Can Forensic Psychology Contribute to Solving the Problem of Cybercrime?

Can Forensic Psychology Contribute to Solving the Problem of Cybercrime?

Gráinne Kirwan (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland) and Andrew Power (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-350-8.ch002
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Background

Forensic psychology is one of the fields of psychology of which the general public is most widely aware, thanks in part to the numerous television programmes and films that have portrayed the topic, such as Cracker, Criminal Minds and Silence of the Lambs. However, the area of offender profiling which is the most commonly portrayed activity of forensic psychologists in the media, is actually an area in which very few forensic psychologists engage, with the majority actually working in prison settings (British Psychological Society, 2010), and with only about 10% of forensic psychologists and psychiatrists ever having engaged in criminal profiling (Torres, Boccaccini & Miller, 2006). So, if the majority of forensic psychologists are not involved in offender profiling, it must be clarified what exactly forensic psychology is, and in what other activities its practitioners engage.

What is Forensic Psychology?

There have been numerous definitions offered for forensic psychology over the history of its existence. Howitt (2009) specifies that while “forensic psychology literally is psychology to do with courts of law” (p. 1), the actual use of the term is much broader. Howitt indicates that the term ‘criminal psychology’, referring to “the activities of all psychologists whose work is related to the criminal justice system” (p.1) can also be used. Between them, these two definitions cover the vast majority of the work of forensic psychologists. In truth, while most forensic psychologists work directly with offenders, often completing assessments or directing rehabilitation programmes, forensic psychology does involve almost every aspect of the criminal justice system. This includes everyone from the victim and eyewitnesses of the crime (perhaps offering counselling, support, or assisting in gathering witness statements), to the police (developing profiles, but also aiding in suspect interviewing and advising in staff recruitment, training and morale), to judges and lawyers (advising on how to select jury members, how to instruct juries when presenting evidence, and providing advice on human decision making strategies) and sometimes even extending their help to the general public in advising on how to persuade people to engage in crime reduction strategies.

Some definitions of forensic psychology can be quite broad, such as that of Wrightsman (2001) who indicates forensic psychology is “any application of psychological knowledge or methods to a task faced by the legal system” (p.2), whereas others have a considerably narrower focus, such as that of Blackburn (1996) who specifies that forensic psychology is “the provision of psychological information for the purpose of facilitating a legal decision” (p. 7). Howitt (2009) highlights that such narrow definitions are problematic, as they exclude the work of many psychologists who work in criminological settings such as prisons but do not work directly in courts. Such definitions also exclude the work of those who teach or research in topics related to psychology and crime. Davies, Hollin and Bull (2008) indicate that forensic psychology is a combination of both “legal psychology covering the application of psychological knowledge and methods to the process of law and criminological psychology dealing with the application of psychological theory and method to the understanding (and reduction) of criminal behaviour” (p. xiii), but they do note that the use of the term ‘forensic psychology’ to encompass both has been contentious. Nevertheless, it is the term that has generally been accepted by the profession, supported by the British Psychological Society’s decision to change the name of their ‘Division of Criminological and Legal Psychology’ to the ‘Division of Forensic Psychology’ in 1999.

For the purposes of this book, the broadest definition of forensic psychology will be used, and it will be considered to include any way by which psychology can be of assistance at any stage in the criminal justice process. With this in mind, an overview will be provided of some of the main roles of forensic psychologists, and how they can be applied specifically to cybercrime.

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