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Need three separate discussion pages of 350 words written on victimology.

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
City University of New York

crime victims


Australia Brazil Mexico Singapore United Kingdom United States

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

Printed in the United States of America
Print Number: 01 Print Year: 2015

Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology,
Ninth Edition
Andrew Karmen

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Brief Contents

P R E F A C E xvii

Chapter 1 What Is Victimology? 1

Chapter 2 The Rediscovery of Crime Victims 39

Chapter 3 Victimization in the United States: An Overview 66

Chapter 4 A Closer Look at the Victims of Interpersonal Crimes of Violence
and Theft 93

Chapter 5 The Ongoing Controversy over Shared Responsibility 134

Chapter 6 Victims and the Police 177

Chapter 7 Victims’ Rights and the Criminal Justice System 205

Chapter 8 Victimized Children 246

Chapter 9 Victims of Violence by Lovers and Family Members 286

Chapter 10 Victims of Rapes and Other Sexual Assaults 325

Chapter 11 Additional Groups of Victims with Special Problems 376

Chapter 12 Repaying Victims 416

Chapter 13 Victims in the Twenty-First Century: Alternative Directions 454

G L O S S A R Y 491

R E F E R E N C E S 502

N A M E I N D E X 563

S U B J E C T I N D E X 574

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P R E F A C E xvii

1 What Is Victimology? 1
Focusing on the Plight of Crime Victims 2
Studying Victimization Scientifically 3
Why Objectivity Is Desirable 5

Sometimes It Is Difficult to Distinguish Victims from Villains 5
Criminals Can Be Victims Too 8
Victims Can Find Themselves at Odds with the “Good Guys” 10

Sources of Bias that Thwart Objectivity 11
Victimology’s Undeserved “Bad Reputation” 14

Why Emphasize Research? 17
Comparing Victimology to Criminology 18

The Many Parallels between Criminology and Victimology 18
Some Differences and Issues about Boundaries 19
Interfacing with Other Disciplines 20
Divisions within the Discipline 23

What Victimologists Do 24
Step 1: Identify, Define, and Describe the Problem 24
Step 2: Measure the True Dimensions of the Problem 24
Step 3: Investigate How Victims Are Handled 27
Step 4: Gather Evidence to Test Hypotheses 27

Why Study Victimology? 32
Recognizing Exemplary Behavior Under Very Difficult Circumstances 33
“Survivorology:” Toward a More Inspiring and Upbeat Trajectory within
Victimology 36
Summary 37
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 38
Questions for Discussion and Debate 38

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Critical Thinking Questions 38
Suggested Research Projects 38

2 The Rediscovery of Crime Victims 39
The Discovery, Decline, and Rediscovery of Crime Victims 40

Social Movements: Taking Up the Victims’ Cause 41
Elected Officials: Enacting Laws Named after Victims 45
The News Media: Portraying the Victims’ Plight 46
Commercial Interests: Selling Security Products and Services to Victims 48

Victimology Contributes to the Rediscovery Process 49
Rediscovering Additional Groups of Victims 50
The Rediscovery Process in Action, Step by Step 54

Stage 1: Calling Attention to an Overlooked Problem 54
Stage 2: Winning Victories, Implementing Reforms 55
Stage 3: Emergence of an Opposition and Development of Resistance to Further
Changes 56
Stage 4: Research and Temporary Resolution of Disputes 57

Summary 64
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 64
Questions for Discussion and Debate 64
Critical Thinking Questions 64
Suggested Research Projects 65

3 Victimization in the United States: An Overview 66
Victimization Across the Nation: The Big Picture 67

Making Sense of Statistics 68
The Two Official Sources of Data 69

Facts and Figures in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime
Report (UCR) 70
Facts and Figures in the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime
Victimization Survey (NCVS) 73
Comparing the UCR and the NCVS 76
A First Glance at the Big Picture: Estimates of the Number of New Crime Victims
Each Year 77
A Second Look at the Big Picture: Watching the FBI’s Crime Clock 77
Delving Deeper into the Big Picture: Examining Victimization Rates 79
Tapping into the UCR and the NCVS to Fill in the Details of the Big
Picture 81
Searching for Changes in the Big Picture: Detecting Trends in Interpersonal Violence
and Theft 83

Taking a Longer View: Murders in the United States over the Past
Century 86

The Rise and Fall of Murder Rates Since 1900 87
Putting Crime into Perspective: The Chances of Dying Violently—or from
Other Causes 89
Summary 91

C O N T E N T S v

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Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 92
Questions for Discussion and Debate 92
Critical Thinking Questions 92
Suggested Research Projects 92

4 A Closer Look at the Victims of Interpersonal Crimes of Violence
and Theft 93
Addressing Some Troubling Questions 94

Identifying Differential Risks: Which Groups Suffer More Often
Than Others? 95

Focusing on Murders 95
Where It Is Safer or More Dangerous: Making International Comparisons 95
The Geographic Distribution of Violent Deaths in the United States 99
Who Gets Killed by Whom? How, Where, and Why? 100
Who Faces the Gravest Threats of Being Murdered? 102
Changes over Time in Near Death Experiences: Trends in Aggravated Assault
Rates 103

Focusing on Robberies 106
Robbers and the People They Prey Upon 107
Robberies: Who, How Often, How, Where, When 107
Changes over Time in Robbery Rates 108
Checking Out Whether More Robberies Are Turning into Murders 108
Differential Risks: Which Groups Get Robbed the Most and the Least
Often? 110

Focusing on Burglaries 114
Trends and Patterns in Burglaries 114

Focusing on Motor Vehicle Theft 115
Stealing Cars for Fun and Profit 115
Trends in Motor Vehicle Theft 116
Which Motorists Should Be Most Concerned When Parking? 117

Focusing on Individuals Whose Identities Were Stolen 121
The Nature of the Problem and How Many People Experience
Its Aggravations 121
Losses and Suffering 123
Is the Problem Growing or Subsiding? 126
Who Faces the Greatest Risks? 128

Predicting the Chances of Becoming a Victim Someday: Projecting Cumulative
Risks 129
Summary 131
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 132
Questions for Discussion and Debate 132
Critical Thinking Questions 132
Suggested Research Projects 132

5 The Ongoing Controversy over Shared Responsibility 134
How Some Victims Contribute to the Crime Problem 135
Repeat and Chronic Victims: Learning from Past Mistakes? 136

vi C O N T E N T S

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The Entire Spectrum of Possibilities: Recognizing Complete Innocence and
Full Responsibility 137
Who or What Is to Blame for Specific Incidents? 138

What Is Victim Blaming? 138
What Is Victim Defending? 141
What Is System Blaming? 142

Mistakes Individuals Make: Facilitation 143
How Many Burglaries Were Victim-Facilitated? 144
How Many Vehicle Thefts Were Victim-Facilitated? 145
How Many Identity Thefts Were Victim-Facilitated? 148

Victim Precipitation and Provocation 152
How Many Violent Crimes Were Precipitated or Provoked? 155

Transcending Victim Blaming and Victim Defending: System Blaming 157
The Importance of Determining Responsibility in the Criminal Justice
Process 160

Applying Deterrence Theory to Victims 161
Theorizing about Risk Factors: Figuring Out Why Certain Groups Suffer More
Often Than Others 164
Why Various Groups Experience Differential Risks: Routine Activities and Specific
Lifestyles 165
Some Victims Were Criminals: The Equivalent Group Explanation 169
What’s the Difference Between Crime Prevention and Victimization
Prevention? 170
Reducing Risks: How Safe Is Safe Enough? 172
Ambivalence About Risk Taking 173

Summary 174
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 175
Questions for Discussion and Debate 175
Critical Thinking Questions 176
Suggested Research Projects 176

6 Victims and the Police 177
Victims Interacting with the Criminal Justice System: Cooperation or
Conflict? 178

What Would Be Ideal? 178
What do Victims Want: Punishment? Treatment? Restitution? 179

Make “Them” Suffer 179
Make “Them” Get Treatment 182
Make “Them” Pay for Losses and Expenses 183

Victims and the Police 183
Reporting Incidents 184
Responding Quickly 188
Handling Victims with Care 188
Challenging the Victim’s Version of Events 189
Investigating Complaints and Solving Crimes 193
Arresting Suspects 199

C O N T E N T S vii

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Recovering Stolen Property 200
Measuring Progress toward a Victim-Oriented Police Department 201

Summary 203
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 203
Questions for Discussion and Debate 203
Critical Thinking Questions 203
Suggested Research Projects 204

7 Victims’ Rights and the Criminal Justice System 205
The Adult Criminal Justice System Versus the Juvenile Justice System 206
Toward Greater Formal Legal Rights within the Criminal Justice System 207

The Quest for a Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Victims’ Rights 210
The Achievements of the Victims’ Rights Movement 211
Rights Gained at the Expense of Offenders 212
Rights Gained at the Expense of the System 212
Rights Gained at the Expense of Offenders, the System, or Both 213

Victims and Prosecutors 216
Assisting Victims and Other Witnesses for the State 217
Protecting Victims Who Serve as Witnesses for the Prosecution 219
Dismissing Charges and Rejecting Cases 222
Negotiating Pleas 223

Victims and Defense Attorneys 225
Postponing Hearings 225
Cross-Examining Witnesses During Trials 226

Victims and Judges 228
Granting Bail 228
Sentencing Offenders 229
Appealing to the Supreme Court 232

Victims and Juries 233
Victims and Corrections Officials 236

Keeping Track of Offenders and Receiving Reimbursement from Them 237
Influencing Parole Board Decisions 237

And Justice for All? 239
Recognizing “Second-Class” Treatment 240

Summary 243
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 244
Questions for Discussion and Debate 244
Critical Thinking Questions 244
Suggested Research Projects 245

8 Victimized Children 246
The Ongoing Debate Between Maximalists and Minimalists 247
Missing Children 248

The Rediscovery of the Plight of Kidnapped Children 248
Fears and Confusion Reigns in the Absence of Data 250
Estimates of the Incidence and Seriousness of the Disappearance Problem 252

viii C O N T E N T S

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Hunting for Children Who Have Vanished 255
The Amber Alert System 256
Protecting Children from Kidnappers 258

Physically and Sexually Abused Children 259
The Rediscovery of Child Abuse 259
How Children Suffer 261
Estimates of the Incidence, Prevalence, and Seriousness of Child Abuse 263
Maximalist versus Minimalist Approaches to the Seriousness of the Problem 264
Trends in the Rate of Child Abuse 266
Differential Risks Children Face of Being Maltreated 268
More Controversies Surrounding Childhood Sexual Abuse 269
The Furor over Recalling Repressed Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse 269
Strange Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse During Rituals 274

Abused Children and Legal Proceedings 276
Taking into Account the Best Interests of the Child 276
The Credibility of Children as Witnesses 277
Devising Child-Friendly Practices 279

Proactive versus Reactive Strategies 281
Additional Forms of Exploitation and Mistreatment of Young People 282

Sibling Abuse 282
Abuse of Adolescents by Parents 282
Statutory Rape of Minors 283

Summary 283
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 284
Questions for Discussion and Debate 284
Critical Thinking Questions 284
Suggested Research Projects 284

9 Victims of Violence by Lovers and Family Members 286
Violence within Romantic Relationships and Families 287
The Rediscovery of “Wife Beating” 287

Blaming Her for His Violent Outbursts 290
How Victims Suffer 290
Estimates of the Incidence, Prevalence, and Seriousness of Intimate Partner
Violence 291
Recognizing Warning Signs 297
Fatal Attractions: Slayings of Intimate Partners 298
Explaining Intimate Partner Violence: Why Doesn’t She Just Leave Him? 300
Enabling Victims Who Feel Trapped to Escape 303
Battered Women and the Criminal Justice System: Violence Is Violence—or
Is It? 304

The Rediscovery of Battered Husbands and Boyfriends 310
Victim Provocation and Murder: When Is the Slaying of a Wife Beater
Justified? 311

Intimate Partner Homicides and the Criminal Justice System 312
Arguments Stressing That the Brutal Man Did Not Deserve to Die 312
Arguments Emphasizing That the Brutal Man Provoked the Lethal Response 313

C O N T E N T S ix

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The Rediscovery of Other Victims of Beatings 316
Dating Violence 316
Abuse of Parents by Adolescents 318
Elder Abuse 318
Battering Within Same-Sex Relationships 321

Preventing Battering 322
Summary 322
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 323
Questions for Discussion and Debate 323
Critical Thinking Questions 323
Suggested Research Projects 324

10 Victims of Rapes and Other Sexual Assaults 325
Sexual Assaults and Rapes: The Social Reaction 326
The Rediscovery of the Plight of Rape Victims 327
The Consequences of Being Sexually Assaulted 328
The Controversy Surrounding Questions of Shared Responsibility 329

“Real Rapes” as Compared to “Acquaintance Rapes” and “Date Rapes” 330
Victim-Blaming Viewpoints 332
Victim-Defending Perspectives 335

Estimates of the Incidence, Prevalence, and Seriousness of Rape 338
Who Faces the Gravest Dangers? Differential Risks of Being Sexually Assaulted
and Raped 340
How the Criminal Justice System Handles Rape Victims 341

The Controversy over Unfounded Accusations 345
The Accuser Versus the Accused 349
Unwanted Publicity and Negative Media Portrayals 350
Rape Shield Laws 352
Issues Surrounding Force and Resistance 352
The Need for Corroboration 353
Rape Victims and the Police: Reporting Rates and Solution Rates 354
Rape Victims and Prosecutors 355

Crisis Centers: Providing Emergency Assistance 358
The Rediscovery of More Victims of Rapes and Sexual Assaults 359

Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assaults 359
The Rediscovery of More Rape Victims 361

Sexual Assaults on Campus 362
Sexual Assaults Within the Military 368
Sexual Assaults Between Males 369
Sexual Assaults Behind Bars 370
Sexual Assaults Within Marriages 371

Three Competing Approaches to Reducing the Problem
of Forcible Rape 372
Summary 374
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 374
Questions for Discussion and Debate 374

x C O N T E N T S

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Critical Thinking Questions 375
Suggested Research Projects 375

11 Additional Groups of Victims with Special Problems 376
Individuals Menaced by Stalkers 377

Stalking: A New Word for an Old Problem 377
The Scope of the Problem 378
Cyberstalking: A New Word for a New Problem 381

Victims of Crimes Committed at School 382
Threats Facing Middle and High School Students 382
Threats Facing College Students 385
The Controversy over Hazing on Campus 389

Casualties of Workplace Violence 390
Casualties While on the Job 391

Targets of Hate Crimes 393
Rediscovering a Very Old Problem 393
How Much Hate? 395
Criminal Justice System Reforms 398

Violence Between Prisoners 399
Law Enforcement Officers Injured and Slain in the Line of Duty 401

Who, Where, What, When, How, and Why? 402
Showing Solidarity 404

Casualties of Politically Inspired Violence and Terrorism 405
Assessing the Threat of Terrorism 406
Assistance and Recovery 411

Summary 414
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 414
Questions for Discussion and Debate 414
Critical Thinking Questions 415
Suggested Research Projects 415

12 Repaying Victims 416
The Costs of Victimizations 417
Gaining Restitution from Offenders 418

Back to Basics 418
The Rise, Fall, and Rediscovery of Restitution 419
Divergent Goals, Clashing Philosophies 421
Opportunities to Make Restitution 423
Obstacles Undermining Restitution 425
Restitution in Action 426

Winning Judgments in Civil Court 428
The Revival of Interest in Civil Lawsuits 428
The Litigation Process 429
Collecting Damages from Third Parties 433

Collecting Insurance Reimbursements 437
Private Crime Insurance 437
Patterns of Loss, Recovery, and Reimbursement 439

C O N T E N T S xi

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Federal Crime Insurance 439
Recovering Losses Through Victim Compensation Programs 440

The History of Victim Compensation by Governments 441
The Debate over Compensation in the United States 441
How Programs Operate: Similarities and Differences 444
Monitoring and Evaluating Compensation Programs 446

