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Choice or Chance?
Gender, Victimization, and Culpability in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Paper submitted for the 2006 convention of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Commission on the Status of Women Interest Group
San Francisco, California
Mailing address: Katie Foss
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
111 Murphy Hall
206 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
This research explored gender and culpability in crime victim
representations through a discourse analysis of anonymous
victimizations in five seasons of CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation. Findings indicate a vast discrepancy between male and
female victimizations in that men become victims by chance, whereas
carelessness and sexuality cause women to be
victimized. Furthermore, female victims often suffer sexual assault
prior to death. These results reinforce existing rape myths and
suggest ideological support for a patriarchal society.
In one episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the
character, Sara Sidle, a crime scene analyst, stands looking at a
bloodied bed sheet hanging on a wall. Her supervisor, Gil Grissom
walks in and stands close to Sara as she discusses the
bloodstain. At this point, Sara turns to Grissom and says, "Pin me
down." In response to this demand, Grissom moves towards Sara. She
allows him to grab her by the wrists, as Grissom presses against her.
On the surface, the purpose of this scene is to recreate the
killer's actions, which results in the discovery of new evidence for
the case. At the same time, although Grissom and Sara do not fully
reenact the rape itself, by having Sara initiate the actions leading
to the rape, this scene could imply that the victim was partially
culpable for her own rape and murder. Therefore, this scenario
reinforces the myth that victims are, to a degree, responsible for
their crimes, particularly in the case of female rape victims.
From a young age, women are taught how to avoid becoming
victimized by being aware of their surroundings, dressing
appropriately, watching their drinks, avoiding certain neighborhoods,
and carrying pepper spray and other protection (Gordon & Riger,
1989). Through these means, a woman is socialized to believe that it
is her responsibility to amend her behavior for her own protection
(Gordon & Riger, 1989). While some crime prevention for both men and
women is necessary, this construction of a woman as a potential
victim is problematic. It creates a false sense of control
and belief that with proper crime prevention, a woman should be able
to avoid becoming victimized Under this misguided belief, it can be
assumed that those who are victimized must have ignored proper
precautions and are therefore somewhat responsible for the crime
(Karmen, 1990; Weedon, 1997).
This notion that victims contribute to their own attack, or
"shared responsibility," dates back to the 1940s, when von Hetig
(1948) argued that crime is a partnership between the assailant and
the victim. Because "the victim shapes and moulds the criminal," the
victim plays a role his/her victimization (von Hetig, 1948,
p.348). Von Hetig asserted that certain types of people were more
likely to suffer a criminal attack, such as children, senior
citizens, women, the mentally ill, immigrants, and the "heartbroken"
(1948, p.348). According to von Hetig, by possessing these traits, a
victim was somewhat responsible for his/her victimization. In the
1970s, building on von Hetig's research, Hindelang et al. (1978)
argued certain lifestyles and behaviors also heightened one's risk,
such as engaging in illegal activities.
With the development of the Second Wave Feminist movement,
discussions of victimization turned to rape. Many feminists focused
on dispelling rape myths, especially implied culpability, and focused
on creating awareness of sexual assault (Burton, 1998). The 1970s
and 1980s also experienced a general emphasis on crime victims, with
efforts such as President Ronald Reagan's creation of the President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime, designed to instigate victim's rights
legislation (Barajas & Nelson, 1997).
Due in part to the rise in the crime victim's movement,
contemporary scholars dispute the idea of shared responsibility,
particularly in reference to personal attributes (Roberts,
1990). However, the extent to which a victim is culpable for the
crime because of his/her actions is still widely debated (Karmen,
1990). Even with efforts to contest myths of culpability, blaming the
victim still occurs, especially with sexual assault. For example, in
a 1989 rape case, a Florida jury found the defendant "not guilty"
because, they argued, the victim had "asked for it" as indicated by
her provocative clothing (Baer, 1991).
