those strategies might be formulated and implemented. It can only be hoped that one of the most important consequences of this
ground breaking conference will be in bringing these ideas to the fore in the wide variety of organisational contexts represented at the conference so that the work being done at all levels will profit from analogous work being done elsewhere. In that way, all will profit - and victimisation, both organisation and individual, attacked.