Confiscating Profits from Notorious Criminals 449
Writing and Rewriting the Law So That Crime Doesn’t Pay 450

Summary 452
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 452
Questions for Discussion and Debate 453
Critical Thinking Questions 453
Suggested Research Projects 453

13 Victims in the Twenty-First Century: Alternative Directions 454
Toward Countering Criminal Violence with Forceful Responses 455

The Legitimate Use of Force in Self-Defense 455
Would Victims Be Better Off if They Were Armed? 456
Purchasing and Using Firearms for Self-Protection: The Maximalist Versus
Minimalist Debate 457
Arguments Advanced by Proponents of Arming for Self-Protection 459
Counterarguments Advanced by Critics Opposed to Arming for
Self-Protection 461
Gun Laws Directly Affecting Victims 465
Justifiable Homicides Carried Out by Victims and Law Enforcement Officers 468
The Vague Line Between Victims Acting in Self-Defense and Using Excessive
Force 469
Victims and Bystanders Sometimes Engage in “Retaliatory Justice” 470
Vigilantism’s Frontier Origins 472
The Appeal of Retaliatory Justice 473

Toward Restorative Justice 477
A Brief History of Restorative Justice 479
The Peacemaking Process: How Reconciliation Programs Work 481
Evaluating Efforts at Reconciliation 484
Pros and Cons from the Victim’s Point of View 485
The Future of Restorative Justice 487

Summary 488
Key Terms Defined in the Glossary 489
Questions for Discussion and Debate 489
Critical Thinking Questions 489
Suggested Research Projects 490

G L O S S A R Y 491

R E F E R E N C E S 502

N A M E I N D E X 563

S U B J E C T I N D E X 574

xii C O N T E N T S

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Boxes, Tables,
and Figures


Box 1.1 What the Police Mean by the
Term Victimology 4

Box 1.2 Some Striking Examples of
“Victimology Bashing” 15

Box 1.3 The Social Reaction to
Victimization: A Look at the
Interplay between
Victims, Offenders, and
Bystanders 21

Box 1.4 A Sampling of the Wide Range of
Studies about the Interaction
between Offenders and
Victims 25

Box 1.5 An Illustration of How to
Analyze a Specific Type of
Victimization: Road Rage 28

Box 1.6 Questions to Spur the
Development of
Survivorology 37

Box 2.1 Highlights in the Brief History
of Victimology and Victim
Assistance 51

Box 2.2 The Process of Rediscovery Goes
On and On 52

Box 2.3 An Illustration of the Four
Stages in the Rediscovery
Process: The Plight of Victims of
Human Trafficking 58

Box 3.1 The FBI’s Instructions About
How to Classify Certain
Complicated Crimes: Guidelines
from the Uniform Crime
Reporting Handbook 84

Box 4.1 A Statistical Picture of
Murders in the United States,
1980–2008 104

Box 4.2 “Your Money or Your
Life!” 110

Box 4.3 Carjacked Drivers 113

Box 5.1 Early Expressions of Support for
Inquiries into the Victim’s
Role 140

Box 5.2 Early Criticisms of the Notion of
Shared Responsibility 142

Box 5.3 Advice from Experts About
Burglary 146

Box 5.4 Advice to Motorists About
Vehicle Theft 148

Box 5.5 The Perils of Identity Theft:
What to Do and What Not to Do,
According to the Experts 152

Box 5.6 Prof Calls for Crackdown on
Crime Victims 162

Box 5.7 Robbery: What the Experts
Recommend 165

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Box 6.1 Notable Criticisms of How the
Criminal Justice System Handles
Victims 180

Box 6.2 Which Individuals Who Claim
to Be “Victims” of Auto Theft
Might Be Suspected of
Engaging in Fraud by Law
Enforcement and Insurance
Investigators? 192

Box 7.1 Inspiring Examples of Victim
Activism 208

Box 7.2 Events That Call Attention Not
Only to the Plight but also to
the Rights of Various Kinds of
Victims 210

Box 7.3 Legislation Introduced in
Congress Sponsored by the
Crime Victims Caucus 216

Box 7.4 Supreme Court Decisions
Directly Affecting Victims 234

Box 7.5 Which Victims Get Better
Treatment? 241

Box 8.1 Highlights of the Rediscovery
of the Missing Children
Problem 251

Box 8.2 How Often Are Children
Kidnapped, and What Happens
to Them? 254

Box 10.1 The Controversy Surrounding
Widely Held Rape
Myths 337

Box 10.2 The System’s Shortcomings
from a Victim’s Point of
View 342

Box 10.3 The Problem of Untested Rape
Kits 356

Box 10.4 Guidelines for the Proper
Handling of Allegations of
Sexual Misconduct on
Campuses 367

Box 11.1 A Timeline of Some of
the Worst Campus
Shootings 388

Box 12.1 Challenges Facing Burglary
Victims Who Seek Insurance
Reimbursement 438

Box 13.1 What Armed Citizens Under
Attack Must Consider Before
Pulling the Trigger 457


Table 2.1 Possible Indicators That a
Person Is a Trafficking
Victim 63

Table 3.1 Estimated Nationwide
Victimization Rates
from the UCR and the
NCVS, 2013 82

Table 3.2 Comparing the Risks of Death
Posed by Crime, Accidents,
and Certain Diseases, 2010
and 2012 90

Table 4.1 Murder Rates Across the
Globe: Selected Countries,
2012 97

Table 4.2 Murder Rates in Selected Cities
Around the World 98

Table 4.3 Yearly Estimates of Murders
Committed During
Robberies 110

Table 4.4 Robbery Rates for Various
Groups, 1993 and 2013 111

Table 4.5 Which Vehicle Owners Suffered
the Most Thefts? 118

Table 4.6 Vehicle Theft Rates in U.S.
Metropolitan Areas,
2013 120

Table 4.7 How Victims of Identity Theft
Were Harmed, Nationwide,
2006, 2010, 2013 125

Table 4.8 Estimates About the Number of
Identity Theft Victims per
Year, 2001–2013 127

Table 4.9 States Where Residents Faced
the Highest and Lowest Risks
of Identity Theft, 2013 128

Table 4.10 Chances of Becoming a Victim
over a Lifetime 130

xiv B O X E S , T A B L E S , A N D F I G U R E S

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Table 6.1 Trends in Reporting Crimes to
the Police, Selected Years,
1973–2013 187

Table 6.2 Trends in Clearance Rates,
United States, Selected Years,
1953–2013 195

Table 6.3 Clearance Rates for Homicide
Cases (Murder and
Manslaughter) in Major U.S.
Cities, Selected Years,
2003–2012 197

Table 7.1 Victims’ Rights Gained at
the Expense of Suspects,
Defendants, and
Convicts 213

Table 7.2 Victims’ Rights Gained at
the Expense of Criminal
Justice Agencies and
Officials 214

Table 8.1 Accomplishments of the
Amber Alert System,
2005–2011 257

Table 11.1 Victimization Rates per
1,000 Students, 12 to 18
Years Old, at School
Compared to Away from
School, 1992–2012 383

Table 11.2 Crimes Committed on College
Campuses, United States,
2001–2011 387

Table 12.1 Percentages of Convicted
Felons Sentenced to
Restitution as an Additional
Penalty in the 75 Largest
Jurisdictions Nationwide,
Selected Years,
1996–2006 427

Table 12.2 Percentage of Convicted
Felons Placed on Probation
Who Have Restitution
Obligations in the 75 Largest
Jurisdictions Nationwide,
Selected Years,
1994–2009 428

Table 13.1 Comparing and Contrasting
Retributive and Restorative
Justice 480


Figure 3.1 The FBI’s Crime Clock,
2013 78

Figure 3.2 Trends in Violent Victimization
Rates, United States,
1973–2013 85

Figure 3.3 Trends in Property Crime
Rates, United States,
1973–2013 86

Figure 3.4 An Historical Overview of
Homicide Rates, United
States, 1900–2013 88

Figure 4.1 Murder Rates In Major Cities,
United States, 2013 100

Figure 4.2 Trends in Aggravated
Assaults, United States,
1973–2013 106

Figure 4.3 Trends in Robberies, United
States, 1973–2013 109

Figure 4.4 Trends in Burglaries, United
States, 1973–2013 115

Figure 4.5 Trends in Motor Vehicle
Thefts, United States,
1973–2013 117

Figure 8.1 Trends in Child Maltreatment
Rates, United States,
1990–2012 267

Figure 9.1 Trends in Murders Due to
Intimate Partner Violence,
United States,
1977–2013 299

Figure 10.1 Trends in Rape Rates, United
States, 1973–2013 339

Figure 11.1 Trends in Murders of
Students at Elementary,
Middle, and High Schools,
United States, School Years
1992 to 2011 384

B O X E S , T A B L E S , A N D F I G U R E S xv

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Figure 11.2 Trends in Work-Related
Murders, United States,
1992–2013 393

Figure 11.3 Trends in the Murders of
Law Enforcement Officers,
United States,
1973–2013 402

Figure 11.4 Casualties of Terrorism,
United States,
1980–2005 407

Figure 12.1 Opportunities for
Offenders to Make
Restitution 424

Figure 12.2 Case Attrition, Funneling,
or Shrinkage: The Leaky
Net 425

Figure 13.1 Trends in Justifiable
Homicides, United States,
1988–2013 468

xvi B O X E S , T A B L E S , A N D F I G U R E S

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In the early 1980s, I became interested in the victims’ rights movement thatwas campaigning to reform criminal justice policies. I decided to develop an
experimental course about crime victims, but I found that no comprehensive
and up-to-date textbook existed. After discovering this absence of scholarly
books appropriate for classroom use, I accepted the challenge and decided to
write one.

When I began working on the first edition during 1983, it was difficult to
locate reliable social science data or even well-informed speculation about a
number of crucial aspects about people who experienced interpersonal violence
and theft. When I prepared the second edition in the late 1980s, I encountered
the opposite problem. Instead of a scarcity of material, there was too much.
Large amounts of data and lengthy analyses were becoming available, especially
about rape, spouse abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. By the mid-1990s, when
I prepared the third edition, this “knowledge explosion” had become even
more difficult to manage. Entire issues of scholarly journals had been devoted
to, and whole books had been written about, the plight of these victims. When
I wrote the fourth edition, the most striking change that I encountered was
how the recently developed Internet could provide readily available and contin-
uously updated information about a wide variety of victims. As a result, I added
an appendix of websites that faculty and students could check out periodically
to view the latest statistics and the most recent developments concerning new
laws, programs, and services. (Now there are too many to list.) The fifth edition
introduced readers to the problems faced by victims of identity theft, cyberstalk-
ing, sexual abuse by clergy, drug-facilitated date rape, bias-driven hate crimes,
and unfortunately, terrorist attacks. It also contained many more research find-
ings as a growing number of studies about violence and theft found their way
onto the information highway via government agencies, advocacy groups, and
scholarly journals focused on specific types of victims. By the time the sixth
edition was published, so many new topics and controversial issues had accumu-
lated over the years that I had to break up 7 long chapters into 13 more

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

manageable ones; this repackaging of themes and issues has worked out very
well for courses that run 14 or 15 weeks. The seventh edition featured a closer
look at several groups of victims who faced special problems, such as college
students, casualties of road rage, and feloniously assaulted police officers. In the
eighth edition, this list expanded to include increased coverage of assaulted high
school students, persons trafficked into the United States, and prisoners.

Ever since the seventh edition, a table right at the outset in Chapter 1 has
assembled victimology-bashing quotes that show how the scientific study of
victimization is often confused with the controversial political ideology of victi-
mism. This misunderstanding of what victimology actually is all about has led
some influential commentators to condemn the entire discipline and brand it
with an undeserved bad reputation. Unfortunately this problem continues, and
some students might enter the class with a negative impression of victimology.


In revising this textbook once again, I have maintained a focus on all the groups
of victims that appeared in the previous eight editions. Although nothing
important has been cut out, I have changed the order of presentation of a few
subjects, and I have paid greater attention to a number of timely issues. In
response to feedback from reviewers, this edition has more extensive and
more concentrated discussions about the competing theories that explain who
gets victimized and why. But it also has an additional number of concise real-
life cases culled from high-profile news stories that put a human face on the
many empirical generalizations and statistics that are cited in each chapter.
These emotionally charged items help to promote students’ engagement with
the scholarly material that is the backbone of this textbook. These gripping
excerpts spark discussions and debates about what happened to real individuals
in actual cases, and in the process concretize abstract principles, hypotheticals,
and procedures. (As in all the past editions, I continue to respect the privacy
of persons who have been harmed by criminals by withholding their names
and locations. However, the references provide that information for those stu-
dents who might want to delve into these cases in greater detail.)

The most useful change in each of the 13 chapters is that I have reformulated
clear and measurable learning objectives that will be useful for professors under-
taking outcomes assessment. The questions at the end of each chapter, which
encourage discussion and debate as well as critical thinking, can serve as the cor-
responding performance measures. I also provide ideas at the end of each chapter
for hands-on research projects. These could form the basis for term papers that
can serve as additional indicators of what students gained from taking your class.

In preparing this ninth edition, as always, I have thoroughly updated all the
statistical evidence that is needed to back up my analyses and conclusions. For
those instructors who relish evidence-based claims and sound policy recommen-
dations, plenty of reliable empirical material from official sources of data appears
in the many graphs, tables, and boxes.

xviii P R E F A C E

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As in the previous eight editions, I have sought out and highlighted the
many controversies that involve victims as they interact with offenders, criminal
justice officials and agencies, policy makers, the news media, social movements,
and businesses selling security products and services. These contested issues are
emotionally unsettling, hotly debated, and divisive, but they make a college
course more meaningful and relevant to the real world of competing interests
and polarized politics. I strive to be fair and balanced by presenting the strongest
arguments of both sides in each controversy. I do not endorse some of the
points of view that I present or their implications for social policy, of course.
But I firmly believe that a textbook ought to call attention, whenever possible,
to sharp clashes between well-meaning people with differing evidence-based
views and divergent interpretations of the same data. Two examples of contro-
versies featured in this ninth edition include whether individuals who sense that
they are at risk would fare better if they were armed with concealed handguns
for self-protection, as well as the best ways to address alcohol-fueled sexual
assaults on campus.

Some highlights of the specific revisions, additions, and improvements I
have made in each chapter are described below:

Chapter 1, “What Is Victimology?” has been sharpened to make sure that
students find the upcoming course and its reading assignments to be
engaging, relevant to their career plans, and meaningful to their personal
concerns. This lead-off chapter contains new real-life cases that dramatize
the suffering of college students as the targets of ruthless offenders. That is
followed by a streamlined discussion stressing the need for objectivity, and
then a new section on the necessity of engaging in research. Bystander
intervention, which is an insufficiently studied aspect of society’s reaction to
victimization, is now covered in greater depth in a box that provides a
typology, an example, and an up-to-date review of research findings.
Another set of actual cases illustrates how the reactions of victims under
attack and their resiliency in its aftermath often can be inspirational and
uplifting. That leads to the observation that victimology’ s unavoidable
preoccupation with suffering can and should be balanced out by another
more positive and upbeat line of inquiry, termed “survivorology.” A sec-
tion asking “Why Study Victimology?” was expanded to further motivate
students to consider the practical value of the course and the importance of
the entire enterprise.

Chapter 2, “The Rediscovery of Crime Victims,” provides a great many
new references that will prove useful to students who want to investigate
the plights of particular groups that have not yet received sufficient atten-
tion and assistance. The coverage of victims of human trafficking, a prob-
lem of great concern and outrage to many students, now more clearly
illustrates how the rediscovery process goes through four distinct stages.

Chapter 3, “Victimization in the United States: An Overview,” has been
reorganized to better explain and illustrate how official statistics can provide
preliminary answers to important questions. The graph showing historical

P R E F A C E xix

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trends in homicides has been moved to the end of this chapter to round out
the idea of the big picture. The extensive FBI Uniform Crime Report data
as well as the findings from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National
Crime Victimization Survey in the tables and graphs have been updated
and simplified. The discussion of comparative risks (mortality due to ill-
nesses and accidents) has been expanded and updated.