Karmen (1990) classifies the victim's role in a crime into one
of four types of shared responsibility (Karmen, 1990). Repeated
victims are people who routinely place themselves in risky
situation. The second type, victim facilitation, describes a
situation where "victims unknowingly, carelessly, negligently,
foolishly, and unwillingly make it easier for the criminal to commit
the crime" (Karmen, 1990, p.110). Thirdly, with victim
precipitation, the victim incites the action leading to the crime
(Karmen, 1990). Finally, the fourth type of shared responsibility is
the completely innocent victim, referring to, "Crime-conscious people
who tried not to be victimized" (Karmen, 1990, p.115).
These types of shared responsibility are significant because
the extent to which a victim is believed to be culpable affects the
initial police arrest, the trial, if there is one, and its outcome,
as well as how the media frames the event and the public's perception
of the crime (Karmen, 1990). Therefore, it is important to study the
notion of shared responsibility in media representations of crime
since it is likely that these depictions will influence the public's
perception of which crimes are viewed as justified. The construction
of shared responsibility in relation to gender is also important to
consider because of the societal emphasis on female vulnerability and
To study how the notion of shared responsibility is
perpetuated through media representations of crime, the show CSI:
Crime Scene Investigation was examined, using the following questions
to guide the study:
1. Which types of shared responsibility do the victims of
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation exemplify?
2. Is a gender disparity apparent between notions of shared
responsibility for male and for female victims?
Crime and victimization has been a staple in popular culture
products for the last century. The crime genre, which originated in
crime fiction of the 1900s, translated to film and television
(Castleman & Padrazik, 2003). For the most part, the structure of
television crime dramas has remained the same since the birth of
television. Sumser (1996) states that most television crime dramas
have been similar in format. For these shows, a crime typically
occurred at the beginning of the show (Sumser, 1996). For the
remainder of the episode, the detectives attempt to solve the crime
by interviewing suspects and gathering evidence in a linear
progression (Sumser, 1996). This format continued into the 1990s,
with shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Streets
(Castleman & Podrazik, 2003). In 2000, CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation altered the format of the traditional crime drama,
using Crime Scene Investigators, instead of police detectives
(Flaherty, 2004). This show also was different in its use of camera
work, flashbacks, and at times, non-linear story progression (Flaherty, 2004).
Most studies on crime's role in the media focus on cultivation
theory (Gerbner & Gross, 1976); or patterns of crime and its
criminals (Dominick, 1973; Soulliere, 2003). Few studies center on
the victim in crime. In his dissertation, Breslin (2003) examined
media coverage of crime victims, looking at news stories from an
ethical and legal perspective. Breslin's research highlights the
importance of considering the victim in crime reporting
(2003). Enema and Glasser (1988) study the characterization of
innocence and guilt in investigative journalism, concluding that the
victim's innocence was defined and emphasized in the story, which
enabled the victimization to be viewed as a significant
injustice. It is failure of the justice system that is responsible
for the victimization (Enema & Glasser, 1988). For this research, it
is important to note that all detailed examples were of male
victimizations, therefore gender is not addressed.
The work of visual aesthetics in shaping audience perception
has also been studied by Cavender and Bond-Maupin (1993), who note
that camera angles direct a viewer to sympathize with a victim. Few
studies have been done on fictional representations of victimizations
on television, especially in regards to gender and culpability.
Previous research on deviance and "justified" homicide victims
of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation indicated a disparity between
constructions of male and female victims (Foss, 2006). Closely
examining this disparity, however, was beyond the parameters of this
research (Foss, 2006). Therefore, constructions of gender and
culpability for this show need to be explicitly explored,
specifically looking at anonymous victims, where no justification,
other than victim actions, can be provided for the
victimization. Considering the pervasiveness of the disparity in
culpability, this area warrants further study.
The types of shared responsibility promulgated on television
likely contribute to the justification of crimes in real-life,
supporting or refuting different types of shared
responsibility. Therefore, it is important to study the perceived
culpability of victims, particularly in relation to gender, since
literature suggests that women, more than men, are implicated in
their own crimes due to myths traditionally connected to rape cases.
The social construction of reality serves as the theory
driving this research. This framework suggests that, institutions,
such as the media, instruct us on how to take part in our social
world through means like representations (Berger & Luckmann, 1966).
