Current Topics in Criminal Justice

Course Number: CRIMLJUS 4630
Course Name: Current Topics In Criminal Justice (Online)
Course Description:    Although individuals have been victimized by crime since the beginning of recorded human life, the study of crime victims, or victimology, is of relatively recent origin. This current topics course explores the role of victimology in the criminal justice system, including advances in social science, laws, and services. In addition, this course will be exploring measurement research, victim trauma, and victimization as it relates to current topics, such as terrorism, cybercrime, and human trafficking.
Prerequisites:    CRIMLJUS 1130 with a "C-" or better
Level: Undergraduate
Credits: 3
Format: Online
Program: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Registration Instructions

NOTE: The information below is representative of the course and is subject to change.  The specific details of the course will be available in the Desire2Learn course instance for the course in which a student registers.

Additional Information

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, you should be able to

  • Define the dynamics of different crimes.
  • Recognize how each unique crime impacts primary and secondary victims.
  • Identify available legal, financial, medical, and advocacy resources that primary and secondary victims may benefit from.
  • Recognize the effective communication methods to use with crime victims.
  • Recognize the new and emerging trends in victimology.
  • Identify the unique characteristics of vulnerable and underserved populations.
  • Identify the resources for data, statistics, and scientific information on victims of crime.
  • Recognize the scope and prevalence of different crimes.
  • Recognize the barriers for reporting the crime and getting services.
  • Explain risk reduction, awareness, and prevention methods to protect individuals and communities from crimes.

Unit Descriptions
Course Organization and Assignment Descriptions

Unit 1: Sexual Violence, Childhood Victimization, and Human Trafficking

In this unit, we will discuss sexual violence, childhood victimization, and human trafficking-all of which are heinous crimes. Unfortunately, most of the victims of these crimes are suffering in silence and, generally speaking, not getting the help and support that they need to live happy, healthy, and productive lives. Victims—in addition to suffering from the trauma that the crime caused—are also concerned about the way that they will be treated by law enforcement professionals, other professionals, and even by their families if they report the crime and ask for help. The reason for this is that these crimes carry a lot of stigma, and society has a tendency for blaming the victim. In most of these crimes, the perpetrators were people that the victims knew and trusted prior to the crime. For example, stranger sexual assault only happens in around 10% of all rape cases, and 90% of the time, sexual assault perpetrators are friends, family members, neighbors, and even partners, husbands, or parents of the victims. It is easier and more comforting for many of us to think that the bad guys are weird looking, filthy strangers, just like the cliché of the old, scary guy in the white van. This gives us a sense of control and security because we think that we know who the enemies are. It is not easy to come to terms with knowing a father or a husband can sexually assault his own child or wife. In fact, this is the main reason why reporting rates are very low. It is definitely easier for a victim of stranger sexual assault to report the crime than to report her own cousin or brother of sexual assault. This is why many victims suffer in silence and never come forward to ask for help. Sadly, only 5-20% of all victims report rape to law enforcement.

We also have to understand that many victims tend to self-blame for what happened. Many children or teens might have been groomed or manipulated to participate in sexual contact or even intercourse by their family members or acquaintances. During the sensitive developmental stages, it is more than easy for a child or teen to think that there is something wrong with them and that somehow they caused the assault to happen. For adult victims, sometimes a date goes wrong—they might be intoxicated when the crime occurred and they may blame themselves for going out, drinking, or flirting with the person. Most of this blaming comes from the false belief that if the victim hadn't done something wrong, the crime wouldn't have happened. It is time for us to put the blame on the perpetrators and not on victims. No behavior—going out, flirting, wearing sexy clothing, or even being intoxicated—is an excuse for a crime. It is as ridiculous to say to a mother whose daughter died in a car accident, "This is what she gets for not taking the train." Nobody deserves to get sexually assaulted. Yet, it can happen to anyone, including boys and men.