Chapter 4, “A Closer Look at the Victims of Interpersonal Violence and
Theft,” replaces the more narrowly focused chapter formerly entitled
“Violent Crimes: Murders and Robberies.” It starts out with an examina-
tion of the latest United Nations statistics comparing murder rates for a
great many countries and their leading cities in order to demonstrate the
importance of location as a major determinant of risk levels. The chapter
now also includes discussions about people who suffered near death
experiences and other aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries, vehicle
thefts, and even identity theft. Engaging questions are posed, such as which
individuals face the gravest chances of being murdered and which motorists
should be most concerned when parking their cars. Throughout the chap-
ter, differential risks are the focus of attention: how various demographic
groupings experience much higher or much lower rates of victimization.

Chapter 5, “The Ongoing Controversy over Shared Responsibility,” is a
sharpened reformulation of the previous edition’s “Victims’ Contribution
to the Crime Problem.” But as always, it presents all sides of this contro-
versial topic. The debate over individual responsibility (in the form of
facilitation, precipitation, and provocation) is characterized as victim blam-
ing versus victim defending. The chapter now features enhanced coverage
of the theories that account for the differential risks experienced by entire
demographic groups. New material highlighted in boxes provides prag-
matic advice from experts about how to avoid being burglarized, getting
robbed, and being impersonated by an identity thief, and what to do if
these unwanted events happen.

Chapter 6, “Victims and the Police,” replaces “Victims and the Criminal
Justice System: Cooperation and Conflict; Part 1: The Police.” This
streamlined chapter contains updated tables, including the clearance rates
for index crimes for the entire nation, and the homicide clearance rates for
many big-city police forces (data that still does not appear in other victim-
ology, criminology, or criminal justice textbooks, to my knowledge).The
controversy surrounding charges that some police departments try to
manipulate crime statistics downward by discouraging victims from report-
ing incidents is explored in greater depth. Other issues examined in more
detail include efforts by victims to recover their stolen property and the
filing of dishonest and false complaints.

Chapter 7, retitled as “Victims’ Rights and the Criminal Justice System,”
now provides a systematic review of the many recently enacted procedural
rights (material that formerly appeared in the final chapter of the book).
The enumeration and assessment of these rights is integrated into the

xx P R E F A C E

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discussions about interactions with prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges,
juries, and corrections officials This expanded chapter includes some new
Supreme Court decisions impacting victims and a strengthened examina-
tion of the need for protection against intimidation and reprisals.

Chapter 8, “Victimized Children,” contains expanded discussions and
updated statistics in tables and graphs that reveal the latest trends in child
maltreatment cases and fatalities. Differential risks of being abused are
explored in greater detail. The latest revelations about sexual abuse as well
as cover-ups of systematic molestations are summarized. A summary of a
study about the sudden rise and rapid fall of prosecutions and lawsuits based
on repressed memories of childhood abuse helps to understand what hap-
pened to this formerly burning issue.

Chapter 9, “Victims of Violence by Lovers and Family Members,” benefits
from new real-life cases and updated research findings. The many ways that
victims suffer now is explored in greater detail. The clash between maxi-
malist and minimalist perspectives has been updated and sharpened. Theo-
ries that address “why does she stay with an abusive partner?” are presented
more effectively. Orders of protection and gun surrender laws are described
more clearly.

Chapter 10, “Victims of Rapes and Other Sexual Assaults,” contains new
real-life cases and updated statistics in the graph and the table. The discus-
sion about sexual assaults on campus now appears here, rather than in
Chapter 11, and a great deal of material has been added, including best
practices for handling these cases. Coverage about sexual assaults in the
military was added. Updated estimates about differential risks and unana-
lyzed rape kits enhance the analysis of these issues.

Chapter 11, “Additional Groups of Victims with Special Problems,” has
been reorganized and streamlined and benefits from many fresh real-life
examples. New material has been added about cyberstalking, line-of-duty
deaths of police officers, and murders and woundings attributed to terror-
ism. The analysis of offenses against high school and college students, of
inmate vs. inmate violence, and of hate crimes has been updated and

Chapter 12, “Repaying Victims,” contains some new material about civil
lawsuits and state compensation funds, as well as practical advice addressing
the challenges of collecting insurance reimbursements in the wake of

Chapter 13, “Victims in the Twenty-First Century: Alternative Directions,”
now features a greatly expanded and yet carefully balanced presentation of
the controversy surrounding arming for self-protection, with a wealth of
new material about victims using guns to defend themselves. Approaches to
conflict resolution that seek to achieve restorative justice now stand out in
sharp contrast to arming for self-protection because the discussion about
legal rights and remedies has been moved to Chapter 7.

P R E F A C E xxi

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Once again, this edition accentuates the positive by repeatedly focusing on the
unanticipated but much-welcomed trend that became evident by the late 1990s: an
impressive nationwide drop in victimization rates. Across the country, fewer people
are being murdered, robbed, raped, assaulted, or suffering losses from burglaries and
car thefts than at any time in the past several decades. This improvement in public
safety is well documented in the many tables and graphs throughout the text. Of
course, no one knows how much longer the ebbing of the crime wave that began
in the 1960s and peaked in the early 1990s will last because no consensus exists
among criminologists and victimologists about why crime rates rise and fall.


This ninth edition is intended to meet several distinct needs. The optimal situa-
tion is to use this textbook as the foundation for an undergraduate elective
course on victimology that runs for an entire term. In fact, more than enough
material is provided to sustain even a graduate-level course. A number of chap-
ters can be used to address victim-centered problems, such as violence in Amer-
ican society, that arise in either an advanced criminology class or as selected
issues in criminal justice course.

Similarly, other chapters might fit neatly into courses that focus on policy
analysis or research methods.

For classes that require a term paper or group project, this edition provides
loads of up-to-date references, suggestions for short research projects at the end
of each chapter, plenty of graphs and statistics, and numerous observations about
problems of measurement and interpretation. For example, the extensive com-
pilation of the types of victimization that recently have been recognized or are
just waiting to be rediscovered (see the list at the end of Chapter 2) can serve as
a launching pad for exploratory research and term projects. For courses that
incorporate writing requirements via essay exams, each chapter has several ques-
tions for discussion and debate plus a few that stimulate critical thinking. An
instructor’s manual with short answer questions is also available, as are Microsoft
PowerPoint® visual aids.

I maintain a personal Web site ( geared to
this textbook’s chapters that provides links to the very latest newspaper and
magazine articles, radio and television interviews, and reports issued by govern-
ment agencies and think tanks. The website can be useful for extra credit and
make-up assignments and serves as a constant reminder that the subjects exam-
ined in the course are closely connected to the real world outside the classroom.


Each time I revise this textbook, my credentials (unfortunately) broaden and
deepen. Direct experience often is the best teacher and a source of sensitivity
and insight about life’s problems and the challenges imposed by misfortunes.

xxii P R E F A C E

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

In the preface of each previous edition, I listed these credentials: I am not only a
criminologist and victimologist, I am also a crime victim.

I know from personal encounters what it is like to be a victim of a range of
street and white-collar crimes (thankfully, none of them were really serious). In
fact, my very first experience was something to laugh at, in retrospect, although
it was very aggravating at the time. After I graduated from college, I got my first
car: a brand-new 1966 Mustang. I drove it around upstate New York, where I
was attending graduate school, for about a week before a thief stole its gleaming
wire wheel covers—all four of them in a single night! Amazingly enough, crime
was not yet a widespread problem, so my minor misfortune actually appeared in
the police blotter of the local newspaper. This incident contributed to my life-
long interest in law-breaking, victimization, and the search for justice.

Before the first edition was written:

I was held up twice (in one month!) by pairs of knife-wielding robbers.

I lost a car to thieves. The police discovered it completely stripped, burned,
and abandoned.

I experienced a series of thefts of car radios and batteries.

I suffered a break-in that left my apartment in shambles.

By the time the second edition of this textbook came out, my already
impressive résumé as a street crime victim had grown considerably:

A thief stole the bicycle that I used to ride to the train station by cutting the
fence to which it was chained.

Someone ran off with a fishing rod I had left unattended for a few minutes
on a pier while I was buying more bait. (It surely was not pulled over the
railing by a big fish).

A teenager singled out my car in a crowded parking lot for some reason
and smashed the rear window with a rock. An eyewitness pointed out the
young man to the police, and his foster parents volunteered to pay my bills
for the damage. (I minimized their expenses by going to a salvage yard to
find a low-cost replacement window.)

A thief broke into the trunk of my car and stole my wallet and my wife’s
pocketbook while we spent an afternoon at the beach. Our wallets were
later recovered from a nearby mailbox, emptied of our cash and credit

One hot summer night, an intruder entered our kitchen through an
unlocked screen door. He ran off with a purse while we talked to guests in
the living room.

A car I was riding in was sideswiped by a vehicle driven by a fugitive who
was being hotly pursued by a patrol car. No one was hurt, and the offender

A thief smashed the side window of my car, which was parked at a meter a
block away from the college where I teach. Sitting in the passenger seat, he

P R E F A C E xxiii

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began to pry out the radio. When the alarm went off, he fled, leaving his
screwdriver behind (it is now my favorite tool).

By the third edition, I had a few more misfortunes to add to the list:

My car was broken into two more times, on busy streets, during the day.
One time, the alarm sounded and apparently scared off the thief, cutting
short his depredations and minimizing my losses to a handful of quarters
kept for tolls in an ashtray and some items in the glove compartment.

Shortly before the fourth edition was completed, my family was the victim
of a con game that turned out to be a rather common scam:

We picked a moving company out of the Yellow Pages because it advertised
low rates and accepted credit cards. I should have been suspicious when they
arrived in a rented truck, but I foolishly signed some papers authorizing them
to charge me for packing materials. While we loaded computer components,
valuables, and pets into our cars and shuttled them to our new house, they
quickly used an enormous amount of shrink-wrap and cardboard boxes on
our old furniture, cheap picture frames, and clothing. When their rented van
arrived at our new home 10 miles away, they presented me with a bill that
was inflated by about $1,000 worth of unnecessary packaging. They
demanded immediate payment in cash before they would unload our stuff
that Saturday night, or else they would drive away with all our possessions
and charge us for unloading and storage. I called the police, but they insisted
it was a business dispute and said that they could not intervene. I had no
choice but to visit several ATMs, to take out loans from all our credit cards,
and hand over the cash. On Monday, I contacted some colleagues at John
Jay College of Criminal Justice who have close connections with law
enforcement agencies. They made inquiries and warned me that this com-
pany was known to have mob ties. Because these gangsters literally knew
where we lived, I regret to admit that a fear of reprisals intimidated me from
pursuing my claims about fraud in civil court or through state regulatory
agencies or consumer affairs bureaus. Years later, I read in the newspaper that
some victims received protection as witnesses for the prosecution and that
this moving scam crew eventually was put out of business and incarcerated.

By the time I completed the fifth edition, my credentials had “improved”:

Like many other New Yorkers, I knew some victims of terrorism who
barely escaped death by evacuating the World Trade Center before the
Twin Towers collapsed.

My daughter’s backpack was stolen by a thief who pried open the trunk of
our automobile after watching her park the car and walk away.

More importantly, I received just a taste of what it is like to be a victim of
identity theft. The fraud detection unit of a credit card company called one
morning and asked if anyone in my family had recently charged exactly
$400 at a department store and $200 at a computer software store about

xxiv P R E F A C E

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40 miles away. When I answered no, and wondered aloud how such round
number amounts could be charged for merchandise that is taxed, they
simply said, “Don’t worry, just fill out an affidavit.” When the paperwork
finally arrived weeks later, I did what they asked and never heard anything
about these peculiar financial transactions again.

By the time the sixth edition came out, I had received plenty of fraudulent
e-mails (called “phishing”—see the discussion of identity theft in Chapters 4
and 5) warning me to immediately update my account at some bank or credit
card company or eBay before it was frozen. Besides these pathetic attempts to
con me, very little else happened, which probably reflected the nationwide
drop in crime that has lowered virtually everyone’s risks of being victimized
(see Chapter 3).

However, while preparing the seventh edition, my family was victimized
twice—in other countries! My daughter’s car was broken into near a museum
in Montreal, Canada, and her husband’s digital camera was stolen (and we paid
a hefty bill for a new door lock and rear window for the damaged vehicle). In
London’s theater district, a pickpocket deftly removed my wife’s wallet from
her backpack (see Chapter 1). Fortunately, although she lost some cash and
her driver’s license, whoever ended up with her credit cards was not able to
purchase anything or steal her identity. Meanwhile, back home, I suspected
that someone entered our car one night while it was parked unlocked in our
driveway because the glove compartment was open the next morning. As far as
I could tell, nothing was taken. Sure enough, the next night the thief returned
and stole the remote for our garage door opener from the car’s sun visor while
we were eating dinner. Fortunately, just an hour later I discovered that the
remote was missing due to my habitual carelessness about not locking my car’s
doors (see Chapter 5), so I disconnected the garage door opener. I did not
report these two minor matters to the police. The incidents in Montreal and
London were reported to the authorities, but they never contacted us, so pre-
sumably the car thief and the pickpocket were never caught and our stolen
property was not recovered (see Chapter 6).

One other incident is worth recounting because it is humorous: I keep my
canoe chained to a rack at the town beach during warm weather. I came down
one hot summer day to do some paddling and fishing and discovered that
someone had stolen the chain and the padlock—but left the canoe behind,
undamaged. Go figure!

After finishing the eighth edition, I had only one additional trivial incident
to report. Someone stole a small anchor from my motorboat while it was
moored in a nearby bay. I reported this petty larceny to the harbor patrol.

Now that this ninth edition is complete, I have just one more minor
incident to share. Someone used my credit card to purchase stuff I would
never buy and enroll in various costly Web-based services of no interest to
me. The credit card security department flagged these peculiar transactions and
notified me. I did not have to pay for the expensive goods and services this
identity thief charged in my name.

P R E F A C E xxv

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Obviously, victimization is rarely a laughing matter and nothing to scoff
at. Others have suffered far more severely than I have. People endure devastat-
ing losses and try to cope with traumatic ordeals. But these many brushes with
an odd assortment of offenders over the last four decades have sensitized me to
the kinds of expenses, emotional stresses, and physical injuries that taken
together constitute the “victim’s plight.” I suspect that many victimologists
and victim advocates have been drawn to this humanistic discipline because
their own painful experiences inspired them to try to alleviate the suffering
of others.


To further enhance the teaching of victimology courses, the following supple-
ments are available to qualified adopters. Please consult your local sales repre-
sentative for details.

Online Instructor’s Manual

The instructor’s manual contains a variety of resources to aid instructors in pre-
paring and presenting text material in a manner that meets their personal pre-
ferences and course needs. It presents chapter-by-chapter suggestions and
resources to enhance and facilitate learning.

Online Test Bank

The Test Bank contains multiple choice and essay questions to challenge your
students and assess their learning.

Online PowerPoints®

These vibrant, Microsoft PowerPoint® lecture slides for each chapter assist you
with your lecture, by providing concept coverage using images, figures, and
tables directly from the textbook!