Turner (1993) defines representation as "the social process of making
images, sounds, signs, stand for something—in film or television"
(p.40). Representations enable a shared culture through signs, which
"represent our concepts, ideas, and feelings in such a way as to
enable others to 'read', decode or interpret their meaning in roughly
the same way that we do" (Hall, 1997, p.5). Studying representations
is important then because they create commonalities among
people. Representations are also significant because they serve as
one site of hegemonic struggles.
With the emphasis on gender for this research, the notion of
hegemony is important to consider, which refers to the idea that
"Particular social groups struggle in many different ways, including
ideologically, to win the consent of other groups and achieve a kind
of ascendance in both thought and practice over them," (Hall, 1997,
p.48). As long as a group is viewed as deviant from the dominant
group, they will continue to remain outside of the ruling class
(Hall, 1997). However, it is vital to remember that hegemony is not
constant, but must be constantly renegotiated (Hall, 1997; Gitlin,
1979). Theoretically, then, a subordinate group could become the
dominant class. However, without counter-hegemonic messages in
representations, for many groups, this seems unlikely. This concept
is pertinent to this research because if women are consistently
portrayed as weaker than men, it is doubtful that they will "win
consent" and therefore, become the dominant group.
Feminist theories of rape also tie in to this study,
suggesting that sexual and nonsexual aggression against women is a
manifestation of a patriarchal system (Barron & Straus,
1989). Marcus rationalizes the act of rape as a script, a narrative
composed of "a series of steps and signals whose typical initial
moments we can learn to recognize and whose final outcome we can
learn to stave off" (1992, p.390). The role of victim and rapist are
not inherent, but are socially constructed through the interaction
between the assailant and his prey (Marcus, 1992). Mardorossian
(2002) views this notion of the script as problematic, arguing that
it suggests female culpability. She proposes that instead of
debating between victim agency and passivity, feminist scholarship
should examine victimization in terms of its "institutional,
physical, and cultural practices" (Mardorossian, 2002, p.772). For
this study, feminist rape theories are important in that they situate
female victimization within its social context, looking at
implications greater than the crime's effect on the individual victim.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the extent to which
"shared responsibility" is constructed in crime drama and if a
victim's perceived culpability varies with gender. The following
questions guided the research:
1. Which types of shared responsibility do the victims of
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation exemplify?
2. Is there a gender disparity between notions of shared
responsibility for male and for female victims?
To examine these questions, seasons one through five of the
crime drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), were
studied. This television show was selected for this study because of
its popularity and unique visual and narrative style. CSI has
regularly been among the top three shows in the Nielsen ratings,
frequently ranking number one in viewership since it began in 2000
("Highest Rated Shows," 2005). This show has had significant legal,
political, educational, and social impacts. Because of the influence
of CSI, juries now expect more forensic evidence to support a guilty
verdict—a phenomenon labeled the "CSI effect" (Makin,
2004). Politically, the attention given to CSI has influenced
funding for criminology. In 2002, CSI's Gil Grissom, William
Peterson, testified before the Senate, advocating for increased
financial support for crime scene laboratories (Heuett,
2002). Following this testimony, an amended Paul Coverdell National
Forensic Sciences Improvement Act was passed, allocating $482 million
of federal funding for crime laboratories (Heuett, 2002). CSI has
also influenced education. Because of the popularity of CSI and
similar crime dramas, more high schools now integrate forensics into
chemistry courses (Hempel, 2003). In higher education, the interest
in criminal justice has significantly increased, prompting four
universities to add graduate level forensics programs (Hempel,
2003). Themes of individual episodes of CSI have also influenced
society. After a 2003 storyline featured a convention where humans
dress as animals (who call themselves "furries"), participation in
one annual "furries" convention grew dramatically, from 400 to 1700
participants (Shepherd, 2005).
