Alchimedes and Crime

December 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Greek mathematician Alchimedes is said to have claimed that if he were given a place to stand, one solid point, and a long enough lever, he could lift the Earth from off of its foundation. This led to the term “Alchimedian point,” which refers to a hypothetical vantage point from which an observer can objectively perceive an object with a view of totality. Or in other words, it is a point from which one can remove themselves from what is being seen and thereby see it in relation to all other things, but remain independent of them (cite). It is the perfect bird’s eye view.

If such a point were ever to exist, it could do much good for our perceptions of crime and criminals. (I highly recommend rewatching this).

Criminals who have themselves been victimized before committing a crime are common. Yet their pasts are rarely brought to our attention by popular media. When we see or read of a criminal and hear of their crime, we generally focus on what should occur going forth in order to reset the supposed Balance of Justice. We rarely ask ourselves what lead these criminal to the point of perpetrating that crime.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a channel or newspaper in which the report of every criminal was accompanied by an innumeration of the crimes they themselves were victims of? In my little research on the topic of victimized criminals, it appears that child abuse is a depressingly common theme.

“A recently released study of women entering the Rhode Island Department of Corrections found that more than half reported [having been victims of] sexual assault at some point in their lifetimes; 35% reported child sexual abuse.1 A recent report by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority found that nearly all (99%) of female inmates interviewed at three Department of Corrections facilities had suffered some type of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in their lives. Nearly all of those (98%) had experienced physical abuse, 85% had experienced stalking or emotional abuse, and 75% had experienced sexual abuse.2

– The Journal of American Probation and Parole Association, “Voices of the Victim”

Being a victim does not absolve a criminal of their crime; but it certainly makes it more complicated. This post, like so many on Bell Tolling, is merely to extend and invitation to broaden our perspectives.


1Anita Raj et al, “Prevalence and Patterns of Sexual Assault Across the LIfe Span Among Incarcerated Women,” Violence Against Women 14 (2008), 528.

2Jessica Reichert, Sharyn Adams, and LIndsay Bostwick, “Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois” (Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, 2010), 21

In a separate by simlar theme, the NYTimes recently highlighted the book Pinky Promise, by photojournalist Pierre Crocquett. And here is a link to accompany it. And a Malcolm Gladwell piece on the grooming of children.

Finally, beyond the social precursors to crime, we now must also consider the over 100 studies that suggest that genes have a role to play…and another well-written article recently posted here on neurocriminology.

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