I would like to thank the following people who helped me prepare this ninth
edition of my textbook:

At Cengage Learning: Carolyn Henderson Meier, Senior Product Manager
for Criminal Justice; Julia Catalano, Product Assistant for Criminal Justice; Kara
Kindstrom, Marketing Manager for Criminal Justice; at S4Carlisle Publishing
Services: Michael B. Kopf, Development Production Editor; and at Lumina
Datamatics: Kailash Rawat.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

I would like to express my appreciation to these reviewers of all the previ-
ous editions:

Kelly Asmussen, Peru State College
Frankie Bailey, State University of
New York, Albany
Kevin M. Beaver, Florida State
Susan Beecher, Aims Community
Bonnie Black, Mesa Community
Ashley Blackburn, University of
North Texas
Pam Nielson Boline, Dakota
Wesleyan University
John Bolinger, MacMurray College
Willie D. Cain, Campbell
Faith Coburn, University of
Ellen G. Cohn, Florida
International University
Andria L. Cooper, Fort Hays State
Susan Craig, University of Central
Greg Dawson, College of Central
Elizabeth DeValve, Fayetteville
State University
Rhonda Dobbs, The University of
Texas at Arlington
William Doerner, Florida State
University, Tallahassee
John Dussich, California State
University, Fresno
Deborah Eckberg, Metropolitan
State University
Martha Earwood, University of
Alabama at Birmingham
Gerald P. Fisher, Georgia College
and State University
Linda Fleischer, The Community
College of Baltimore County

Gilbert Geis, University of
California at Irvine
Alan Harland, Temple University
Sidney Harring, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice
Matasha Harris, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice
Carrie Harter, Sam Houston State
Debra Heath-Thornton, Messiah
Scott Hedlund, Pierce College
Elizabeth Hegeman, John Jay
College of Criminal Justice
Michael Herbert, Bemidji State
Stacey Hervey, Metro State College
Eric W. Hickey, California State
University, Fresno
Lin Huff-Corzine, Kansas State
Amanda M. Humphrey, Mount
Mercy University
David Johnson, University of
Dan Jones, Governors State University
Lynn Jones, Northern Arizona
Janice Joseph, Richard Stockton
College of New Jersey
Betsy Kreisel, University of Central
Fred Kramer, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice
Janet Lauritsen, University of
Missouri–St. Louis
Daniel P. LeClair, Boston University
Joseph Linskey, Centenary College
Cheng-Hsien Lin, Lamar University
Karol Lucken, University of Central


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

Donal MacNamara, John Jay
College of Criminal Justice
Liz Marciniak, University of
Pittsburgh at Greensburg
Michael G. Maxfield, Rutgers
Thomas McDonald, North Dakota
State University
Jackye McClure, San Jose State
Markita McCrimmon, Central
Carolina Community College
Melissa Owens McKenna,
Hiwassee College
Stephen J. Morewitz, San Jose
State University
Christine Mouton, University of
Central Florida
George Muedeking, California
State University, Stanislaus
Ann Weaver Nichols, Arizona
State University
Sharon Ostrow, Temple University
Leanne Owen, Holy Family
Elicka S. L. Peterson, Florida State
Amy Pinero, Baton Rouge
Community College
Elizabeth Quinn, Fayetteville State

Roy Roberg, San Jose State
Kevin Roberts, Grace College
Lorie Rubenser, Sul Ross State
Edward Sagarin, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice
Ken Salmon, Arizona State
Stanley Saxton, University of
Brent Smith, University of Alabama,
David Sternberg, John Jay College
of Criminal Justice
Mark Stevens, North Carolina
Wesleyan College
James Stewart, Northeastern Junior
Thomas Underwood, Washburn
Joseph Victor, Mercy College
Karen Weiss, West Virginia
Tamara Tucker Wilkins, Minnesota
State University, Mankato
Janet K. Wilson, University of
Central Arkansas
Thomas G. Ziesemer, College of
Central Florida

Finally, I want to thank all those professors who provided valuable feedback
through a survey about the eighth edition which helped me to prepare this
ninth edition:

Andrew Karmen, February 2015

xxviii PREFA CE

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

What Is Victimology?

Focusing on the Plight of Crime Victims

Studying Victimization Scientifically

Why Objectivity Is Desirable

Sometimes It Is Difficult to Distinguish Victims
from Villains

Criminals Can Be Victims Too
Victims Can Find Themselves at Odds with the

“Good Guys”
Sources of Bias that Thwart Objectivity

Victimology’s Undeserved “Bad Reputation”
Why Emphasize Research?

Comparing Victimology to Criminology

The Many Parallels between Criminology and

Some Differences and Issues about Boundaries
Interfacing with Other Disciplines
Divisions within the Discipline

What Victimologists Do

Step 1: Identify, Define, and Describe the Problem
Step 2: Measure the True Dimensions of the Problem
Step 3: Investigate How Victims Are Handled
Step 4: Gather Evidence to Test Hypotheses

Why Study Victimology?

Recognizing Exemplary Behavior Under Very Difficult

“Survivorology:” Toward a More Inspiring and Upbeat
Trajectory within Victimology


Key Terms Defined in the Glossary

Questions for Discussion and Debate

Critical Thinking Questions

Suggested Research Projects

To practice looking at victims and victimization

through a scientific lens.

To appreciate why objectivity is worth striving for
when examining the victims’ plight.

To discover why some people have a negative
impression about what they brand as victimology.

To be able to recognize how victimology is similar to
as well as different from criminology.

To become familiar with the steps to follow when
conducting a victim-centered analysis.

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The concept of a victim can be traced back to ancient
societies. It was connected to the notion of sacrifice. In
the original connotation of the term, a victim was a
person or an animal put to death during a religious
ceremony in order to appease some supernatural
power or deity. Over the centuries, the word has
picked up additional meanings. Now it commonly
refers to individuals who suffer injuries, losses, or
hardships for any reason. People can become victims
of accidents, natural disasters, diseases, or social
problems such as warfare, discrimination, political
witch hunts, and other injustices. Crime victims are
harmed by illegal acts.

Victimization is an asymmetrical interpersonal
relationship that is abusive, painful, destructive, par-
asitical, and unfair. While a crime is in progress,
offenders temporarily force their victims to play
roles (almost as if following a script) that mimic the
dynamics between predator and prey, winner and
loser, victor and vanquished, and even master and
slave. Many types of victimization have been out-
lawed over the centuries—specific oppressive and
exploitative acts, like raping, robbing, and swindling.
But not all types of hurtful relationships and deceitful
practices are forbidden by law. It is permissible to
overcharge a customer for an item that can be pur-
chased for less elsewhere, or to underpay a worker
who could receive higher wages for the same tasks at
another place of employment, or impose exorbitant
interest rates and hidden fees on borrowers who use
credit cards and take out mortgages, or to deny food
and shelter to the hungry and the homeless who
cannot pay the required amount.

Victimology is the scientific study of the
physical, emotional, and financial harm people
endure because of illegal activities. Victimologists
first and foremost investigate the victims’ plight:
the impact of the injuries and losses inflicted by
offenders on the people they target. In addition,
they carry out research into the public’s political,
social, and economic reactions to the suffering of
victims. They also study how victims are handled

by officials and agencies within the criminal justice
system, especially interactions with police officers,
detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges,
probation officers, and members of parole boards.

Victimologists want to know whether and to
what degree crime victims experience physical
wounds, economic hardships, or emotional turmoil.
One aim, of course, is to devise ways to help them
recover. In the aftermath of the incident, are they sad-
dened, depressed, frightened, terrorized, traumatized,
infuriated, or embittered? Also, victimologists want to
find out how effectively the injured parties are being
assisted, supported, served, accommodated, rehabili-
tated, and educated to avoid further trouble. Victimol-
ogists are equally curious to determine the extent to
which their suffering is being totally ignored, largely
neglected, belittled, manipulated, and commercially
or politically exploited. Some individuals who sustain
terrible injuries and devastating losses might be
memorialized, honored, and even idolized, while
others might be mocked, discredited, defamed, deme-
aned, socially stigmatized, and even condemned for
bringing about their own misfortunes. Why is this so?

Victimologists also want to examine why some
injured parties find their ordeals life transforming.
Some become deeply alienated and withdraw from
social relationships. They may become burdened by
bouts of depression, sleep disorders, panic attacks,
and stress-related illnesses. Their healing process
may require overcoming feelings of helplessness,
frustration, and self-blame. Others might react to
their fear and fury by seeking out fellow sufferers,
building alliances, and discovering ways to exercise
their “agency”—to assess their options and make
wise decisions, take advantage of opportunities,
regain control of their lives, rebuild their self-
confidence, and restore a sense of trust and security.
Why do people experience such a wide range of
responses, and do personality or social factors pri-
marily determine how a person initially reacts and
then recovers?

Direct or primary victims experience the
criminal act and its consequences firsthand. Indirect
or secondary victims (such as family members and
loved ones) are not immediately involved or physically

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injured in confrontations. But they might be
burdened, even devastated, as the following examples

A teenager who shot and killed a high school athlete
is about to be sentenced to prison. The distraught
father of the murdered boy tells the judge, “We
always hope our little guy will come through the door,
and it will never be. We don’t have lives. We stay in
every day. We can’t function.” (MacGowan,

As an argument with a stranger escalates and he pulls
out a gun, a wife is wounded when she puts out her
hand to try to shield her husband from the bullet that
causes his death. She tells an interviewer, “I was just
so excited and looking forward to spending the day
with the love of my life.… And just to think that in
the blink of an eye, my whole world just got shattered
into a million pieces. And now I’m left trying to pick
them all up and putting them back together.”
(Gutman, 2014)

First responders and rescue workers who race
to crime scenes (such as police officers, forensic evi-
dence technicians, paramedics, and firefighters) are
exposed to emergencies and trauma on such a rou-
tine basis that they also can be considered secondary
or indirect victims who periodically might need
emotional support themselves to prevent burnout
(see Regehr and Bober, 2005; and Abel, 2013).

Note that victimologists are social scientists and
researchers, as opposed to practitioners who directly
assist injured parties to recover from their ordeals or
who advocate on their behalf. Doctors, nurses, psy-
chiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social
workers, caseworkers, lawyers, clergy, and dedi-
cated volunteers provide hands-on services, emo-
tional support, and practical advice to their clients
(see Williams, 2002). Victimologists step back and
evaluate the effectiveness of these well-intentioned
efforts by members of the healing and helping pro-
fessions. Conversely, people who minister to those
in distress can gain valuable insights and useful sug-
gestions from the findings of studies carried out by

The term victimology can mean different things
to different people, and detectives can consider
themselves “victimologists” too. In police work,
the term victimology is applied to a type of back-
ground investigation. To homicide detectives, vic-
timology is the process of reconstructing events and
learning as much as possible about a person who
was murdered in order to help figure out who the
killer is (see Box 1.1).


The suffering of victims and of the people who are
very close to them always has been a popular theme
for artists and writers to interpret and for political
and religious leaders to address. But this long and
rich tradition embodies what might be categorized
as the subjective approach to the plight of vic-
tims, since issues are approached from the stand-
point of morality, ethics, philosophy, personalized
reactions, and intense emotions. Victimologists
examine these same topics and incidents from a
fresh, new angle: through a social science lens.
Objectivity is the hallmark of any social scientific
endeavor. Scientific objectivity requires that the
observer try to be fair, open-minded, evenhanded,
dispassionate, neutral, and unbiased. Objectivity
means not taking sides, not showing favoritism,
not allowing personal prejudices to sidetrack analy-
ses, not permitting emotion to cloud reasoning, and
not letting the dominant views of the times dictate
conclusions and recommendations.

Prescriptions to remain disinterested and unin-
volved are easier to abide by when the incidents
under scrutiny happened long ago and far away. It
is much harder to maintain social distance when
investigating the plight of real people right here
and right now. These scientific tenets are extremely
difficult to live up to when the subject matter—the
depredations inflicted by lawbreakers—connects
to widely held beliefs about good and evil, right
and wrong, and justice and unfairness. Most offen-
ders show such callous disregard and depraved

W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 3

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indifference toward the human beings they have
cold-bloodedly targeted as depersonalized objects
that it is difficult to avoid being caught up and
swept away by strong emotional currents. Consider
how natural it is to identify with those on the
receiving end of violent attacks, to feel empathy
and sympathy toward them, and to bristle with
hostility toward the aggressors, as in the following
real-life cases (all involving college students):

A 22-year-old student government president is car-
jacked and kidnapped by two armed young men, 21
and 17 years old, and forced to withdraw money from
an ATM. Next, they drive their hostage to a remote
location in the woods, molest her, and then decide to
kill her since she could identify them. She pleads for
her life and urges them to pray with her. Instead, one
shoots her four times. But she still can move and talk,
so he blasts her with a shotgun to finish her off. The
two assailants are caught and convicted of murder.
(Velliquette, 2011)

A 22-year-old college student who aspires to become a
police officer works in a bakery. But he is gunned down
in his home by a gang of young men who barge in and
mistake him for his look-alike younger brother, who
had gotten them in trouble with the authorities. “He
was one of the best boys you will ever find,” his mother
laments. (Bultman and Jaccarino, 2010)

A sophomore attends a campus party and leaves alone
around midnight. About 2 am, footage from a sur-
veillance camera shows her walking in a downtown
pedestrian mall followed by a man. After that she
disappears, and her family, friends and volunteers
undertake the largest hunt for a missing person in the
state’s history. Over a month later, her remains are
discovered on an abandoned property about 8 miles
away from the mall, and the police arrest the man in the
video, who is linked by forensic evidence to other
attacks. Students at her university organize a memorial
during homecoming weekend, and her parents thank
the police and the volunteers who searched for her, but

B O X 1.1 What the Police Mean by the Term Victimology

When homicide squad detectives say they are engaged in vic-
timology, they mean piecing together clues and leads from the
dead person’s life in order to help discover the killer’s identity.
Police investigators want to find out as much as possible about
the deceased from interviews with the next of kin and eyewit-
nesses, e-mail messages, diaries, banking deposits and with-
drawals, computer files, and records of telephone calls.
Detectives look into the victim’s associates (by compiling lists
of contacts, including friends, family members, acquaintances,
rivals, and enemies), social background (lifestyle, occupation,
education, marital status, secret lovers), criminal history (any
prior record of arrests, convictions, and incarcerations plus any
cases in which the departed served as a complainant, plaintiff,
or witness against others), financial situation (sources of
income, debts owed, investments, and who is next in line to
inherit any property), and health issues (drinking habits,
substance abuse, and other problems). Autopsy findings shed
light on the final meal, the presence of any traces of recent
drinking and drug taking, the cause of death, and the approx-
imate time interval when the fatal confrontation took place.

For example, if a drug dealer is found shot to death in an
alley, detectives would construct a timeline of his last known

whereabouts and activities. What were his known hangouts
(bars, clubs, parks, etc.)? Investigators would seek clues to
determine whether he was killed by someone above him in the
hierarchy of drug trafficking or someone below who worked for
him or bought controlled substances from him. Was he recently
embroiled in any disputes or court cases, and did he secretly
serve as a confidential informant? Who had a motive and an
opportunity to slay him? (NYPD homicide detectives, 2008).
When police discovered the scattered remains of a number of
young women in a stretch of deserted sand dunes near a pop-
ular beach, their victimological inquiries soon established a
common thread: that they all had been prostitutes apparently
slain by a serial killer (Swartz, 2013).

Clearly, whereas victimologists want to uncover trends,
patterns, and regularities that hold true for many injured par-
ties in general, police investigators seek to establish in great
detail everything that can be unearthed about the life and
death of a particular person. “Forensic victimology” in this very
pragmatic and immediate sense is undertaken to increase the
odds of solving a case, apprehending a suspect, and testifying
in court on behalf of a person who is no longer able to pursue
justice on his or her own (see Petherick and Turvey, 2008).

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add, “We are devastated by the loss of our beautiful
daughter.” (Martinez, 2014)

A classroom door swings open, and a mentally
deranged undergraduate barges in and shoots the
professor who is lecturing by the blackboard. Then,
starting with those in the front rows, the silent and
expressionless gunman methodically starts firing away
at the horrified students, who hit the floor and turn
over desks to shield themselves. “There were a couple
of screams, but for the most part it was eerily silent,
other than the gunfire,” a student reports. As the
mass murderer wanders off, another student recalls, “I
told people that were still up and conscious, ‘Just be
quiet because we don’t want him to think there are
people in here because he’ll come back in.’” Indeed,
he tries to return to resume the slaughter, but a
wounded classmate keeps the door wedged shut. Still
determined to reenter into the classroom, the deeply
disturbed young man fires repeatedly at the door.
When he eventually stalks off, frantic students call
911 on their cell phones and holler for help out the
windows. The attacker is later found dead from a self-
inflicted gunshot wound to the head, in another
classroom, alongside the bodies of some other under-
grads he murdered. (Hernandez, 2007)

Doesn’t basic human decency demand that
observers identify with the wounded, fallen, down-
trodden, and underdogs and condemn vicious
predatory behavior? Why would anyone even con-
sider striving for objectivity to be an indispensable
prerequisite of each and every scientific analysis?