For this study, the show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was also
selected for its unique visual and narrative style. As opposed to
the linear story of a typical crime drama, CSI episodes include
flashbacks,1 shots from the point of view of inanimate objects,
called "CSI shots," 2 and other tools to construct the
victimization. In most episodes of CSI, the victim dies before the
opening credits. For the remainder of the episode, the Crime Scene
Investigators (CSIs) try to decipher how the victim died, which is
illustrated through flashbacks to moments of the victim's life, along
with the victimization, both of which are supported by forensic
evidence. This unique style is important to this research because
these "CSI flashbacks" enable the audience to view the victim prior
to the victimization, which provides a glimpse into the victim's
lifestyle, suggesting what actions may lead to victimization, thus
demonstrating possible shared responsibility. The implication of
culpability is strengthened by the point of view of these shots,
often filtered through the show's main authority figures: the Crime
For this research, only "anonymous" victims of violent crime
were examined, in which the victim had no prior relationship with
his/her criminal. Therefore, victims of suicide, accidental death,
disease, and "justified homicide"3 were not considered. Mass
anonymous victims, where many people die together (i.e. an
intentional bus crash) were not included. For the anonymous victims,
information about the victim's attack was looked at, as shaped
through the narrative and visual aesthetics.
A discourse analysis was performed on episodes of CSI that
contained representations of anonymous victims. Fiske (1987) defines
discourse as "language or system of representation that has developed
socially in order to make and circulate a coherent set of meanings
about an important topic area" (p.14). Discourse analysis provides
ways of "ways of talking about. . . a particular topic" (Hall 1997,
p. 6). This method was selected because it "provides insight into
the forms and mechanisms of human communication and verbal
interaction" (van Dijk, 1985, p. 4). Discourse analysis, then, for
this research illuminates ways of "talking about" victimization in
order to better understand the connection between victim
representations on television and their implications in society.
Findings and Discussion
Of the 115 episodes of CSI examined, approximately 23 contained
anonymous victims.4 It was determined that women are victimized more
frequently than men (about 14 episodes for women versus 9 episodes
with male victims). Only one man is victimized per episode. In
comparison, multiple female victims often exist within a single
episode. Women are also more likely to be murdered by a serial
killer. In the five seasons studied, only one serial killer killed
men5, and this was stretched over three episodes. At least five
serial killers murder women. In addition to the quantity of female
victims, women also differ from men in that only women are sexually
assaulted, which occurs in at least eight episodes with multiple
victims. In six of these episodes, the raped women were then
murdered. One woman survives the attack, but becomes brain-dead in
Overall, it was found that anonymous men were "completely innocent"
of their victimization. On the contrary, for women, it is suggested
that they played a role in their attacks by making themselves
vulnerable, thus susceptible to victimization.
Discourse about the murder of anonymous men suggests that male
victims are not responsible for their attacks. The victimization of
anonymous men on CSI is shown to result from either happenstance or
is used as a catharsis for the assailant's psychological problems.
Completely Innocent: The crime-conscious victim
A typical theme for male victims is that they were simply in
the wrong place at the wrong time. Often, a man appeared in a public
space, when, by chance, a murderer selected him for
victimization. The episode, "Justice is Served" illustrates this
"stroke of bad luck." In this story, a male jogger is mauled and
killed by a giant dog, and then has his organs removed and consumed
by a woman who suffers from a vampire-like disorder. One remark
about the man's poor choices is made when a CSI, Nick Stokes says,
"He picked the wrong time of day to be running alone. Dusk is when
the animals come out." At the time of this comment, however, the
CSIs do not believe that a human is involved with the man's
murder. Once the CSIs establish that the assailant was, in fact,
human, the man's involvement in his own death is not mentioned
again. It is assumed that his actions were coincidental with his
death; especially since no CSI flashback is shown, suggesting that
the circumstances surrounding his death were irrelevant. The
emphasis of this episode is not on the victimization, but on the
abnormal behavior of the murderer. Throughout this show, the CSIs
question what the killer does with the organs she harvested from the
jogger. She eventually explains that she eats them to protect
herself from a degenerative condition. A CSI flashback illustrates
the progression of her disorder without consuming organs, showing the
woman's skin peel off her face. This focus on the killer, not the
victim, implies that his death was, in some ways, an accident and
therefore he cannot be held responsible for jogging alone in the park at night.
