Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Ronald C. Kramer

Second Advisor

Dr. Zoann Snyder

Third Advisor

Dr. Paula Brush

Fourth Advisor

Dr. George Robeck


What has been termed the victim rights movement has made great progress in promoting legislative changes regarding victim rights in the United States. This research examines the victim rights movement from a social constructionist perspective by focusing on two pieces of federal legislation passed in the 1980s: the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 and the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. Using the social constructionist perspective, the research examines who was involved in the claims-making activities and which claims were most likely to be heard and acted upon. Rather than seeing social movements as the result of some objectively defined condition, the social construction paradigm examines how social problems come to be defined as problems. In other words, social problems are seen as created rather than objectively existing. From this perspective, a number of interesting questions arise: why have victim rights become popular? What legislation changes have taken place and why? How did the movement emerge?

To answer these questions, this research uses the case study as the method of study. Data analyzed included various congressional hearings pertaining to the previously named legislation and newspaper and magazines articles written from 1965 to 1989. The numerous groups involved in the legislation are also discussed, which include: women’s groups, those with criminal justice administrative concerns, conservatives, liberals, moral entrepreneurs, radicals/progressives, academicians, and various other organizations. Based on the results o f this data analysis, two theories of social movements are used to explain the success of the victim rights movement: New Social Movements and Resource Mobilization. The various devices used in the social construction of the problem are also discussed: fear of crime, the use of victim imagery, construction of horror stories, use of the media in the dissemination of claims, the importance of framing victims needs as rights, the importance of support from public officials and private interest groups and finally, the networking that occurred among those groups. Lastly, limitations of this research and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access