At first glance, the importance of reserving judg-
ments, refraining from jumping to conclusions,
and resisting the urge to side with those who are
in pain might not be self-evident. An angry, gut
reaction might be to ask, “What kind of person
would try to remain detached and dispassionate in
the midst of such intense suffering? What is wrong
with championing the interests of people whose

lives have been upended by unjust and illegal
actions? Why is neutrality a worthwhile starting
point in any analysis?”

The simple and direct answer to the question
“Why shouldn’t victimologists be openly, unabash-
edly, and consistently pro-victim?” is that, unlike the
situations described in the examples above, on many
occasions this formula offers no real guidance. So
when is a person worthy of sympathy and support?
Most people would consider an individual to be an
innocent victim only when the following conditions
apply (what sociologists would call the ideal type or
positive stereotype): The person who suffered harm
was weaker in comparison to the apparent aggressor
and was acting virtuously (or at least was engaged in
conventional activities and was not looking for trou-
ble or breaking any laws), the wrongdoer was a com-
plete stranger whose predatory behavior obviously
was illegal and unprovoked, and the one who
resorted to force was not a member of a governmen-
tal agency authorized to use coercion (such as police
officers or prison guards). Using the language of soci-
ology, the status of being a legitimate or bona fide
victim worthy of support is socially constructed and
conferred (see Christie, 1986; and Dignan, 2005).

Sometimes It Is Difficult to Distinguish
Victims from Villains

But real-life confrontations do not consistently gen-
erate simple clear-cut cases that neatly fall into the
dichotomies of good and evil, innocence and guilt.
Not all victims were weak, defenseless, unsuspect-
ing “lambs” who, through tragic or ironic circum-
stances or just plain bad luck, were pounced upon
by cunning, vicious “wolves.” In some instances,
observers may have reasonable doubts and honest
disagreements over which party in a conflict should
be labeled the victim and which should be stigma-
tized as the villain. These complicated situations
dramatize the need for impartiality when untan-
gling convoluted relationships in order to make a
rational argument and a sound legal determination
that one person should be arrested, prosecuted, and
punished, and the other defended, supported, and
assisted. Unlike the black-and-white examples

W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 5

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presented above, many messy incidents reported in
the news and processed by the courts embody
shades of gray. Clashes frequently take place
between two people who, to varying degrees, are
simultaneously both victims, or both wrongdoers.
Consider the following two accounts of iconic,
highly publicized incidents from past decades that
illustrate just how difficult it can be to try to estab-
lish exactly who seriously misbehaved and who
acted appropriately:

A wealthy couple are at home in their mansion watch-
ing television and eating ice cream when someone shoots
the man point-blank in the back of the head and then
blasts his wife with a shotgun a number of times in the
face. The police search for the killers for six months
before the couple’s two sons, 21 and 18, concede that
they did it. In a nationally televised trial for first-degree
murder and facing possible execution, the sons give
emotionally compelling (but uncorroborated) testimony
describing how their father sexually molested and
mentally abused them when they were little boys. The
brothers contend they acted in self-defense, believing
that their parents were about to murder them to keep the
alleged incestuous acts a family secret. The prosecution
argues that these boys killed their parents in order to get
their hands on their $14 million inheritance (they had
quickly spent $700,000 on luxury cars, condos, and
fashionable clothing before they were arrested). The
jurors become deadlocked over whether to find them
guilty of murder or only of the lesser charge of voluntary
manslaughter, and the judge declares a mistrial. In the
second trial, the prosecution ridicules their “abuse
excuse” defense. The jury convicts them of premedi-
tated murder and sentences them to life in prison
without parole. Soon afterwards, each brother gets
married (the older one divorces and has a second wed-
ding behind bars) even though the prison system does
not permit conjugal visits for lifers. (Berns, 1994;
Mydans, 1994; Associated Press, 1996a; and
Hubbard, 2012)

An ex-Marine who works as a bouncer in a bar
wakes up in his bed and discovers to his horror that
his wife has sliced off his penis with a kitchen knife.

Arrested for “malicious wounding,” she tells the
police that she mutilated him because earlier that
evening in a drunken stupor he forced himself upon
her. He is put on trial for marital sexual abuse but is
acquitted by a jury that does not believe her testimony
about a history of beatings, involuntary rough sex,
and other humiliations. When she is indicted on
felony charges (ironically, by the same prosecutor) for
the bloody bedroom assault, many people rally to her
side. To her supporters, she has undercut the debili-
tating stereotype of female passivity; she literally
disarmed him with a single stroke and threw the
symbol of male sexual dominance out the window.
To her detractors, she is a master of manipulation,
publicly playing the role of a sobbing battered wife
deserving of sympathy to divert attention from her act
of rage against a sleeping husband who had lost his
sexual interest in her. Facing up to 20 years in
prison, she declines to plead guilty to a lesser charge
and demands her day in court. The jury accepts her
defense—that she was traumatized, deeply
depressed, beset by flashbacks, and susceptible to
“irresistible impulses” because of years of cruelty and
abuse—and finds her not guilty by reason of tem-
porary insanity. After 45 days under observation in a
mental hospital, she is released. Soon afterwards, the
couple divorces, and then they each take financial
advantage of all the international media coverage,
sensationalism, titillation, voyeurism, and sexual
politics surrounding their deeply troubled relationship.
Over the years, he is arrested seven times, gets mar-
ried three more times, stars in porn movies, and brags
that about 70 women have been sexually attracted to
him because of his ordeal and re-attachment surgery.
She is arrested for punching her mother but then sets
up a charitable organization that attempts to prevent
domestic violence. (Margolick, 1994; Sachs, 1994;
and Moye, 2013)

In both of the classic cases that were resolved
by the criminal justice system years ago in ways that
caused quite an uproar and still provoke many
heated discussions, the persons officially designated
as the victims by the police and prosecutors—the
dead parents, the slashed husband—arguably could
be considered by certain standards as wrongdoers

6 C H A P T E R 1

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who “got what was coming to them.” Indeed, they
were viewed just that way by substantial segments
of the public and by some jurors. The defendants
who got in trouble with the law—the shotgun-
toting brothers, the knife-wielding wife—insisted
that they should not be portrayed as criminals. On
the contrary, they contended that they actually
were the genuine victims who should not be pun-
ished: sons sexually molested by their father, a bat-
tered woman who was subjected to marital rape.

Now consider three confusing and controver-
sial cases that made headlines and provoked heated
public debates in recent years:

A 17-year-old boy wearing a hooded sweatshirt on a
rainy night is on the phone with his girlfriend as he walks
home from a store after buying a can of soda and some
candy. A member of a neighborhood watch group on
patrol in a gated community of townhouses that has
recently suffered a rash of break-ins drives by, spots him,
and calls the police, voicing his suspicions that, “He is up
to no good…”. The 911 dispatcher tells the 28-year-old
man, who had taken some criminal justice courses at a
community college, not to follow and confront the youth.
But he does, and after he gets out of his SUV, they
exchange words and become embroiled in a fistfight.
Neighbors hear someone screaming and pleading for
help, and call 911. When officers arrive, they find the
man bloodied and the teenager dead from a bullet to his
heart. The man claims that he was the actual victim and
that he had a right to fire his licensed handgun in self-
defense. When the news spreads that the local police
department has decided not to arrest the armed crime
watch volunteer, demonstrations erupt across the coun-
try, demanding his arrest as an overzealous police wan-
nabe who acted as a vigilante. Protesters also condemn
provisions of the state’s “stand your ground” law for
causing needless bloodshed and denounce the shooter for
engaging in racial profiling because he trailed after what
he deemed to be a “suspicious outsider.” The local police
chief steps down, the county prosecutor and the Justice
Department re-open the investigation, and President
Obama identifies with the unarmed youth who was
tragically and needlessly killed, telling journalists that,
“If I had a son, he’d look like {the victim}.” A jury of
six women acquits the defendant of charges of second

degree murder, and even of the lesser charge of man-
slaughter. The jurors reject the prosecution’s version of
the events: that the man had deliberately pursued the
hoodie-clad black teenager and instigated the fight that
led to the fatal shooting. The jury accepts the injured
man’s contention that the teenager knocked him to the
ground, punched him and repeatedly slammed his head
against the sidewalk; and that he was justified in firing to
protect himself because he feared grave bodily harm or
death. The testimony and evidence at the trial does not
clearly resolve key questions about what really happened
that rainy night: who initiated the confrontation and
started the fight by throwing the first punch, who
screamed for help, and at what point was the handgun
drawn? Angry protesters insisting that the dead teen
was the genuine victim chant, “No justice, no peace.”
After the controversial “not guilty” verdict, the man is
featured in the news several times for brushes with the
law involving violent outbursts. (Alvarez and
Buckley, 2013; and Jauregui, 2014)

At around 4:30 am, a 55-year-old white man hears
loud pounding and shouting at his front door and then
at his side door. He grabs a shotgun and fires a blast
through his locked screen door into the face of a teenage
black girl standing on his front porch, killing her
instantly. He is arrested and put on trial. Although he
initially told the police that his weapon discharged
accidentally, he tells the jury that he thought his home
was about to be invaded by several intruders and,
fearing for his life, vowed that “I wasn’t going to cower
in my house, I didn’t want to be a victim.” The pros-
ecution contends that he went to the door armed because
he wanted to confront and frighten vandals who had
defaced his vehicle with paintballs a few weeks earlier.
The jury rejects his claim of firing in self-defense, and
finds the man guilty of second degree murder and
manslaughter. The young woman he killed turned out
to be 19, unarmed, and intoxicated. Apparently she
was making a commotion because she was seeking help
after being involved in a car crash nearby several hours
earlier. (Anderson, 2014; and Abby-Lambertz,

W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 7

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A 29-year-old mother of 3 enters her home to gather
her belongings so she can escape from her abusive
estranged husband, whose periodic beatings have
inflicted injuries that have sent her to a hospital. But
he returns home unexpectedly, accompanied by two of
her stepsons. The 10-year-old and 13-year-old watch
in horror as he beats and strangles her. She runs into
the garage to get into her car but finds herself trapped,
so she grabs her licensed handgun and returns to their
house. When he curses and charges towards her, she
fires what she contends are three warning shots into
the kitchen ceiling to ward him off. But he calls the
police, and her shots are viewed as angry attempts to
hurt or kill him and his sons. She rejects a plea offer
and is put on trial, and after the jury deliberates for a
mere 12 minutes, she is convicted of three counts of
aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which could
keep her in prison for 20 years. A grassroots move-
ment of supporters fights for her release and for the
charges to be dropped, viewing her as a battered
woman who used a weapon to defend herself from
imminent bodily injury. When her conviction is
overturned because of faulty jury instructions, the
prosecution vows to retry her and to seek consecutive
sentences that would keep her behind bars for
60 years. (Shepeard, 2014)

In all three of these recent high-profile cases
presented above, one other question arose: whether
the race of the participants, and especially whether
negative racial stereotypes, colors the thinking of
various groups about which person should be des-
ignated as the genuine victim (see Ghandnoosh,
2014). Also, in all three of these cases, individuals
perceiving themselves to be facing a threat of immi-
nent bodily harm reached for their gun, triggering a
debate between advocates of armed self-defense and
supporters of gun control legislation (the arguments
of both sides of this controversy appear in Chapter
13). Sharply different points of view were aired in
dinner table discussions, news media columnists’
interpretations, courtroom proceedings, and even
political rallies about the role of race in decision
making and about the use of deadly weapons for
self-protection These are the kind of issues that vic-
timologists need to study scientifically.

Whenever different interpretations of the facts
lead to sharply divergent conclusions about who is
actually the guilty party and who really is the injured
party, knee-jerk pro-victim impulses provide no use-
ful guidance for action. The confusion inherent in
the unrealistically simplistic labels of 100 percent cul-
pable criminal and 100 percent innocent victim
underscores the need for objectivity when trying to
figure out who is primarily responsible for whatever
lawbreaking took place. Clearly, the dynamics
between victims and victimizers need to be sorted
out in an evenhanded and open-minded manner,
not only by victimologists but also by journalists,
police officers, prosecutors, judges, and juries.

In rare instances, even the authorities can’t
make up their minds, as this unresolved incident

A pizza parlor chef and a mob henchman become
embroiled in a knife fight that spills out on to a city
street. They stab and slash each other and wind up in
different hospitals. The police arrest both of the
injured parties on charges of attempted murder as well
as other offenses. However, each of the combatants
refuses to testify in front of a grand jury against his
adversary, fearing self-incrimination if he has to
explain his motives and actions. The district attor-
ney’s office declines to grant immunity from prose-
cution to either of the two parties because detectives
cannot figure out who was the attacker and who
fought back in self-defense. As a result, neither is
indicted, and a judge dismisses all the charges pend-
ing from the melee. Both wounded men, and the
lawyers representing them, walk out of court
pleased with the outcome—that no one will get in
trouble for an assault with a deadly weapon.
(Robbins, 2011)

Criminals Can Be Victims Too

To further complicate matters, impartiality is called
for when the injured party clearly turns out to be
an undeniable lawbreaker. To put it bluntly,
predators prey upon each other as well as upon
innocent members of the general public. Some
assaults and slayings surely can be characterized as

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“criminal-on-criminal.” Researchers (see Singer,
1981; and Fattah, 1990) noted long ago that people
who routinely engage in illegal activities are
more likely to get hurt than their law-abiding
counterparts. When an organized crime syndicate
“puts out a contract” on a rival faction’s chieftain,
the gangster who gets “whacked” in a “mob rub-
out” is not an upstanding citizen struck down by an
act of randomly directed violence. Similarly, when
a turf battle erupts between drug dealers and
one vanquishes the other, it must be remembered
that the loser aspired to be the victor. When youth
gangs feud with each other by carrying out “drive-
by” shootings, the young members who get gunned
down are casualties of their own brand of retali-
atory “street justice.” Hustlers, con men, high-
stakes gamblers, pimps, prostitutes, fences, swindlers,
smugglers, traffickers, and others living life in the
fast lane of the underworld often get hurt because
they enter into showdowns with volatile persons
known to be armed and dangerous. What could it
possibly mean to be pro-victim in these rather com-
mon cases in which lawbreakers harm other wrong-
doers? The designations “victim” and “offender” are
not always at opposite poles but sometimes can be
pictured as overlapping categories somewhere near
the middle of a continuum bounded by complete
innocence and full legal responsibility.

Of course, it is possible for people engaged in
illicit activities to be genuine victims qualifying for
protection and redress through the courts. For exam-
ple, prostitutes who trade sexual favors for money are
frequently beaten by sadistic johns, robbed of their
earnings by exploitative pimps (see Boyer and James,
1983; and Brents and Hausbeck, 2005), and occa-
sionally targeted by serial killers. The harms they suf-
fer are more serious than the “offenses” they commit
(see Coston, 2004). Similarly, drug addicts who get
beaten and robbed merit assistance. Next, consider
the possibility of the intergenerational transmission
of misusing force—a cycle of violence over time
that transforms a victim into a victimizer (see Fagan,
Piper, and Cheng, 1987). For example, a child sub-
jected to periodic beatings might grow up to parent
his sons in the same excessively punitive way he was

raised. A study that tracked the fortunes of boys and
girls known to have been physically and sexually
abused over a follow-up period of several decades
concluded that being harmed at an early age substan-
tially increased the odds of future delinquency and
violent criminality (Widom and Maxfield, 2001).
Another longitudinal study of molested males esti-
mated that although most did not become pedo-
philes, more than 10 percent grew up to become
sexual aggressors and exploiters (Skuse et al., 2003).
Similarly, the results of a survey of convicts revealed
that they were much more likely to have been abused
physically or sexually as children than their law-
abiding counterparts (Harlow, 1999).