In "Fur and Loathing," the male victim is again shown to be
chosen by chance. When a man interrupts another man robbing a
vending machine, the thief turns and shoots the man. Because no
other information is provided about the victim, this episode suggests
that the man simply had bad fortune. Had he entered a few moments
later, it is implied that he would not have been killed. However,
since the episode clearly shows that the man had no knowledge that a
crime was occurring, he is not presented as careless about security,
therefore is not culpable for his facilitation in his own
victimization. The victim's innocence is reinforced by the focus on
finding the murderer in this episode.
In "Grissom Versus the Volcano," a man's murder is shown to be
merely coincidental with his actions. Shortly after a man rents a
car, it explodes, killing him instantly. The CSIs determine that the
car bomb was intended for the previous car renter. Because the bomb
maker miscalculated the timing of the rental, the bomb went off later
than expected, killing the wrong man. Since no explanation for his
death is offered other than resulting from a chance explosion, it is
implied that this man died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Completely Innocent: Symbol of the assailant's psyche
Male victims are also chosen for victimization because they serve as
cathartic for the criminal's own troubled youth. Like the
happenstance male victim, these men are not culpable for their own
demise because their victimization is the result of something they
cannot control, in this case, their birthdays. This theme appears in
three episodes: "The Pilot," "Anonymous," and "Identity
Crisis." However, it is notable that all three shows focus on the
same serial killer, Paul Millander, who utilizes the same method of operation.
Throughout the course of their investigation, the CSIs determine
that Millander kills men and then stages their suicides in order to
reflect his father's death. Other than the role they play in
Millander's presentation, the victims themselves are not important
and are only selected because of their birth date and year. In the
three episodes with this serial killer, there is no indication of the
victim's contribution to his own death. Even in "Identity Crisis,"
where the victim picks up a hitchhiker (the killer) on a dark
deserted road, there are no references to danger of this practice or
that this action led to the man's death (although clearly it
did). Instead, the emphasis is on the abnormality of the killer
himself, who is discovered to be intersexed. At the climax of the
last show with this killer, he stages his own suicide and is found
holding his birth certificate, which contains both a female and a
male name. The focus of the episode on the serial killer, combined
with the assailant's victim selection process, implies that the men,
even when they place themselves in dangerous situations, hold no
responsibility for their attacks.
Overall, the male victims are not tortured, but murdered
quickly, typically killed in a public space and are not shown to be
responsible for their deaths. With anonymous male victims, the
victimization is downplayed, while the focus is usually on the
deviant actions of the killer.
The discourse about anonymous women suggests that they often
become facilitators in their own victimization because they fail to
take the necessary precautions to protect themselves in a variety of
ways. It is suggested that female victims were careless about
security, naďve and gullible in their decisions, and behave too
provocatively, all of which significantly contributed to their
victimizations. The gravity of these poor decisions is emphasized by
the extreme brutality of the crimes themselves.
Victim facilitation: carelessness
It is implied that women are careless about security, which
makes them vulnerable to attacks. For example, in "One Hit Wonder,"
in which a serial rapist attacks women, the episode does not center
on the rapist, but instead focuses on why the rapist was able to rape
the victimized women. In one scene, a detective describes how one
woman was not raped because she had placed a treadmill in front of
her door. Her next-door neighbor, on the other hand, was raped
because she did not block the entry of her bedroom.
A connection is also made between the women's habitation
choices and their victimization. The CSIs deduce that all of the
raped women lived in ground floor apartment and left their windows
open at night, which allowed the rapist to enter.
A detective calls the locks in these apartments, "Very
secure. Unless you reach in." He then demonstrates how easily one
could break in. By having a man quickly come to this conclusion, it
is implied that these women were naive and careless, not realizing
the risk of their situation. By emphasizing the women's (poor)
choices, it is suggested that the women put themselves in a
vulnerable position, therefore were "asking for it." The poor
choices of women about security, which leads to their demise is also
suggested in "The Strip Strangler." In this episode, a serial killer
rapes and murders women in their homes. Throughout this show, the
women's contribution to their own deaths is mentioned several
times. Early in the episode, the lead detective states that the
assailant easily gained entry through windows left open by the
victims. The CSIs also note that all of the victims were single and
lived alone. It is suggested then, that had the victims either shut
and locked their windows, or lived with another person, they likely
would not have been victimized.