We have to recognize that when a child or teen gets sexually assaulted, their developmental process is disturbed. This is why it is extremely important to respond to child and teen victims appropriately. This is also why it is important to train professionals about best practices in response to disclosures. Disclosure is a significant time in a victim's life, and the way victims are treated when they disclose may make or break them. Our attitude and approach should be based on giving the power back to the victims, as most victims are suffering from loss of power and control over their lives. Some of the greatest first response sentences to tell a victim are "I believe you!" and "This wasn't your fault." These two simple sentences are very powerful in starting their healing process for any victim. If we respond by victim blaming, interrogating, and disbelief, we are doing a great injustice to the victim and seriously damaging his/her mental and emotional health.

Human trafficking and sexual assault are interrelated as many human trafficking victims—regardless of the main reason they are trafficked—are being sexually violated. Unfortunately, it is more prevalent than what most people think, and it has become a big problem in the state of Wisconsin. Although we may communicate with these victims on a daily basis, we may not even recognize that they are victims of human trafficking. Victims are not only immigrants or citizens of other countries. Many American children and adults are being trafficked as well. Many victims, due to vulnerabilities, threats, and/or young age, may not come forward and ask for help. Some young victims may not believe or recognize that they are being victimized due to the extreme manipulation they have been exposed to.

The good news is that with support and compassion, many victims may continue to live happy and healthy lives. This is why we need to know how to approach victims and keep encouraging them to break the silence. It is up to all of us to change the current dynamics of victimization. I hope the information and skills that you gain in this unit will give you the courage and motivation to be an active participant in social change to end these crimes.

Unit 2: Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Homicide

In this unit, we will focus on domestic violence, stalking and homicide. Similar to many sexual assault victims, domestic violence victims are victimized by their family members and loved ones. Unfortunately, it is common to have power and control dynamics in many intimate partner relationships. The dynamics of power and control are so powerful, and manipulation and victim blaming is so aggressive that it is not emotionally easy for victims of domestic violence to break the cycle and get out of these unhealthy relationships. Many people wonder why a woman stays in a relationship that is extremely abusive and, again, may tend to blame the victim for making a choice to stay in the relationship or the marriage. However, as an outsider, it is not so easy to understand the dynamics of abuse. Victims are generally very vulnerable and may suffer from low self-esteem and powerlessness. They are generally made to believe that they are not a good enough girlfriend, wife, or a mother. They may believe that they are ugly and stupid. And, as in every cycle, the more they believe these things about themselves, the more vulnerable they become, and the more vulnerable they become, the more they believe in these manipulative statements. The power and control wheel shows us a clear portrait of the dynamics of abuse.

Stalking has become a more recognized problem as a few incidents have gotten the attention of the media. Up until recently, it wasn't even recognized as a crime, and due to non-existing legislation, law enforcement felt like their hands were tied when responding to stalking cases. The first anti-stalking legislation was passed in the 1990s, although it has been a continuous crime throughout history. Similar to the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault, perpetrators are generally people that the victims know. Stalking victims live in fear and have extreme levels of stress because they do not know when the stalker will next attack. However, many times victims may not take the threats or the unwanted communication, gifts, or messages seriously. The severity of stalking behaviors may increase over time and, in some cases, may end in homicide. The history of having a relationship with the stalker may prevent the victim from reporting, or the victim may be fearful of the threats of harm to himself/herself or to his/her children, family, and loved ones.

Homicide is unique in the way that, unfortunately, the primary victim is no longer alive. So as professionals, based on our specialty, we may have to focus on investigating the crime while also providing support for the families and loved ones of the murder victims. As you may imagine, homicide victims' surviving loved ones—in addition to suffering from great loss and deep grief—also have to go through the criminal justice process, which often is very confusing, scary, and anxiety provoking. Therefore, as professionals in the criminal justice field, we need to understand the psychological, behavioral, and cognitive effects of homicide on survivors. More importantly, we need to work on how we can make the recovery process more effective for homicide survivors. It is critical that we make the criminal justice process more compassionate for survivors, since it will have a huge impact on their recovery. The criminal justice process is a constant reminder for the survivor of the incident and the pain and the fear that their loved ones experienced at the time of the crime.