Even more confusing are the situations of cer-
tain groups of people who continuously switch
roles as they lead their messy and deeply troubled
daily lives. For instance, desperate heroin addicts are
repeatedly subjected to consumer fraud (dealers
constantly cheat them by selling heavily adulterated
packets of this forbidden powder). Nevertheless,
after being swindled over and over again by their
suppliers, they routinely go out and steal other peo-
ple’s property to raise the cash that pays for their
habits (see Kelly, 1983). Similarly, teenage girls who
engage in prostitution are arrested by the police and
sent to juvenile court as delinquents, in accordance
with the law. But reformers picture them as sexu-
ally abused by their pimps and by johns who actu-
ally commit statutory rape upon these underage sex
workers. Are they victims who need help rather
than offenders who deserve punishment (see
Kristof, 2011)? To further complicate matters,
offenders can morph into victims right under the
noses of the authorities. For example, when delin-
quents are thrown in with older and tougher
inmates in adult jails, these teenagers face grave
risks of being physically and sexually assaulted
(“New study,” 2008). In penal institutions, convicts
become victims entitled to press charges and to pro-
tection when they are assaulted, gang raped, or
robbed by other more vicious inmates (who
seek to stifle any complaining and reporting as
“snitching”). About half of all inmates in state pris-
ons told interviewers that they had been shot at in

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their past lives on the street, and more than a fifth
had been wounded by gunfire (Harlow, 2001).

Violence begets violence, to the extent that
those who suffer today may be inclined to inflict
pain on others tomorrow, For example, a group of
picked-upon students might band together to
ambush their bullying tormentors; or a battered
wife might launch a vengeful surprise attack against
her brutal husband.

Victims Can Find Themselves at Odds
with the “Good Guys”

Striving for objectivity is important for yet an-
other reason. Crime victims can and do become
embroiled in conflicts with persons and groups
besides the perpetrators who have directly inflicted
physical wounds and economic losses. Injured par-
ties might nurse grievances against journalists
reporting about their cases; police officers and
detectives investigating their complaints; prosecu-
tors ostensibly representing them in court; defense
attorneys working on behalf of the accused; juries
and judges deciding how to resolve their cases; pro-
bation, parole, and corrections officers supervising
convicts who harmed them; lawyers handling their
lawsuits in civil court; governmental agencies and
legislative bodies shaping their legal rights; social
movements either speaking on their behalf or
opposing their wishes; and businesses viewing
them as eager customers for security products and
services. Impartiality helps social scientists to under-
stand why friction can develop in these situations
and how to find solutions if these relationships
become antagonistic.

First consider the situation in which some vic-
tims are pitted against others. This can arise in the
aftermath of a Ponzi scheme collapse, when it
comes to parceling out whatever funds remain to
the many investors who were defrauded. Those
investors who bought in and cashed out earlier
made money at the expense of those who jumped
in right before the pyramid scheme was uncovered
(see Henriques, 2010). Which victims are truly the
“good guys,” and which are more deserving
of inaccurate depictions than others? Objectivity

is needed to resolve this victim versus victim

Next, consider how victims of highly publicized
crimes could be outraged by the way the news media
portrays them. Rather than side with the injured
parties or with the journalists covering their cases,
shouldn’t a victimologist adopt the stance of a
detached and disinterested observer who investigates
these charges of insensitivity and inaccuracy perhaps
by carrying out a fine-grained content analysis of
press coverage in those high-profile cases?

Third, consider those situations where well-
intentioned officials and groups put forward compet-
ing criminal justice policies, both of which claim to
be pro-victim. For instance, prosecutors’ offices have
adopted one or the other of two alternative ways of
responding to violence between intimate partners.
One policy enables a battered woman to remain in
control of “her” case and ultimately decide if she
wants to press charges against her husband or lover
whom she had arrested for assaulting her. Advocates
of letting her choose whether to prosecute or not
emphasize that this approach empowers her to
weigh her alternatives and take her personal safety
into account. The other policy mandates that the
prosecution of the arrestee should go forward on
the basis of the available evidence (police officer tes-
timony, photos of bruises, eyewitness accounts, hos-
pital records, and 911 recordings), even if the injured
party wants to drop the charges (either because she
fears reprisals or seeks rapprochement). Supporters of
this policy believe that when batterers know they will
be held responsible and punished, domestic violence
will subside as a societal problem. In other words,
her ability to determine what she wants to do about
her individual situation must be sacrificed for the
“greater good,” which is to use cases like hers to gen-
erally deter would-be batterers from assaulting their
partners. Only an impartial analysis of scientifically
gathered evidence can determine which of these
two ostensibly pro-victim approaches best serves the
long-term interests of most domestic violence victims
(see O’Sullivan, Davis, Farole, and Rempel, 2007;
and Nichols, 2014).

The Pentagon has tried for several decades to
reduce the number of sexual assaults inflicted by

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members of the marines, army, navy, air force, and
even the coast guard upon their comrades in arms
in service academies, barracks, military bases, and
even foreign battlefields. After the U.S. Senate
debated alternative ways to bring the problem
under control, two competing bills, both claiming
to be pro-victim, came up for a vote. Supporters of
one proposal argued that soldiers, sailors, and mar-
ines who are sexually assaulted fear that if they dare
to file a complaint, their superiors may not act in
their behalf. So they urged legislation that would
have stripped commanding officers of their ability
to decide which cases reported to them should lead
to a court martial and would have empowered mil-
itary prosecutors to make that decision about press-
ing charges or not. But the majority voted against
this proposal, and instead the Senate passed the Vic-
tims Protection Act of 2014 that provides complai-
nants with special counsels to advise them about the
pros and cons of pursuing their cases in the military
as opposed to the civilian criminal justice system
(Jordan, 2014). Which of these two competing
approaches would have been better for victims of
sexual assaults? Will the new reform bring about
substantial improvements? Objectivity, not parti-
sanship, is needed to answer these questions.

The above examples underscore how impor-
tant it is for researchers to remain neutral at the
outset of a study. Now consider the dilemmas
many everyday people face because of their com-
peting loyalties: their desire to back crime victims in
their struggle for justice versus remaining true to
their other commitments. The following examples
illustrate how objectivity and impartiality are sorely
needed whenever pro-victim impulses must be bal-
anced against other priorities and allegiances—for
instance, enthusiastic support for the police or for
the pro-life movement.

The mission of police departments is to protect
and serve the public, and most people respect and
admire the courage of officers who risk their lives to
rescue hostages taken by kidnappers. But who would
a person who is pro-victim as well as pro-police side
with when these well-intentioned officers accidentally
kill by “friendly fire” a captive they are seeking to
free from the clutches of a captor? Would they agree

with the distraught relatives who launch civil lawsuits
for damages that criticize the department for inade-
quate training and an overreliance on military-style
SWAT tactics rather than hostage negotiation techni-
ques, or would they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with
the police fraternal organizations that predictably insist
that the courageous officer did nothing wrong?
Clearly, objectivity is called for when examining the
effectiveness of existing law enforcement strategies
and departmental policies in these tragedies that peri-
odically seize the attention of the news media and the
public (for example, see Dewan, 2005; Rubin, 2008;
Murphy, 2014; and Haake, 2014).

People who are pro-choice would agree that a
girl or woman who has been compelled to submit
to incestuous relations or a forced penetration that
results in a pregnancy should not have to bear the
rapist’s child. But those who want to minimize the
suffering of these females and yet are also passionately
pro-life might find themselves torn between their
conflicting loyalties. This dilemma is fought out in
public whenever candidates running for office declare
their support for strict antiabortion bills that would
permit no exceptions, not even for terminating preg-
nancies resulting from incest or rape (see Redden,
2013). Evaluating the impact of these controversial
policies and proposals about terminating desperately
unwanted pregnancies requires an open-minded and
even-handed approach to the arguments advanced by
both sides about how many pregnancies each year
arise from incest or rape, and what are the conse-
quences for the mother who is compelled to bear
the rapist’s child and for that baby as it grows up. In
many states, the man, unless he is convicted of rape,
can sue for visitation and custody rights, like any other
estranged father (see Chapter 10).


To sum up the arguments presented in earlier sec-
tions, when choosing projects to research and when
gathering and interpreting data, victimologists must
put aside their personal political orientations toward

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criminal justice policies (such as conservatism or
liberalism); their allegiances to causes (such as pre-
serving civil liberties or advancing women’s rights
or outlawing abortion); and any positive or negative
feelings toward entire groups (such as being pro-
police or hostile to gun owners). Advocacy,
whether for or against some policy or practice,
should be kept separate from assessing the facts or
drawing conclusions based on the available data.
Scientific skepticism in the face of claims (“Prove
it! Where is the evidence?”)—not self-interest or
preconceived notions—must prevail when evaluat-
ing whether victims’ rights legislation, prevention
strategies, antitheft hardware, and recovery pro-
grams genuinely work or are ineffective or even
counterproductive in reaching their stated goals.
Expert opinion, in reports, in court testimony, or
in the classroom, must be based on facts, not faith.
Research, policy analyses, and program evaluations
must tell the whole truth, no matter who is disap-
pointed or insulted.

Three types of biases undermine the ability of
any social scientists (not just victimologists) to
achieve objectivity and draw conclusions based on
solid evidence (see Myrdal, 1944). The first may
arise from personal experiences, taking the form of
individual preferences and prejudices. For example,
victimologists who have been personally harmed in
some way (beaten by a lover, robbed, or raped, for
example) might become so sensitized to the plight of
their fellow victims that they can see issues only from
that point of view. Conversely, those who have
never been through such an ordeal might be unable
to truly grasp what the injured parties must endure.
In either case, the victimologist may develop a bias,
whether it be oversensitivity and overidentification
or insensitivity and lack of identification.

A second type of bias derives from the legacy
of the discipline itself. The language, concepts,
theories, and research priorities can reflect the
collective preferences and priorities of its founders
and their followers. For instance, it is widely
acknowledged that the pioneers in this field of
study introduced a victim-blaming orientation
into the new discipline, but over the decades the
tide has decisively turned. Today, the vast majority

of victimologists make no secret of their opposite
commitments: not to find fault with those who are
suffering but rather to devise more effective means
of aid, support, and recovery.

Although subtle, a third type of bias can be
traced back to the mood of the times. Victimolo-
gists, like all other members of a society, are influ-
enced by their social environment. The events that
shape public opinion during different periods of
time can also affect scientific thought. During the
1960s and early 1970s, for example, many people
demanded that the government devise ways to help
victims get back on their feet financially, medically,
and emotionally. This insistence about expanding
the social safety net to cushion the blows inflicted
not only by corporations laying off workers
and hospitals and doctors charging exorbitant
fees for medical treatments but also by criminals
reflected the spirit of egalitarianism and mutual aid
of this stage in American history. The belief that
society—through the instrument of the
government—could and should do more to help
out inspired a great deal of research and policy
advocacy. But these ambitious goals have been
voiced less often ever since the 1980s, when the
themes of “strive for self-reliance,” “reduce social
spending by government,” and “cut taxes” gained
popularity. This emphasis on individuals taking
responsibility for their own well-being as opposed
to holding the socioeconomic system accountable
for its shortcomings and failings (especially chroni-
cally high rates of unemployment and a growing
gap between the super rich and the desperately
poor) has become the dominant ideology since
the financial meltdown of 2008 and the onset of
the “Great Recession.” Consequently, research
projects and proposals about government-funded
victim assistance programs have shifted their focus
to matters such as only providing seed money for
demonstration projects, imposing “sunset provi-
sions” (to phase out efforts that don’t rapidly
produce results), stressing cost effectiveness, and
exploring the feasibility of self-help, privately
financed, or faith-based charitable alternatives.

Clearly, inquiries into how victims suffer at the
hands of criminals as well as other groups such as

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journalists and criminal justice officials is unavoid-
ably a value-laden pursuit that arouses intense pas-
sions and sharply dissenting views. As a result, some
have argued that objectivity is an impossible and
unrealistic goal that should be abandoned in favor
of a forthright affirmation of values and allegiances.
They say that victimologists (and other social scien-
tists) should acknowledge their biases at the outset
to alert their audiences to the slant that their analy-
ses and policy recommendations will take. Others
argue that objectivity is worth striving for because
subjectivity thwarts attempts to accurately describe,
understand, and explain what is happening, why it
came about, and how conditions can be improved.

For the purposes of a textbook, the best course of
action is to present all sides of controversial issues.
Nevertheless, space limitations impose hard choices.
This book focuses almost entirely on victims of inter-
personal violence and theft (street crimes such as
murder, rape, robbery, assault, kidnapping, burglary,
larceny, and motor vehicle theft). There are many
other categories of lawbreaking: crimes in the suites
involving a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power by
high government officials against their rivals or to the
detriment of the general public, and by corporate
executives who can illegally inflict massive losses
and injuries upon their company’s workers, custo-
mers, stock owners, or competitors. White-collar
crimes such as embezzlement by employees against
their employers or fraud by citizens against govern-
ment programs also impose much greater financial
costs than street crimes. Organized rackets run by
mobsters (drug smuggling, gun trafficking, counter-
feiting of documents and currency, gambling, extor-
tion) generate millions of dollars, undermine
everyday life, and stimulate official corruption
(bribes to look the other way). Crimes without
complainants—victimless activities to some, vice to
others—are controversial because the social reaction
and criminal justice response might be worse than the
original deviant behavior involving transactions
between consenting adults (such as prostitution, ille-
gal wagering, and street-level drug selling and buy-
ing). Clearly these other categories of crimes are as
serious and merit attention from scholars, law
enforcement agencies, and concerned citizens.

But they are not the types of lawless deeds that
come to mind when people talk about “the crime
problem” or express fears about being harmed. Street
crime scares the public, preoccupies the media, keeps
police departments busy, and captures the notice of
politicians. These conventional, ordinary, depress-
ingly familiar, and all-too-common predatory acts
have tangible, visible, and readily identifiable victims
who are directly affected and immediately aware of
their injuries and losses.

In contrast, in the other categories of crime,
especially white-collar crime and crime in the
suites, the deleterious consequences are experienced
by abstractions (such as “a competitive economy”
or “national security”), impersonal entities (such as
the U.S. Treasury or multinational corporations), or
vaguely defined collectivities (such as voters, tax-
payers, investors, shareholders, or consumers). It is
difficult to grasp precisely who has suffered in these
cases, and it is nearly impossible to describe or mea-
sure the background characteristics or reactions of
the injured parties. It is extremely tough to establish
in court specifically who the flesh-and-blood vic-
tims are in cases of drug smuggling, money laun-
dering, insurance scams, false advertising, bribe
taking, software piracy, counterfeiting of trade-
marked goods, dumping of toxic wastes, insider
trading, electoral fraud, illegal campaign contribu-
tions, and income tax evasion. But individuals hurt
by assailants, robbers, and rapists can be easily iden-
tified, observed, contacted, interviewed, studied,
counseled, assisted legally, and treated medically.
As a result, a wealth of statistical data has accumu-
lated about their wounds, losses, and emotional
reactions. For these reasons, victims of interpersonal
violence and theft will be the primary focus of
attention and concern throughout this text, even
though many of the illegal activities cited above
inflict much more severe social and economic dam-
age (see Naim, 2005). But note that this decision
immediately introduces a bias into this introduction
to the field of victimology, one that reflects the
experiences of authors of articles and textbooks,
the collective priorities of the discipline’s founders
and most prolific researchers, and the mood of the

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Victimology’s Undeserved “Bad Reputation”

Not very long after the term entered mainstream
culture, victimology (undeservedly!) became a “dirty
word.” Some prominent and insightful people who
ought to know better misuse “victimology” as an
epithet spit out through clenched teeth. This dis-
turbing trend emerged during the 1990s and unfor-
tunately is becoming even more entrenched and
pronounced during the twenty-first century. For
example, in an article condemning a speech deliv-
ered by President Obama, an editor of a political
journal used the term victimology in a negative way
four times (such as “Obama has now put the presi-
dential imprimatur on the crudest kind of racial
victimology.…”) (MacDonald, 2013). Similarly, a
former speechwriter for President Bush wrote an
editorial headlined, “The Victimology of Hillary
Clinton” (Frum, 2014). And a nationally syndicated
radio talk show host, responding to a caller who
characterized “victimology” as a mindset about
feeling guilty for being privileged, responded,
“But this whole notion of victimology, I totally
get it” (Limbaugh, 2014)—but does he really?
Some dramatic illustrations of how victimology
has been bad-mouthed in the media as muddled
thinking or even denounced as a contemptible
point of view over the years appear in Box 1.2.

