Confusing Terms: Who’s the victim?

Many confusing terms in legal Spanish and English are simply legal synonyms that are not always clearly distinguishable, often making it necessary to learn how each one is used in a specific context or in “set” phrases (frases hechas). Some may be interchangeable; others are limited to use in specific contexts. Those highlighted in this blog are ones that I have seen confused in translation or that my students have found most difficult to distinguish.

víctima; agraviado; ofendido; perjudicado

In English the person against whom a criminal offense is perpetrated is the “victim.” But ES-EN translators are often puzzled to find that the seemingly equivalent term víctima is not always the one used in Spain in the Criminal Code (Código Penal) or in the Criminal Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal). In effect, although víctima is perhaps the most prevalent term, references to el agraviado por el delito and especially to el ofendido y perjudicado por el delito are frequent in both texts, and sometimes appear together in the same article. Article 771.1 of the LeCrim reads, “(la Policía Judicial) cumplirá con los deberes de información a las víctimas que prevé la legislación vigente. En particular, informará al ofendido y al perjudicado por el delito de forma escrita de los derechos que les asisten…Ofendido, perjudicado and víctima likewise appear together in Article 776.1.

Although there is often a good bit of imprecision and overlapping in their use, ofendido (and often agraviado) generally denote the direct victim of a crime, defined as the person whose legally-protected interest has been injured by the offense, the titular del bien jurídico protegido lesionado por el delito and, thus, el titular de la acción penal. In contrast, where a distinction is made, perjudicado generally denotes the person who has sustained an injury arising from the offense (que sufre económicamente o moralmente las consequencias del delito) and who is susceptible to being compensated with an award of civil damages, i.e., the sujeto pasivo del daño civil indemnizable or titular de la acción civil. This is the actor civil in criminal proceedings, the party seeking an award of damages based on civil liability incurred during the commission of an offense (reclamación de la responsabilidad civil derivada de la commisión de un delito). And, indeed,  ofendido (or) agraviado (the direct victim of the offense) and the perjudicado (the person who may claim damages from civil liability arising from the offense) are usually, but not necessarily, the same person. Víctima may refer to both. As Professor Martín Ríos has noted, la coincidencia en una misma persona de las cualidades de ofendido y perjudicado no solo es posible, sino que constituye el supuesto habitual a que da lugar la comisión de un delito o falta. Pese a hacer referencia a realidades diferenciables, para designar ambas posiciones hablamos (en un sentido criminológico) de ‘víctima.’ Dentro de tal concepto incluimos, por tanto, al sujeto pasivo del delito (el ofendido) como a quien directamente sufre, en su esfera patrimonial, los efectos del mismo (el perjudicado).”*

As a simple example to clarify the ofendido-perjudicado concept, in el delito de homicidio the ofendido is the person who dies as a consequence of the offense, while his surviving spouse and children would be the perjudicados.

In summary, the lexical (and legal) complexities of these terms are undoubtedly oversimplified in this explanation. And unless a distinction must be made in translation between the victim of a crime and the person claiming civil damages as a result of that offense, agraviado, ofendido, víctima and, often, perjudicado may usually be rendered simply as “victim.” In that regard it is perhaps best to avoid the confusing literal renderings that sometimes appear in translation (“injured party,” “the offended,” “the wronged party,” “the aggrieved,” etc.), since they may imply that the person in question is someone other than the victim of the crime.

*Mª del Pilar Martín Ríos. El ejercicio de la acción civil en el proceso penal: una aproximación victimólogica. (Madrid: La Ley, 2007), p. 42.


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