Stockholm syndrome | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Investigations

Stockholm Syndrome in the criminal justice context refers to a psychological phenomenon where victims develop a bond or positive feelings towards their captors.

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological condition that has been observed in some victims of crimes, particularly those who have been held captive or abused by their captors. The syndrome is named after a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where the hostages formed positive emotional bonds with their captors.

In the criminal justice context, Stockholm Syndrome can have significant implications for investigations and trials. Victims who experience Stockholm Syndrome may be hesitant to cooperate with law enforcement or testify against their captors. They may feel loyalty or affection towards their captors, and may even defend their actions or behavior.

This can make it difficult for law enforcement to gather evidence or build a case against the perpetrator. It can also create ethical dilemmas for prosecutors and judges who must balance the victim’s rights and autonomy with the need to hold the perpetrator accountable for their actions.

Some experts suggest that Stockholm Syndrome may be more likely to occur in cases where the victim feels a sense of helplessness or dependency on their captor. Victims who have been isolated from friends and family or who have been subjected to physical or emotional abuse may be particularly susceptible to the syndrome.

It is important for law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals to be aware of the signs of Stockholm Syndrome and to approach victims with sensitivity and understanding. Victims who have experienced Stockholm Syndrome may benefit from counseling or other forms of mental health support to help them overcome their trauma and regain their sense of autonomy.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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