What were these commentators thinking when
they issued these sweeping denunciations of what
they branded as “victimology”? Why is this rela-
tively new academic discipline being singled out
for such harsh criticisms?

Evidently, those who condemn what they label
“victimology” are railing at something other than
scientific research focused on people harmed by
criminals. The mistake these commentators are
making is parallel to the improper usage of the
phrase “sociological forces” rather than “social
forces,” and “psychological problems” instead of
“mental problems.” Victimology is just one of
many “-ologies” (including such narrowly focused
fields of study as volcanology, penology, or suici-
dology, or such broad disciplines as sociology and
psychology). The suffix -ology merely means “the
study of.” If the phrase “the objective study of

crime victims” is substituted for “victimology” in
the excerpts quoted above, the sentences make no
sense. Victimology, sociology, and psychology are
disciplines that adopt a certain approach to their
subject matter or a method of analysis that main-
tains a particular focus, but they do not impose a
partisan point of view or yield a set of predictably
biased conclusions.

It appears that what these strident denunciations
are deriding is a victimization-centered orientation
that can be categorized as the ideology of
victimism (see Sykes, 1992). An ideology (such
as conservatism or liberalism) is a coherent, inte-
grated set of beliefs that shapes interpretations and
leads to political action. Victimism is the outlook
of people who share a sense of common victimhood.
Individuals who accept this outlook believe that
they gain insight from an understanding of history:
of how their fellow group members (such as women,
homosexuals, or racial and religious minorities) have
been seriously “wronged” by some rival group (to
put it mildly; viciously slaughtered would be a better
way to phrase it in many historical cases!) or held
back and kept down by unfair social, economic, or
political institutions built upon oppressive and
exploitative roles and relationships.

For example, in a well-known speech in 1964
(right before Congress passed civil rights legislation
officially dismantling segregation), Malcolm X, the
fiery spokesman for the black nationalist move-
ment, adopted a victimist outlook when he pro-
claimed (see Breitman, 1966) “I’m one of the 22
million black people who are the victims of
Americanism … victims of democracy, nothing
but disguised hypocrisy … I’m speaking as a victim
of this American dream system. And I see America
through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any
American dream; I see an American nightmare.”
A victimist review of the history of African
Americans up to the present would stress how the
evils of slavery were “perfectly legal”; how Jim
Crow segregation and institutionalized racism in
housing, employment, education, and public
accommodations until the 1950s were permitted
by a Supreme Court decision; how lynch mobs
rarely got into trouble for their extrajudicial

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B O X 1.2 Some Striking Examples of “Victimology Bashing”

The context and then the statement denouncing

Concerning male/female relations:

During a nationally televised interview, a critic of con-
temporary feminism (Paglia, 1993) declared, “I hate
victimology. I despise a victim-centered view of the uni-
verse. Do not teach young women that their heritage is
nothing but victimization.”

A collection of letters written to the editors of the
New York Times (1996, p. E8) was published under the
headline “What women want is a lot less victimology.”

A reviewer (Harrop, 2003) of a book about the difficul-
ties facing boys wrote, “The art of victimology requires
three easy steps: (1) Identify a group suffering real or
perceived injustices. (2) Exaggerate the problem. (3)
Blame the problem on a group you don’t like. Conserva-
tives have long condemned the “victimology industry”
as a racket, especially when practiced by women and
minorities. As it happens, conservatives also play the
game, and very well indeed…. The latest victimized
group seems to be American boys.”

A political analyst subtitled her provocative article
about an alleged “Campus Rape Myth” as “The reality:
bogus statistics, feminist victimology, and university
approved sex toys” (MacDonald, 2008a).

Concerning heterosexual/homosexual relations:

In a newspaper opinion piece about the controversy
surrounding homosexuals serving in the military, the
author (Sullivan, 1993, p. A21) observed, “The effect
that ending the ban could have on the gay community is
to embolden the forces of responsibility and integration
and weaken the impulses of victimology and despair.… A
defeat would send a signal to a gay community at a
crossroads between hopeful integration and a new
relapse into the victimology of the ghetto.”

Concerning race and ethnic relations:

An author of a book about race relations called a well-
known reverend and civil rights activist a “professional
victimologist” (see Dreher, 2001).

A former governor of Colorado (Lamm, 2004) warned
that a plot to “destroy America” through immigration
and multiculturalism would include the following strat-
egy: “establish the cult of victimology … start a griev-
ance industry blaming all minority failure on the
majority population.”

A newspaper columnist and political activist (Kuhner,
2011) lamented: “Victimology and racial set-asides
dominate large swathes of American life, from university
admissions and government bureaucracies to big busi-
ness and construction.”

Concerning international relations:

A former Soviet intelligence officer (Pacepa, 2005)
denounced the United Nations as a breeding ground for
“a virulent strain of hatred for America, grown from the
bacteria of Communism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, jin-
goism, and victimology.”

A prominent commentator (Brooks, 2006a) wrote about
the public’s perception of the Middle East: “What these
Americans see is fanatical violence, a rampant culture of
victimology and grievance, a tendency by many Arabs to
blame anyone but themselves for the problems they

A reviewer (Anderson, 2008) of a book about the war on
terrorism wrote: “The Left’s victimology now sickens [the

The secretary of defense in both the Bush and Obama
administrations (Gates, 2009) told members of the
armed forces: “I think most of our families don’t regard
themselves as victims and don’t appreciate sometimes the
victimology piece. They are very proud of the service of
their soldiers overseas.…”

Concerning “culture wars”:

In his syndicated column, a leading conservative parti-
san (Buckley, 1994, p. 30a) condemned the thinking of
the 1960s Woodstock generation: “The countercultural
music is the perfect accompaniment for the culture of
sexual self-indulgence, of exhibitionism, of crime and
illegitimacy, and ethnic rancor and victimology.”

Concerning courtroom strategies:

A news magazine columnist (Leo, 2002) took a swipe at
certain lawsuits: “Yes, everybody is a victim now, but
some breakthroughs in victimology are more noteworthy
than others. The year’s best example was the trio of
supersize teens who sued McDonald’s, claiming the burger
chain made them fat by enticing them to eat its meals
nearly every day for five years.”

In a critique of several jury verdicts that found defen-
dants “not guilty,” a news magazine commentator
(Leo, 1994) complained, “We are deep into the era of the
abuse excuse. The doctrine of victimology—claiming


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murders; how Klan terror often went unpunished;
and how injustices within the criminal justice pro-
cess such as police brutality and racial profiling con-
tinue right up to the present.

Similarly, a leading figure in the women’s
liberation movement of the late 1960s analyzed
“sexual politics” in a victimist way (Millet, 1970):
“Oppressed groups have been denied education,
economic independence, the power of office,
representation, an image of dignity and self-
respect, equality of status, and recognition as
human beings. Throughout history women have
been consistently denied all of these, and their
denial today, while attenuated and partial, is never-
theless consistent.” A victimist perspective about
the history of female oppression would point out
how in the past girls and young women who testi-
fied that they had been raped felt as if they were put
on trial; how battered women’s pleas for help were
ignored by the men at the helm of the criminal
justice system; and how females were barred from
serving on juries and were strongly discouraged
from pursuing various careers, such as becoming a
police officer, lawyer, or judge.

Staunch critics of current conditions often
connect the dots by tracing the roots of today’s

social problems back through centuries of system-
atic subjugation. Activists believe that the unfair
practices of the past persist right up to the present.
But the commentators cited in Box 1.2 claim
that adopting this kind of victimist orientation
leads to an unhealthy preoccupation of dwelling
on past wrongs that impedes efforts to make prog-
ress today.

This debate over who or what is to blame for
persisting injustices surrounding sex, class, and race
is part of an ongoing political battle for the hearts
and minds of the American people—a continuing
ideological struggle that is often categorized as
“identity politics,” which is part of the “culture
wars.” Unfortunately, victimology has become
confused with victimism and as a result has been
caught up in the cross fire between partisans
of the Right and Left. But victimology, as an
“-ology” and not an “-ism,” is an objective, neu-
tral, open-minded, and evenhanded scientific
endeavor that does not take sides, play favorites,
or speak with just one voice in these political
debates. So there is no reason to condemn the
whole scholarly enterprise of victimology and dis-
miss it as flawed, distorted, or slanted, as the com-
mentators quoted in Box 1.2 did. To put it bluntly,

victim status means you are not responsible for your
actions—is beginning to warp the legal system.….
The irony of this seems to escape victimologists. A move-
ment that began with the slogan, ‘Don’t blame the victim’
now strives to blame murder victims for their own

Concerning academia and life on college campuses:

A columnist (Seebach, 1999, p. 2B) berated liberal pro-
fessors for producing college grads whom employers
would reject because the students were “experts only in
victimology or oppression studies.”

A political analyst (MacDonald, 2007) interpreted the
selection of a new university president as evidence that
“Harvard will now be the leader in politically correct

Arguing that resentment against highly educated can-
didates might be going too far during the 2008 presi-
dential campaign, a political analyst (MacDonald,
2008c) agreed with her allies: “I am as depressed as
anyone by the university’s descent into ignorant narcis-
sism and victimology over the last 30 years.”

Concerning everyday life:

A Pulitzer Prize–winning conservative commentator
(Will, 1998, p. 42) titled his syndicated column
opposing the Clinton administration’s antismoking
campaign as “President feeds the culture of

One journalist (Parker, 1999, p. B10) even insisted that
“Americans are fed up with twentieth-century

B O X 1.2 (Continued)

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victimology has received a bum rap by those who
mockingly equate it with victimism. Read on and
this confusion will be dispelled. Victimology will
take shape as a challenging, meaningful, balanced,
enlightening, socially constructive, and relevant
field of study that focuses on a very old problem
from a fresh, new angle.


As a branch of social science that closely focuses on
how people behave and react, victimology must be
research oriented. Yet, a criticism that often is voiced
is, “Why spend all that time and money trying to
establish what everyone already knows? The answer
is that research is always necessary because “common
sense” or “conventional wisdom” is sometimes mis-
taken, and what people think they already know is

For example, consider what happened in this
real-life incident:

A 43-year-old grad student enters a classroom in
which about 20 students had assembled a few
minutes before class. Armed with a military semiau-
tomatic rifle loaded with a 30-round clip, he points
the weapon at his classmates and pulls the trigger, but
the rifle jams. He tries again, but again the gun does
not fire. The students realize they are under attack
and drop to the floor, overturn their desks, and try to
hide behind them. One courageous student shoves his
desk at the gunman, enabling the others to bolt out
into the hallway and then out of the building. The
gunman flees too but is captured within an hour back
at his home. (Asmussen and Creswell, 1995)

Everyone knows what happened in the imme-
diate aftermath, since—unfortunately—violence on
college campuses has erupted many times in recent
decades. Students in nearby classrooms heard a
commotion and set up makeshift barricades while
the 20 distraught students raced away in a panic
from the scene of the potential slaughter and imme-
diately sought out counselors provided by the
administration, right? Wrong! Only a few were
openly emotional and cried. Most were in a state

of denial and milled around the entrance to
the building kidding each other about their near-
death experience, dismissing it as though it was
trivial. No one called the campus mental health
center right away. Most sought out the company
of friends or hung out in nearby bars, according to
two researchers who interviewed some of the
students who thought they were about to die that
fateful day (Asmussen and Creswell, 1995).

Next consider what is “known” about robbers:
They single out targets that they consider weak and
vulnerable, who are easy prey and are unlikely to
put up much of a struggle to escape or to try to
overpower and capture them. Therefore, it seems
predictable that elderly ladies would be robbed
much more often than young men, right? Wrong.
Data derived from a national survey of the public
carried out by a government agency, the Bureau of
Justice Statistics, each year reveals that robbers go
after teenage boys and young men much more
often than older women.

As a final example, most people are familiar with
the military’s problem of sexual assaults within the
ranks (mentioned above). Few would be surprised
that servicemen, especially those of higher ranks,
exploit their power over the women in uniform to
coerce them to submit to sexual acts against their
will. But it may be quite a shock to most observers
to discover that a little more than half of all reports
gathered by researchers of “unwanted sexual con-
tacts” imposed by men were directed at other men.
Men therefore made up the majority of the targets of
sexual assaults, although women suffered dispropor-
tionately high rates (females make up only 15 per-
cent of all members of the armed forces but almost
50 percent of all victims). Clearly, the findings of the
Pentagon’s survey indicate that the problem of sex-
ual violence goes far beyond the confines of male–
female relations among enlistees serving in the army,
navy, air force, and marines (see Dao, 2013).

Research is always needed because unexpected
findings often are uncovered. Victimologists rely
upon the same methods used by all social scientists:
case studies, surveys and polls based on question-
naires and interviews, carefully designed social
experiments, content analyses of various forms of

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communication (like movies and song lyrics), sec-
ondary analyses of documents and files, records of
focus group interactions, and up close and personal
ethnographic inquiries based upon systematic field


Victimology is an interdisciplinary field that benefits
from the contributions of sociologists, psycholo-
gists, social workers, political scientists, doctors,
nurses, criminal justice officials, lawyers, spiritual
leaders, and other professionals, volunteers, advo-
cates, and activists. But academically and organiza-
tionally, victimology is best conceived of as an area
of specialization within criminology, on par with
other fields of intensive study, such as delinquency,
drug abuse, and penology. All these subdisciplines
merit elective courses and textbooks of their own in
colleges and graduate programs. In other words,
criminology is the older parent discipline and vic-
timology is the recent offshoot.

Criminology can be defined as encompassing
the scientific study of illegal activities, offenders,
their victims, criminal law and the justice system,
and societal reactions to the crime problem.

The Many Parallels between Criminology
and Victimology

Even though it is a rapidly evolving subdiscipline,
victimology parallels its parent, criminology, in
many ways. Criminologists ask why certain indivi-
duals become involved in lawbreaking while others
do not. Their studies concentrate on the offenders’-
backgrounds and motives in order to uncover the
root causes of their misbehavior. Victimologists ask
why some individuals, households, and entities
(such as banks) are targeted while others are not.
Research projects aim to discover the sources of
vulnerability to criminal attack and the reasons
why some victims might act carelessly, behave
recklessly, or even instigate others to attack them.

Criminologists recognize that most people occa-
sionally break certain laws (especially during adoles-
cence) but are otherwise law-abiding; only some
who engage in delinquent acts graduate to become
hardcore offenders and career criminals. Victimolo-
gists realize that anyone can suffer the misfortune of
being at the wrong place at the wrong time but
wonder why certain individuals are preyed upon
over and over again.

Although the law holds offenders personally
accountable for their illegal conduct, criminologists
explore how social, economic, and political condi-
tions “breed” or foster or generate criminal activity.
Similarly, although certain victims might be accused
of sharing some degree of responsibility with their
offenders for the outbreak of specific incidents, vic-
timologists examine personality traits, agents of
socialization, and cultural imperatives that compel
some people to take chances and put their lives in
danger (like teenagers), while others seem to accept
their fate. Just as aggressive criminal behavior can be
learned, victims may have been taught to lead high-
risk lifestyles or alternatively, even to play and
accept their subordinate roles.

Both criminologists and victimologists place a
great emphasis on following the proper ways of
gathering and interpreting data as evidence. Crim-
inologists and victimologists calculate statistics,
compute rates, compile profiles, draw graphs, and
search for patterns and trends. Criminologists col-
lect and analyze information about individuals
engaging in illegal behaviors, especially their typical
ages and social backgrounds (such as educational
attainments and income levels). Victimologists
look over statistics about the sex, ages, and social
backgrounds of the people who are harmed by
unlawful activities.