Unit 3: Hate Crimes - Underserved Populations

Crimes of hatred and prejudice—from lynching to cross burnings to vandalism of synagogues—are a sad fact of American history, but the term "hate crime" did not enter the nation's vocabulary until the 1980s, when emerging hate groups like the Skinheads launched a wave of bias-related crime (U.S. Department of Justice, 2013). Congress has defined a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." In 2009, the passage of a new law—the first significant expansion of federal criminal civil rights law since the mid-1990s—gave the federal government the authority to prosecute violent hate crimes, including violence and attempted violence directed at the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, to the fullest extent of its jurisdiction. Hate crimes may cause permanent behavioral changes. These behavioral changes include moving out of the neighborhood, decreasing social participation, purchasing a gun or increasing readiness to use a gun, buying initial or additional home security devices, and increasing safety precautions for children in the family. Victims of hate crimes may experience an increased feeling of stigmatization or future vulnerability. Race has been the overwhelming motivation for hate crime over the past ten years. However, around 20% of hate crimes targeted victims' sexual orientation. Hate crimes threaten the basic principles of tolerance and democracy that the United States of America is founded on.

Underserved populations have unique vulnerabilities which create extra barriers for reporting and receiving support services from community, state, and federal resources. Underserved populations include immigrants, minority groups, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) populations, disabled populations, deaf and blind populations, and aging populations. These groups are unique in the way that they experience a number of barriers in addition to barriers that a mainstream victim may experience, such as geographic isolation, marginalized minority status, lack of mobility, citizenship status, language, and communication barriers. They also suffer from myths and misperceptions that are often untrue or exaggerated. To properly address the unique issues that underserved victims’ experience, we need to increase our awareness of their cultural characteristics and problems facing their cultures and create more inclusive victim services and policies. One of the ways to successfully have these populations get engaged in creating more inclusive services and also encourage them to receive services is doing extended outreach activities. When even mainstream victims of crime have discomfort in reporting and accessing services, creating inclusive services and programs will not be enough to bring in clients from underserved populations. We need to leave our offices and find these populations, get involved in their organizations, meetings, and programs, and learn about their cultural characteristics in their own spaces. At this point, I want you to think about a time when you felt really vulnerable and emotionally sensitive as a result of your unique physical or personality characteristics. We all experience these differences as children or teens—more specifically during our adolescent years. Now, think about how you would feel if you were stuck there, constantly feeling different, unaccepted, or unappreciated by your peers, community members, or even by your family as a result of your uniqueness. This is what underserved populations may experience. Additionally, they cannot change their situation and pretty much they have to live it all the time.

Among underserved populations, aging and elderly populations have extra vulnerabilities when it comes to victimization. Decline in physical health and mental and cognitive capabilities as a result of aging create even more barriers for reporting and receiving services. The misperceptions associated with aging make it more difficult for them to come forward and ask for help. The fear of not being believed is the greatest barrier. In recent years, we have heard more about elder abuse in nursing homes and facilities for the elderly. Many aging people are dependent on family members or professionals to have their daily living needs met, like personal hygiene, eating, changing clothes, using the bathroom, showering, etc. Of course, this dependency creates extra vulnerabilities for sexual, physical, emotional, and financial abuse. In most cases, the perpetrators are the adult children, followed by other family members of the elderly person. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams and coordinated community response can help manage elder abuse issues.

In this unit, you will have a chance to explore some of the agencies and programs in Wisconsin that you may use to reach out to underserved populations. Similar agencies and programs exist throughout the whole country. Regardless of what you choose to do in your professional career, whether you choose to become an advocate, law enforcement officer, victim witness coordinator, mental health counselor, or health care provider, such agencies and programs may provide great support and guidance in understanding the unique characteristics and vulnerabilities of each underserved population. Additionally, these programs and agencies will provide the services and resources that these groups may need and benefit from.