Carelessness with security also leads to victimization in
"Invisible Evidence." In this episode, a CSI flashback shows how a
young woman opens her door to a stranger with the promise of a
discounted car wash. Once she opens the door, the killer forces his
way into the apartment. The suspect throws her on the bed, at which
point, the CSIs describe how he sexually assaulted her. After the
rape, the CSI flashback shows the suspect picking up a knife and
walking towards the victim, who screams. He then murders the woman
to cover-up the rape. Because the victim initiates contact with the
killer by opening the door, thereby allowing access into her home, it
is conveyed that she brings the crime upon herself.
Women are also presented as culpable for their attacks because they
are often unaware of potentially dangerous surroundings. In "Too
Tough to Die," the episode begins with a woman walking alone in a
parking ramp at night. There are no cars around. As she puts her
key into the car door, a masked man appears behind her. He sticks
his gun into her side and slams her against the car. "Get in the
car," he says. She drops her keys, and the scene ends. In the next
shot, a couple driving down a dark road spot a large object on the
shoulder. At this point, a close-up shot of the woman from scene one
is shown—unconscious, lying in the dirt, with her shirt off, exposing
her bra. It is discovered that the woman has been sexually assaulted
and has suffered multiple gunshots to the head. The juxtaposition of
these scenes suggests causality between the woman's actions and her
assault, especially since she is unaware of the man until he attacks
her. If she had not walked alone in the parking ramp, she would not
have been raped and shot, ultimately suffering irreparable brain damage.
Women also place themselves in dangerous situations in both "The
Execution of Catherine Willows" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grissom?"
in which the same serial killer attacks female college students. In
these episodes, the assailant eyes women who visit the campus copy
center. He then chooses a spot in the campus woods and finds or
erects a hand railing. The killer paints the railing and waits until
one of his potential victims takes a shortcut through the woods. A
CSI flashback shows one of the female victims walking alone down a
dark path. After she touches the wet paint on the railing, the woman
heads to a nearby water fountain. As she bends over to wash off the
paint, the assailant comes up from behind. The serial killer attacks
all of his women using this method. In these episodes, the
victimized women were alone in the dark and ventured off the path
into a vulnerable position over the water fountain. Because women
were only victimized if they made these choices, culpability for
their actions is implied. Had the women followed preventative
measures, such as avoiding shortcuts at night, it is suggested that
they would not have become victims.
Victim facilitation: The female nature
Findings indicate that a woman's nurturing female nature leads
to victimization. Women place themselves in danger in the episode,
"I-15 Murders," in which women are abducted from restrooms, raped and
then murdered. A CSI flashback shows the suspect's wife luring
unsuspecting women, stating, "My baby is in trouble." The naive
women offer to help and willingly go to the killer's truck—the source
of their victimization. Since it is the women's trustworthiness that
leads to their deaths, it is proposed that had these women been more
crime-conscious, it is implied that they would have lived.
Victim facilitation: Sexuality
In addition to behaving carelessly and naďve, it is conveyed
that female victims are too sexually provocative, therefore bring
victimization upon themselves. In "The Strip Strangler," for
example, the serial killer explains how he believes women invite
sexual advances made toward them, stating, the women "workout because
they want us to look at them and then they parade around and you just
want to say, "Hello." Because he thinks the women "ask" for his
affection through their body language, the serial killer becomes
enraged when women reject him. As punishment for turning him down,
he invades their homes and brutally murders them. The serial
killer's explanation of the actions preceding the murders suggest it
is the women who cause their own demise, by "asking" for attention
and then dismissing affection when it is given.
The murderer in "Invisible Evidence" also uses the victim's
sexuality as justification for her rape, stating that the victim
"answers the door in this sexy, little thing and stuff. Most of the
time when a woman answers the door, it's in sweats. . . This was not
like that. I mean, what am I supposed to think." The killer argues
that the victim's clothing was an indication of her desires to be
intimate with him, thus justifying her rape. The CSI flashback
stresses the victim's sexuality. As the victim answers the door, she
has long blond hair and is wearing a small lacy dress. She smiles
sweetly. It is at this point that he forces the door open and rapes
her. The visual imagery of these events suggests that her displayed
sexuality "invited" the killer's advances, resulting in her death.
