Date10 December 2003
Published date10 December 2003
AuthorLinda Ross Meyer
Linda Ross Meyer
What do crime victims want? The answer suggested by Alexandre Dumas’
iconic character Edmund Dant´es in The Count of Monte Cristo suggests
that victims may want retribution, not revenge. Victims may seek more than
restored honor or personalrestitution. They may long for justice to prevail as
an affirmation that the world still makes sense. Yet, Dumas also reminds us
through the novel that human justice is only human and cannot provide this
kind of cosmic guarantee. From this perspective, it is revenge, not retribution
that looks more measured and more humane.
For many years, the philosophy of punishment, though oscillating between
utilitarian theory and retributive theory, has declared one principle self-evident:
punishment is not revenge. The utilitarian account has it that one of the central
purposes of public punishment is to provide an alternativeto the evils of blood feud
and vigilantism.1The retributivist argues that retributionis antithetical to revenge,
for punishment is about righting the wrong in the offender,without hatred or anger,
and victims do not have standing to punish.2As Austin Sarat put it, “[i]n their
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society,Volume 31, 119–142
Copyright © 2004 by Elsevier Ltd.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1059-4337/doi:10.1016/S1059-4337(03)31005-1
unceasing efforts to overcome id with superego and to construct a legitimating
ideology,modern legal orders seek to substitute the calm calculation of deterrence,
the empathetic understanding of rehabilitation, and the stern, but controlled,
discipline of retribution for the emotionalism of revenge” (Sarat, 2002, p. 307).
Yet, recent scholarship has, from many angles, begun to legitimate the
would-have-been-heresy that punishment should be victim-centered, not
offender-centered; that it should acknowledge and even perhaps dignify emotions
of righteous anger and even hatred; that it should recognize the right of victims to
have a say in the accusation and sentencing of those who have wronged them. In
the philosophical literature, Jean Hampton and Jeffrie Murphy first suggested that
anger and hate could be righteous, and that retributivism should be reformulated
to recognize that the wrong to be righted was not a defect in the soul or character
of the offender, but the “affront to a victim’s value or dignity” (Hampton, 1992,
p. 1666; Hampton & Murphy, 1988). Robert Solomon rehabilitates vengeance
as “a socially constructed emotion that can be cultivated to contain not only
its own limits but a full appreciation of the general good and the law as well”
(Solomon, 1999, p. 144).
In legal academic circles, George Fletcher suggests that the purpose of the
criminal trial “is neither to change society nor to rectify a metaphysical imbalance
in the moral order,”but to “stand by the victim” (Fletcher, 1996, p. 256), and he of-
fers up procedural reforms to allow victims standing in the criminal process. Alon
Harel and Gideon Parchamovsky argue that the purpose of criminal punishment
should be fairly providing protection against crime to victims, not calculating the
wrongfulness or culpability of the offender (Harel & Parchamovsky, 1999).
Offices of Victim’s Rights have become a commonplace feature of the law
enforcement institution; victims are allowed to participate in sentencing offenders
through victim impact statements, victims are allowed to watch executions3
and victims are consulted with regard to plea bargains (Dubber, 1999). A
“victim’s rights” amendment to the Constitution was proposed (Cassell, 1999).
Victim-prosecuted claims for civil penalties and punitive damages have gained
new support (Galanter & Luban, 1993).
The law and economics and game theory literature has been most explicit
in arguing that revenge is a necessary part of maintaining norms,4and the
reinterpretation of criminal wrongs as wrongs to the victim (rather than as wrongs
against the community) has led many to question the punishment of vigilantes
(Ayyildiz, 1995; Hine, 1998).
“Therapeutic” jurisprudence writings have argued that punishment should
be, at least in part, a way for victims to achieve closure and peace (Bandes,
2000; Coates et al., 2000). This notion has had especially broad resonance in the

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