U.S. Department of Justice. (2013). Hate crimes. The FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved from

Unit 4: Victimization of Individuals with Mental Illness, Secondary Victim Response, and Victim Services

When mental illness has a big stigma of its own, it is not hard to imagine how the victims with mental illness may have to go through many challenges in reporting and also receiving services. Mental illness and its realities are almost completely ignored by the society. When people with mental illness are being excluded by society and even at times being harassed or labeled as crazy, it is difficult to expect that they will ask for help even when they need it desperately. Nineteen million Americans today are suffering from depression. Depression is not just the blues or a means to get attention. It is a real illness just like physical illnesses. Untreated depression is the number one of cause of suicide. We cannot wait for it to go away on its own, as it has so many emotional and physical manifestations and affects not only the person who suffers from it but also his/her family and loved ones. For any mental health disease, the best action to take is to get help, from a mental health care professional preferably, or at least to talk about it with a primary care physician. A well-planned treatment can go a long way and help the individual to get on his feet and start living a happy and healthy life again. It is also important to encourage family and friends to seek treatment if they have been suffering from extreme levels of sadness, hopelessness, and/or anxiety for at least two weeks. The situation with mental health diseases is unfortunately even worse for men as we as a society expect men not to show emotions or share their struggles. "Men don't cry" is quite a common phrase that we hear; although it doesn't reflect the truth at all. It only justifies the faulty expectations of male behaviors.

Victims with mental illness are unfortunately not always believed when they are victimized. There is a tendency among professionals and even family members to think that the person is making the crime up and that it really never happened. Many people think that people with severe mental illnesses wouldn't be attractive for sexual perpetrators for instance. However, we should all know by now that sexual assault is not about sexual attraction; it is about power, control, and domination. Some research reveals that people with mental diseases are 24 times more likely to be the victims of rape. Unfortunately, the victimization of people with mental illness has not been studied extensively. Rather, most research focuses on the potential of these people as perpetrators or the self-harm that they could cause. A few studies on this topic reveal that people with mental disease are extremely vulnerable to victimization. In this unit, we will learn about the dynamics of crime among mentally ill and also the effects of victimization on these populations. We will also learn about strategies when working with these populations when they are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

For every victim, the way his/her family, friends, and loved ones approach him/her after disclosure is critical for his/her healing. Obviously, it is not easy for secondary victims to hear about their loved ones getting hurt, and sometimes this creates some unwanted anger and blaming towards the victim. This is generally a way for secondary victims to cope with the pain. Informal social networks have the potential to be a fantastic support system for all victims. However, it is also important to recognize the need for the secondary victims' healing and to provide support for them as well. When this healing doesn't happen, the communication on victimization between primary and secondary victims may become counterproductive and harmful. It is important to educate society and, specifically, parents in how to approach disclosures.

Crime victim services have become instrumental in victims' healing. Thankfully, there is a growing interest in making the criminal justice process more victim-centered and sensitive. The number of service providers, such as sexual assault and domestic violence programs, has increased significantly in recent years. District attorney offices have victim witness coordinators who support the victims during the criminal justice process. Every state also has domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions which work on creating resources for service providers and work on legislative and lobbying actions. In the heart of the conversation about victim services, is the funding. There is a growing need for extra funding to provide appropriate services to crime victims. Many of the service providers are non-profit and they are dependent on state and federal funding to continue their services. Financial support from local organizations is not always dependable. Fundraising is always a priority for service providers. President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in March of 2013, and this has been very encouraging for many service providers in the nation. Many of the service providers offer shelter for child and adult victims of abuse. Managing a shelter is very time- and money-consuming for service providers. Shelter management absorbs most of the funds but is a vital service that needs to be provided. Sometimes the focus on shelter management unfortunately overshadows other services that victims need. Service providers provide legal, personal, financial, and medical advocacy for victims of crime. They generally have 24/7 hotline services. They also accompany victims to medical examinations, police interviews, and court procedures. They act as a bridge between the victim and resources. Grassroots advocacy is believed to be a useful approach for the healing of crime victims. This advocacy is based on unconditional acceptance, compassion, and hospitality. Victim advocates are solely there for the victim and their priority is the victim's well-being and letting the victim know that they believe him/her. Continued and dependable funding is necessary for these programs to continue with the wonderful services that they provide for victims of crime.