Victim precipitation: Resistance and escalation
It is suggested that female victims often attempt to resist
their attacks, as indicated by abrasions or contusions on the
victim's body or the assailant's skin cells under the victim's
fingernails. Considering that it is the coroner who confirms the
victim's resistance, the person's struggles to escape appear
futile. In some instances, a victim's resistance even leads to an
escalation of the crime itself. In the episode, "Bloodlines," a
woman escapes from her rapist by kicking him and fleeing the
scene. She reports the crime and the CSI team investigates. In the
meantime, the rapist tracks the woman down and murders her, which
implies that not only was her resistance ineffective, but also may in
fact have incited more violence against her.
Consequences of culpable actions
Overall, the narrative and visual aesthetics of CSI repeatedly
connect a woman's actions to her victimization, suggesting that she
is partially responsible for the crime. Numerous instances link a
woman's failure to exercise proper precautions, such as securing
one's home, being aware of dangerous situations and dressing
appropriately, to their attack. The severity of the consequences of
a woman's actions is emphasized by the extreme brutality of most of
these crimes. In nearly all of the episodes reviewed, women are not
just quickly killed. Instead, they are beaten and raped. After this
agony, the women suffer long painful deaths. For example, in "The
Strip Strangler," the female victims are forced to consume a chemical
restraint, beaten, and raped with a foreign object. Following these
events, the killer strangles the women into unconsciousness, revives
them, and repeats the process. In "Invisible Evidence," after being
sexually assaulted, the female victim watches as the killer prepares
to slash her throat. And in "After the Show," a man forces a woman
to pose naked for him, beats her, rapes her with the shaft of his
gun, and then suffocates her to death. The serial killer in "The
Execution of Catherine Willows" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grissom?"
binds the victim's hands and rapes her with a foreign object, (e.g. a
beer bottle), before strangling the victim and disposing the body in
a trash bag, like ordinary garbage. During the episode,
"Compulsion," a female victim is sexually assaulted and stabbed. A
CSI flashback shows the victim's body, slashed not once, but numerous
times all over her naked torso. The brutality of these crimes
reinforces the idea that these actions were justified since these
women are clearly murdered for a reason other than mere coincidence.
Comparing male and female victims
Studying the discourses of the anonymous victims of CSI indicated
significant differences between victimization of men and women. Male
victims are framed as completely innocent, while it is repeatedly
reinforced that women are responsible for their attacks due to victim
facilitation. The lack of emphasis on male victimization implies
that their attack was almost accidental, at least, not
preventable. For female victims, on the other hand, a much greater
emphasis is placed on the victim's choices prior to her death. This
focus insinuates that the crime was, perhaps, preventable, had she
just made "smart" decisions.
A disparity also exists regarding the locations of the crimes
themselves. Men are typically attacked in public spaces, while women
are commonly assaulted in the private sphere of their homes. This
divergence reinforces the coincidental victimization of men and also
suggests that a woman is vulnerable even in her own home, unless she
becomes attached to a man who can protect her.
The difference in the brutality of the murders also shapes the
connection between victimization and shared responsibility. Male
victims are not subject to torture or rape, but are killed quickly,
through a gunshot or other weapon that produces a speedy death. On
the contrary, women repeatedly experience lengthy, gruesome, violent
assault prior to the actual murder, which tends to be horrific and
slow, such as suffocation, strangulation, or a slashed throat. The
difference between these types of attacks indicates that male victims
are murdered in order to resolve another issue (e.g. organ
harvesting, covering up a robbery, staging a suicide). For female
victims, the torture and murder is the focus, enabling the assailant
to both release sexual tension and punish the victim for her actions.
In addition, because male victimization is presented as coincidental
with their actions, their possible resistance is not addressed. On
the other hand, failed female resistance to attack is often shown,
further demonstrating the vulnerability of the victim.
This research holds numerous implications. The prominence of
attacks on women who are alone in their homes reinforces the dominant
ideology that women should not live without a male partner because
they are too vulnerable and make poor decisions about
security. Attacks of single women in public places reinforce the
crime preventative idea that women should not enter the public sphere
without male accompaniment6 (Woodhull, 1988).
