Assessing Attitudes: The Victim Mentality

Written By: Reid
Sep 01, 2000
A suspect guilty of a crime often displays attitudes during an interview which are typically quite different from those attitudes exhibited by an innocent person. During an investigation, an investigator may note that one subject appeared spontaneous, open and confident, while a second subject may be described as being unconcerned, guarded and unhelpful. Each of these general characteristics represent the subject's attitude. One of the attitudes commonly associated with the deceptive suspect is referred to as assuming a "victim mentality." Under this circumstance, the guilty suspect, either overtly or subtly, alleges that he is a victim within the investigation.

Assuming the role of being a victim is a very natural position to take when a person is questioned about an act of wrong-doing for which he is responsible. In various circumstances, my children have tried to reverse their role from being the perpetrator to that of the victim. Examples include, "I was minding my own business when Ben, for no reason, hit me"; "Ryan, or someone else spilled that soda in my room. I shouldn't have to clean it up"; or, "Dad, you always believe Collin just because he's younger than me." Each of these statements are designed to convince me, the parent/investigator, of my child's innocence. In truth, however, each statement provides a symptom of the child's probable involvement in the act of wrong-doing -- in each instance, the child is portraying a victim mentality.

One common example of the victim mentality is for a guilty suspect to argue that he is being set up or framed. The suggested perpetrator of this alleged frame may be the a fictitious guilty suspect, the victim of the crime or the police. When a suspect states, "I'm being framed for this thing. Someone planted that cocaine in my apartment" the probability is high that the suspect knew that the cocaine was there all along. We have interviewed a number of verified innocent suspects who, in fact, were implicated through evidence planted by the guilty party. It is of interest to note that none of those innocent subjects claimed that they were being set up or framed. Rather, they simply maintained their innocence and cast no blame on anyone else for making them appear guilty.

Another example of the victim mentality is the guilty suspect who makes an unwarranted attack against the investigator claiming some form of prejudice. The allegation may involve race, gender, religion or other affiliation, e.g., "The only reason you think I did this is because I'm a Latin King!" Especially when this type of allegation is made spontaneously, seemingly out of no where, it is likely emanating from a guilty suspect. Our experience indicates that an innocent suspect who represents a minority group will state their innocence without any reference whatsoever to their affiliation. It is the guilty suspect who desperately wants to believe that the investigator is prejudiced (so as to reduce the suspect's own guilt feelings) who makes these types of unwarranted accusations.

Finally, consider the suspect who spontaneously mentions during an interview that he was victimized in the past. The child molester may explain that he was molested as a youth; the thief may relate that someone once stole money from him; or a suspect who was correctly identified by the victim may bring up the fact that years ago he was wrongly accused for something he did not do. In the first two examples perhaps the implied message is that because the suspect was himself a victim he would never victimize someone else. In the latter case, the suspect may bring up his past victimization in an effort to impeach the victim's identification. Regardless of the cause, suspects who appear anxious to interject information that they have been victimized at some time in the past are often guilty. An important key to evaluating this behavior, of course, is that the suspect volunteers this information. On the other hand, if the information is developed in response to the investigator's specific question addressing past similar incidents, little meaning should be attached to it.

From a psychological perspective, it makes perfect sense that a guilty suspect would try to portray himself as a victim during the course of an interview. A suspect who believes that his crime was morally justified feels that it is wrong that he be harshly punished for his act. In his mind, he truly believes that he is a victim (of the criminal justice system or society in general). This distorted thought process naturally invites such claims that the suspect was set up or framed, that the investigator is prejudiced or may be revealed by the suspect's compelling need to tell the investigator of a past incident where the suspect was victimized. As with all behavioral observations, it is important that the investigator consider any statement suggesting a victim mentality in the context of the conversation and that all of the subject's attitudes must be taken into consideration when formulating an opinion of the person's truthfulness.
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