Unit 5: Victims of Financial Crime and Internet Safety

With computers, internet, and social media taking over our lives came a new age for online criminal activity and victimization. The Internet made it easier for financial crimes to be committed along with other crimes. The crime victims' movement has focused greatly on the physical injury and financial loss which occur as a result of violent crimes but paid less attention to the victims of financial crimes. In this unit, we will focus on major types of financial crimes, abuse, and exploitation. We will also learn about vulnerabilities of financial crime victims and the tactics that the offenders use for convincing their victims to go along with their schemes. A good rule of thumb to avoid financial or cyber financial crimes is "if an offer seems to be too good to be true, it generally is." I am sure many of you have seen pop up ads and promotions for great deals and offers on your screens while surfing on the Internet. Some of these pop ups also offer great prizes for being the 999th visitor on their website.

One of the most vulnerable populations for financial crimes is the elderly population. Their friends or family members or even complete strangers may commit financial abuse. Many elderly people are also victims of identity theft.

The number of Internet crimes has increased significantly in recent years. The Internet is an attractive tool not only for financial abusers but for also sexual predators. Many online predators are using the internet to sexually violate children and teens. The tactics that they use for grooming are very similar to in-person grooming tactics. With the ever-changing and evolving technology on the Internet, perpetrators are always finding new ways to target children and teens. Most of you probably heard about law enforcement officers posing as 13-year-old teen girls to catch online predators. However, we don't have enough law enforcement officers to police the Internet. This is why it is very important to educate ourselves and our children about online crimes and risk factors for preventing victimization. This education also has to be continuous, as technology is changing very rapidly and continuously. Schools and other youth agencies are offering more Internet safety education as a part of their curriculum. Also, there are specific parent training programs that are being offered by youth-focused organizations in every community.

Unit 6: Victims and the Criminal Justice System

The burden of crime on victims is big regardless of what the crime is. Victims suffer from helplessness, guilt, shame, rejection, victim-blaming, injuries, financial problems, and also mental health problems. While the victim is trying to recover from the crime and its trauma, she/he also has to think about the criminal justice process if the crime is reported to law enforcement. The good news is many service providers such as sexual assault and domestic violence programs are offering legal advocacy services. Advocates who provide this service are not lawyers, but they are familiar with how the process will work and what to expect during the criminal justice process. Today, many victims of crime are being supported by legal advocates. Another professional who assists victims is called a victim witness coordinator, and they work in the district attorney's offices. They work to make the legal procedures more clear and easy to understand while providing emotional support for the victim by being present at the court hearings. It is not easy for many victims to report crimes, as most of the time perpetrators are friends or family members. If the reporting occurs, then there are concerns about how they will be perceived by professionals, the community, and family members. So the whole process is very difficult to go through. Although legally many victims have so many written rights, the execution and implementation needs to be refined. Many victims find the criminal justice process to be re-victimizing. The way the defense attorney defends the perpetrator may be very hard for the victim psychologically. Victims also lose work time and compensation due to missed work hours and may be treated unfairly by employers and other fellow professionals. Due to these and many more discouraging reasons, many victims shy away from reporting. To encourage more reporting to law enforcement, the criminal justice system should be more victim centered. Victim involvement and cooperation increases rates for successful prosecution.

Unit 7: Primary Prevention, Risk Reduction, and Recurrence

There is a growing interest in primary prevention to end crime. This operates based on the idea that if we work on social and cultural change, we can change social norms which feed violence and glamorizes violent behaviors. Media, commercials, TV series, reality shows, and movies are unfortunately influencing people and making them tolerant to unacceptable, disrespectful behaviors. The objectification of girls and women in television shows and movies are generally sending a very disturbed message to our children and youth. We are teaching our males to be dominant, to not show emotions, and to only be involved in physically offensive sports, and we are almost glamorizing these behaviors. Pornography, along with the constant expectation of physical perfection from girls and women, is feeding this unfair and hostile culture. Therefore, efforts for primary prevention and cultural and social change should continue; yet, we still need to work on risk reduction and outreach since we cannot control offender behaviors. However, we have some control for protective behaviors and risk reduction for children, teens, and ourselves. Sometimes, though, even if we take all precautions, this may not be enough to prevent a crime from occurring, and our children or loved ones may be victimized. And when this happens, law enforcement and helping professionals shouldn't question the victim on the risks that she took; rather, they should shift their focus to the crime and the perpetrator's behaviors. We need to stop victim blaming.