Since, for these crimes, the women were framed as partially
responsible for their actions, it is likely that some of these
beliefs will translate to real-life. Studies have shown that a
victim's presumed culpability can influence the legal outcomes of a
crime (Karmen, 1990). Therefore, these representations could affect
for what crimes are the victims considered culpable in reality. With
the identified gender disparity, this is troublesome because its
real-life application would, in a sense, permit more "justified"
crimes against women.
Socially, if certain crimes are believed to be justified,
victims may receive less or no support from the general public. This
study supports the myth that women are more fragile than men, thus
supporting ideological notions about women. It also supports a
patriarchal, since almost all killers are men, thus represent
positions of power over their predominantly female victims (Barron &
This study reinforces a "culture of fear" for women,
suggesting that they must modify their behavior to avoid
victimization (Gordon & Riger, 1989). Furthermore, if they do resist
attack, this show suggests it may escalate to more brutal violence,
supporting myths of victim culpability due to precipitation (Amir, 1967).
Limitations for this study exist. First, only the anonymous victims
were examined. An exploration of the other victims on CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation could provide further insight into the
construction of vulnerability for men and women, as well as indicate
the pervasiveness of shared responsibility. Also, this study was
limited to the show, CSI. Future research, could examine the use of
shared responsibility philosophies, both in the courtroom and in
other media to determine if the gender disparity found here exists elsewhere.
The purpose of this paper was to examine the pervasiveness of shared
responsibility and to determine if a disparity of shared
responsibility exists between genders. From this research, it was
found that CSI: Crime Scene Investigation does not present male
anonymous victims as responsible for their victimization. Instead,
it is proposed that they were attacked because of chance. The lack
of CSI flashbacks, the public location of the crime, and the quick
murder all emphasize this idea.
On the other hand, it is repeatedly suggested that women play a
crucial role in their attacks through victim facilitation. By
failing to take precautions against crime, it is implied that these
women brought the crime upon themselves. The narrative, use of CSI
flashbacks, testimonies of the killers, and the brutality of death
all link the female victim's actions to her demise.
This study is important because it shows that representations
of victims, like those in CSI, more likely to blame female victims
than male victims. Furthermore, a justification of rape and murder
of women on these shows may imply that is permissible in
reality. These representations are alarming because they suggest it
is a woman's responsibility to amend their lifestyles in order to
avoid victimization, which places a "false" control on women, while
at the same time, downplays rape and murder as deviant behaviors, and
minimizes a criminal's accountability for his/(less likely) her
attacks. These results suggest that for a woman to be "safe" and,
therefore, "completely innocent," she must not only be aware of her
surroundings, but ultimately be accompanied by a man—at least to be
protected against stranger to stranger victimizations, perpetuating
fear in women and encouraging a limited, dependent
lifestyle. Ultimately, the representations of anonymous victims in
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation reinforces the patriarchal hegemonic
structure. These depictions suggest that women make themselves
vulnerable to victimization, in comparison to their "innocent" male
counterparts, therefore must suffer cruelties unknown to the male
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1 A CSI flashback is when the killer's confession or a CSI's
speculation is depicted through a flashback.
2 These unique shots, called CSI shots, allow the viewer to see what
the naked eye cannot, such as a bullet tearing through an esophageal wall.
3 For example, in the episode, "Suckers," a woman's participation in
vampire culture leads to her death, which is caused by two puncture
wounds to the neck from a fellow "vampire." Previous research
suggests that the deviance of these characters implies culpability in
their victimization (Foss, 2006).
4 This number is somewhat imprecise because, with anonymous victims,
the emphasis on the victim may be very brief, or not discussed at all.
5 One serial killer in the fifth season episode, "What's Eating
Gilbert Grissom?" attacks a male teenager because he believed the
victim was a woman. The killer emphasizes his error in murdering the
male victim stating, "I'm not into boys."
6 Woodhull (1988) discusses how women's groups attempt to bypass a
dependency on men for crime prevention with the use of women's ride
services. Yet, there are not enough of these services.