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Tara Richards

Tara Richards

criminal justice

Shifting the Focus from Crime Perpetrators to Crime Victims

Crime frequently dominates the news cycle, while the needs of victims are all too often overlooked. Those most affected tend to have their stories buried and their voices silenced.

Shifting the focus back to victims of crime ensures that these individuals are considered, preventing a one-sided story. This is called victimology: the scientific study of the physical, emotional and financial harm people suffer because of criminal activities.

girl covering eyes in distress
According to national data, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will experience violence from a partner over the course of their lifetime.

Tara Richards, a criminologist at UNO, heads the new Victimology and Victim Studies Research Lab, which conducts research related to crime victims and crime victimization. The lab’s work informs policy and practice and help shape prevention and intervention efforts.

Richards focuses on gender-based violence. According to national data, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will experience violence from a partner over the course of their lifetime. “It's up to all of us to keep the community safe,” said Richards. “We're all connected. If you yourself are not a victim of domestic or sexual assault, you know someone who is—because the statistics tell us everyone is affected. To be completely unscathed, you'd be living in a bubble.”

Developing the Next Generation of Victimology Scholars

Richards had many mentors throughout her academic and professional career, who nurtured her passions and helped shape her research. Along with a passion for helping crime victims, she has a passion for mentorship and collaboration. The Victimology and Victim Studies Research Lab draws from undergraduate students engaged in UNO’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice’s victim studies concentration/minor, as well as criminal justice masters and doctoral students.

The lab utilizes a structured mentoring model to develop future generations of victimology scholars. Student and faculty researchers have the opportunity to work together across a diverse portfolio of funded projects and future grant proposals, which promotes cross-teaching and learning and cultivates peer-to-peer mentorship.

The research projects Richards and her team conduct impact local agencies and practitioners in Nebraska. A recent project had Richards and other UNO researchers working alongside law enforcement and the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs to bridge gaps in reporting for missing and murdered Native American women and children in Nebraska.

“We're all connected. If you yourself are not a victim of domestic or sexual assault, you know someone who is. The statistics tell us everyone is affected.”
–Dr. Tara Richards

The lab’s work also resonates nationally. Richards was recently selected to present at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, where she put together a panel that included Ruth Glen, the president and CEO of the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence, to discuss responses to domestic violence during COVID-19.

This should not come as a surprise—UNO’s criminology program was recently ranked as one of the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. It falls in the top 15 nationally, in the same league as schools such as Northeastern, Rutgers-Newark and Michigan State.

Intervention and Prevention

Richards sees interconnections between domestic violence, child maltreatment and sexual assault. One of her mentors was an expert in social learning theory, which looks at the impact of learning and modeling and tackles the familial nature of violence. “If you're in a home where there's partner violence, the risk of either perpetrating that or experiencing that as a victim is high,” she explained. “You've seen that violence modeled, and you've seen support for that kind of behavior in terms of relationships, communication style and getting what you want.”

“I am interested in the cyclical nature of violence, as well as what interrupts it. What works in terms of intervention and what works in terms of prevention.”
–Dr. Tara Richards

Yet, Richards' research does not show determinism. Although coming from a home with partner violence may put someone at greater risk, many people are raised in violent families and never go on to commit violence or to be a victim. In fact, many victims of domestic violence and sexual assault go on to advocate on behalf of others and use their experience to create change.

”I am interested in the cyclical nature of violence, as well as what interrupts it,” Richard said. “What works in terms of intervention and what works in terms of prevention.”

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