It is really great to see that more and more schools are inviting professionals from service providing agencies such as domestic violence and sexual assault programs to educate youth on risk reduction and awareness. It is also encouraging to see that many schools have made these a permanent part of their curriculum. For primary prevention purposes, many service providers are also offering healthy relationships and dating curriculums to schools.
In this unit, we will learn about primary prevention and also risk reduction and awareness strategies for long-term and short-term protection from crimes and victimization.

Unit 8: International Perspective, Terrorism, and the Future

We have been shaken again by the shock and burden of the heinous acts of terror and violence that took place during the Boston Marathon in April of 2013. Unfortunately, many innocent people are suffering from these violent behaviors in many parts of the world on a daily basis. Terrorism steals away our sense of safety and trust and instills fear in our daily lives. In many cases—just like the Boston Marathon bombings—terrorism has lasting effects on people by creating bodily harm, permanent injury, and also Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I think many of us will remember the 9/11 terror attacks forever, and the image of the plane hitting the World Trade Center will haunt many of us for many years to come. When I knew less about PTSD and the devastating effects of traumatic incidents such as terrorism, accidents, rape, and disasters, I felt this naïve happiness for people who have survived such incidents. Although I still feel happy for survivors, I also know that that for many of them, life will be quite challenging for the rest of their lives. PTSD is a serious condition that has devastating effects and it requires intense psychological and medical treatment. Many war veterans and victims of violent crimes, natural disasters, and terror attacks are under increased risk of suffering from PTSD. There is growing attention in trauma-informed care services about working with victims suffering from PTSD. Trauma-informed care is not an intervention method, it is about the way we provide services to victims and the way we approach victims. It is a shift from the way we used to provide services. In this unit, we will focus on learning about the principles of trauma-informed care and how to implement it as a future professional.

Traumatic experiences can be dehumanizing, shocking, or terrifying singular or multiple compounding events over time, and often include betrayal of a trusted person or institution and a loss of safety. Trauma can result from experiences of violence. Trauma includes physical, sexual, and institutional abuse, neglect, intergenerational trauma, and disasters that induce powerlessness, fear, recurrent hopelessness, and a constant state of alert. Trauma impacts one's spirituality and relationships with self, others, communities, and environment, often resulting in recurring feelings of shame, guilt, rage, isolation, and disconnection. Healing is possible (SAMSHA, 2013,

Although exact prevalence estimates vary, there is a consensus in the field that most consumers of mental health services are trauma survivors and that their trauma experiences help shape their responses to outreach and services (SMASHA, 2013).

Trauma-informed care is an approach to engaging people with histories of trauma that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives. NCTIC [National Center for Trauma-Informed Care] facilitates the adoption of trauma-informed environments in the delivery of a broad range of services including mental health, substance use, housing, vocational or employment support, domestic violence and victim assistance, and peer support. In all of these environments, NCTIC seeks to change the paradigm from one that asks, "What's wrong with you?" to one that asks, "What has happened to you?" (SMASHA, 2013)

In this unit, we will also think about the future of victim services moving forward. How can we make intervention and prevention more effective to decrease crimes and support victims?

Grading Criteria for Activities

Lessons 1-15: Each lesson's written assignments and discussion posts are worth 100 points total. These lesson assignments account for 70% of your final grade.

Lesson 16: Your final assignment will be a paper worth 100 points and accounts for 30% of your final grade.

All written assignments, including the final paper, will be evaluated based on the criteria below:

Criteria Possible Points
Content 50 points
Structure and Organization 20 points
Writing Style 10 points
Grammar, Spelling, and Reference 20 points

Grading Scale

A 93% - 100%
A- 90% - 92%
B+ 87% - 89%
B 83% - 86%
B- 80% - 82%
C+ 77% - 79%
C 73% - 76%
C- 70% - 72%
D+ 67% - 69%
D 60% - 66%
F 0% - 59%


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