Criminologists apply their findings to devise
local, regional, and national crime-prevention strat-
egies. Victimologists scrutinize the patterns and
trends they detect to learn from other people’s mis-
fortunes and mistakes. They then develop person-
alized victimization-prevention strategies and risk
reduction tactics.

Both criminologists and victimologists study
how the criminal justice system actually works, in

18 C H A P T E R 1

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contrast to the way the system is supposed to oper-
ate according to agency regulations, official
roles, federal and state legislation, court decisions,
and politicians’ promises. Criminological research
reveals how suspects, defendants, and convicts are
really handled, while victim-centered studies exam-
ine the way injured parties are actually treated by
police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and
judges. Criminologists assess the needs of offenders
for counseling, psychotherapy, additional educa-
tion, job training, and drug treatment. In addition,
criminologists evaluate the effectiveness of various
rehabilitation programs offered behind bars or avail-
able to probationers or parolees that are intended to
reduce recidivism rates. Similarly, victimologists
want to diagnose the emotional problems that
beset people after they have been harmed by offen-
ders, and to test out the usefulness of programs
designed to facilitate their recovery (see Lurigio,
1990; and Roberts, 1990). Criminologists try to
calculate the social and economic costs that criminal
activity imposes on a community or on society as a
whole. Victimologists estimate the losses and
expenses that individuals and businesses incur due
to acts of violence, theft, or fraud.

Some Differences and Issues about

Criminology and victimology differ in several
important ways. For starters, criminology is several
hundred years old, whereas victimology did not
emerge until the second half of the twentieth

Criminologists agree among themselves that
they should limit their studies to illegal activities
and should exclude forms of social deviance that
do not violate any criminal law. For instance, the
unwanted attention and advances that constitute
sexual harassment at a workplace are no longer con-
sidered to be a private matter or a personal problem
but are a type of discrimination that can lead to a
lawsuit—but not an arrest. Similarly, certain aspects
of bullying are clearly against the law (physical
attacks), while other expressions (mocking, teasing,
taunting) are upsetting and ought to be discouraged

but are not illegal acts. Both criminologists and vic-
timologists would study bullying in those instances
where the intentional acts of aggression rise to the
level of criminal behavior and result in vandalism or
theft, or, worse yet, erupt into violence (such as
the object of scorn suffering a severe beating; or
conversely, when the pushed-around individual
switches roles by bringing a deadly weapon to
school to fight back against his tormentors) (see
DeGette, Jenson, and Colomy, 2000; Unnever
and Cornell, 2003; and Lipkins, 2008).

However, victimologists, unlike criminologists,
cannot reach a consensus about the appropriate
outer limits of their field. Some victimologists
argue that their scientific studies should not be
restricted to criminal victimization. They believe
that additional sources of harm, anguish, and loss
are worthy of systematic analysis: vicious political
repression (brutality, torture, execution) carried
out by despotic regimes that violate basic human
rights; manmade slaughters (such as wars and geno-
cide); natural disasters (such as floods and earth-
quakes); and maybe even sheer accidents (like
meltdowns of nuclear power plants). There are vic-
tims of cancer, famines, ethnic cleansing, and tor-
ture who suffer in similar ways to people injured in
crimes. The common thread would be to under-
stand the nature of tribulations and travails, and the
consistent goal would be to develop effective strat-
egies for short-run relief as well as long-term solu-
tions to alleviate emotional and physical pain
stemming from all kinds of calamities.

However, the majority of victimologists believe
that their studies should remain focused on criminal
victimization so that there are precise, readily identi-
fiable limits and clear directions for further research
and theorizing. Actually, criminal victimization may
not be more serious (financially), more injurious
(medically), or more traumatic and longer lasting
(emotionally) than other types of harm. But it is
necessary to rein in the boundaries of the field in
order to make it manageable for the practical
purposes of holding conferences, publishing journals,
writing textbooks, and teaching college courses.
(For the pros and cons of these alternative visions of
what the scope of victimology ought to be, see

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Schafer, 1968; Viano, 1976, 1983, and 1990a;
Galaway and Hudson, 1981; Flynn, 1982; Scherer,
1982; Schneider, 1982; Friedrichs, 1983; Elias, 1986;
Fattah, 1991; and Dussich, 2009b.)

The dividing line between victimology and
mainstream criminology is not always clear-cut.
Invariably, the two fields overlap. Historically,
much of criminology can be characterized as offen-
derology because of its preoccupation with the
reasons why criminals behave as they do, a focus
on the wrongdoers’ personal motives and the
underlying root causes of their antisocial behavior,
and whether punishment or treatment will make
them stop. Lawbreakers always have been under a
spotlight while the people they harmed remained
shadowy figures on the fringes. But now victimol-
ogy enriches criminology by yielding a more bal-
anced and comprehensive approach that sheds light
on both parties and their interactions.

Another way to differentiate the priorities of
criminology versus victimology is to examine the
social reaction to crime as opposed to the social
reaction to victimization.

Once again, it is difficult to try to draw a sharp
line between what issues criminologists should
explore in contrast to what parallel or comparable
topics victimologists should scrutinize. Yet such an
exercise might be worthwhile because it helps clar-
ify how the two fields have different focuses and
also points to areas where research about victims
and victimization remains sparse.

Since the offender is of primary interest to
criminologists, analyzing the social reaction to law-
breaking might include issues like the public’s
willingness to pay for increased criminal justice
expenses (hiring more police officers, supplying
them with more powerful weaponry, and building
more prisons in contrast to investing in job training,
drug treatment, and inmate reentry programs) and
the degree of voter support for tough new laws or
for stiffening existing penalties (such as “three
strikes” legislation or expanded use of electronic
monitoring) or for police crackdowns (zero toler-
ance campaigns). The focus remains on the wrong-
doers and how to best handle them, whether
through punishment or rehabilitation. Long-term

crime prevention strategies that criminologists
propose and debate include efforts to eradicate
the social roots of street crime, such as poverty,
unemployment, failing schools, and dysfunctional

For victimology, the emphasis shifts to the
public’s reaction to the plight of injured parties.
Consequently, researching the social reaction to
victimization translates to examining the degree of
voter support for victims’ rights initiatives and the
willingness of taxpayers to earmark revenue for
government-run assistance programs and compen-
sation funds. Also of great interest are the many self-
help and direct aid projects set up by former vic-
tims, such as child search organizations, shelters for
battered women, crisis centers for rape victims, and
similar advocacy organizations. Another dimension
of the social reaction is the many steps fearful indi-
viduals might undertake to reduce their own
risks of becoming targets. These victimization
prevention efforts on a personal level (in contrast
to crime prevention efforts on a community or
societal level) include taking self-defense classes
and buying guns for self-protection, purchasing
antitheft devices (such as burglar and car alarms),
and buying insurance policies for reimbursement of
crime-inflicted losses (life, health, home, and car
insurance as well as for identity theft and fraud

One of the most intriguing aspects of the social
reaction to lawbreaking behavior is how often and
in what manner eyewitnesses respond while a crime
is in progress. Criminology and victimology overlap
whenever researchers focus upon the interaction
between offenders, their intended victims, and
onlookers, an emerging area of study that could
be referred to as bystanderology, to coin a term
(see Box 1.3).

Interfacing with Other Disciplines

A number of academic orientations enrich victim-
ology. Researchers who pursue a mental health/
forensic psychology orientation might explore
how victims react to their misfortunes.
They ask why some injured parties experience

20 C H A P T E R 1

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B O X 1.3 The Social Reaction to Victimization: A Look at the Interplay
between Victims, Offenders, and Bystanders


If a third party is present when an offender confronts his
intended victim, this presence of an audience introduces a
situational variable or contextual factor that can become the
focus of what can be called “bystanderology.”

One or more onlookers were watching in about 70 per-
cent of all fights, around 50 percent of all robberies, and
almost 30 percent of all rapes and other sexual assaults,
according to an analysis of government surveys of victims’
experiences during the 1990s (Planty, 2002).

Individuals who witness a crime in progress as it unfolds
right before their eyes may react in essentially two ways.
First of all, there is nonintervention: Bystanders may avert
their gaze, steer clear of trouble, mind their own business,
and not get involved in the dispute. Or they may simply
watch, become confused and immobilized, and consequently
not do anything to help out. In extreme cases, they may run
away, as when shots are fired. Alternatively, onlookers could
become engaged and intervene to some degree while a crime
is in progress or in its immediate aftermath (see Shotland and
Goodstein, 1984; and Takooshian, 2014).

The following example, which took place on a busy big
city street, illustrates this spectrum of possibilities, as an
onlooker who intervened in behalf of a victim becomes mor-
tally wounded himself and then fails to receive any aid from
other spectators:

A man angrily confronts a woman and threatens vio-
lence. A homeless immigrant who sometimes works as a
day laborer comes to her aid and is stabbed. A nearby
surveillance camera records how he collapses and lies
face down in the gutter for over an hour. Passersby show
some curiosity but hurry along. One man lifts the
wounded Good Samaritan’s body, sees a pool of blood,
and then walks away. Another snaps a photo and then
departs. By the time the police are summoned and help
arrives, he is dead. (Sulzberger and Meenan, 2010)

Police officers are third parties who have a duty to
intervene and can be counted upon to enter the fray in
behalf of an innocent person under attack. Bystanders and
onlookers have no such duty and may or may not take action
as a robber, rapist, or assailant confronts a victim. A typology
of possible responses by bystanders could include the fol-
lowing categories, ranked in terms of the desirability/unde-
sirability of the outcome (making the situation better or
worse for the person under attack):

a) Effectively intervene to rescue the victim from harm
and also apprehend the apparent offender by making a
citizen’s arrest until the police arrive.

b) Minister to the victim after the attack is over by pro-
viding physical and emotional first aid until first
responders like police officers, emergency medical
technicians, and ambulance crews arrive.

c) Scream for help and summon the authorities by calling
911; or at least take pictures that can later be used as

d) In the aftermath of an attack, come forward and serve
as a witness for the prosecution.

e) Do nothing, take no action, look the other way, or melt
away due to apathy or indifference; but also some non-
interveners may be immobilized by fear.

f) Become a victim; the Good Samaritan who steps in can
get injured or killed by the offender.

g) Accidentally injure or kill the victim while carrying out
a rescue mission (this disaster can happen when a SWAT
team tries to overpower a hostage-taker but the captive
is killed during the raid).

h) Intervene in behalf of the wrong party by erroneously
sizing up the situation, resulting in the injury or death
of the genuine victim. This can happen when uniformed
officers mistake an undercover officer for an “armed
perpetrator” who is training a gun on a suspect, and
they shoot the officer in disguise thinking they are
rescuing a victim (a tragic mistake referred to by the
military term “friendly fire”)

i) Intentionally join in on the side of the wrongdoer,
undermining the victim’s ability to effectively
resist and inflicting additional losses and injuries,
which may even be fatal (these bystanders who
knowingly make things worse have been called “Bad
Samaritans”). Bystanders who rally to the side of
lawbreakers while a crime is in progress can get swept
up into a type of crowd psychology that leads to the
looting of stores, mob attacks, lynchings, race riots,
and gang rapes.

The social reaction of the bystander(s) may decisively
shape the outcome of an attempted crime. The presence of
onlookers might cause the would-be offender to back down
or cut short his attempt to inflict harm. On the other hand,
the existence of an audience might cause both parties to
escalate their conflict in order to save face and protect their
reputations on the street. This might encourage the aggres-
sor to deliver additional wounds in order to demonstrate his
prowess, as in clashes between gang members.

When surveyed about whether the presence of a third
party helped or worsened the situation, half of all victims
reported “neither helped not hurt.” But when bystanders
actively interceded, victims judged the impact of their


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post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (occa-
sionally feeling very frightened long after a danger-
ous “fight or flight” situation has passed) while
others who suffer through comparable calamities
do not. Professionals engaged in therapeutic rela-
tionships with patients who endured vicious vio-
lence need to discover which crisis intervention
techniques work best (see Roberts and Roberts,
2005). Researchers who take an historical perspec-
tive trace developments from the past to better
understand the present, while those who adopt an
economic perspective try to measure individual and
collective costs, losses, and expenses that result from
criminal activities. The anthropological orientation
compares victimization in other societies far away
and long ago in order to transcend the limitations of
analyses rooted in the here and now. Victimologists

who adopt a sociological perspective develop pro-
files (statistical portraits) of the characteristics of
people who are harmed, analyze the interactions
within the victim–offender relationship, examine
the way other people and social institutions (such
as the public welfare and health care systems) deal
with injured parties, and seek to evaluate the effec-
tiveness of new policies and programs. Scholars
who apply a legalistic/criminal justice orientation
(that focuses on department regulations, Supreme
Court decisions, and legislation) explore how vic-
tims are supposed to be handled by the police, pro-
secutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation
officers, and parole boards, and they scrutinize the
provisions of recently enacted laws designed to
empower victims as the adversary system resolves
their cases.

actions as “helpful” more often than as “harmful.” Passersby
play a constructive role if they prevent further injuries and
recover stolen property, and their intervention is counter-
productive if they further enrage the attacker (Hart and
Miethe, 2008).

A phenomenon known as the “bystander effect” has
been studied extensively by social psychologists, often by
simulating emergencies in an experimental setting. Their
findings reveal that as the number of bystanders increases,
the likelihood that any particular individual will intervene
decreases. Also, as the number of onlookers increases, the
time that elapses until someone takes action increases.
Bystanders are more inclined to get involved if they are
directly beseeched for assistance. When bystanders are slow
or reluctant to make a move, it may be due to audience
inhibition (each person is afraid of being publicly embar-
rassed if the effort fails) or because of the diffusion of
responsibility (each onlooker assumes someone else will take
charge of the situation and take the first step) (see
Scroggins, 2009).

Passersby might have a moral duty to be “their brother’s
keepers.” But in most states (except in Vermont since 1967,
and later Minnesota and Wisconsin), they bear no legal obli-
gation to undertake any risks (unless they are police officers,
firefighters, and doctors, even when they are off-duty). Civil
statutes shielding Good Samaritans from out-of-pocket
expenses and lawsuit liability are meant to encourage

individuals to get involved. Criminal laws prevent people
from harming one another, but they do not compel indivi-
duals to help one another, even if one knows that another
person is in imminent danger or has sustained a serious
physical injury (Silver, 2012).

Police departments and community organizations
sometimes help set up civilian anticrime patrols and neigh-
borhood watch committees. On college campuses, rape pre-
vention campaigns include efforts to train potential
bystanders (especially male athletes and sorority sisters) to
step in to creatively outmaneuver aggressive classmates from
crossing the line separating drunken partying from carrying
out sexual assaults. Ever since the late 1980s, role playing
exercises and poster campaigns have urged students, espe-
cially incoming freshmen, to “Do something” with slogans
like “Don’t be a passive bystander,” “Don’t just stand there,”
and “If she can’t stop him, you can” (Winerip, 2014). Inter-
vention by onlookers (playing the role of “capable guar-
dians”) is counted upon by some victimization prevention
strategies (such as alerting the authorities if an alarm goes
off). Honoring those who didn’t stand idly by and placed
themselves at risk as “heroes” demonstrates the public’s
appreciation for coming to the assistance of victims when a
crime is in progress (also see Hart and Miethe, 2008; Lateano,
Ituarte, and Davies, 2008; Reynald, 2010; Gidcyz et al., 2011;
Moynihan, 2011; and Banyard, Arnold, Eckstein, and
Stapleton, 2011).

B O X 1.3 (Continued)

22 C H A P T E R 1

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Divisions within the Discipline

Victimology does not have the distinct schools of
thought that divide criminologists into opposing
camps, probably because this new subdiscipline
lacks its own well-developed theories of human
behavior. However, in both criminology and vic-
timology, political ideologies—conservative, liberal,
and radical left/critical/conflict—can play a signifi-
cant role in influencing the choice of research topics
and in shaping policy recommendations.

The conservative tendency within victimology
focuses primarily upon street crimes. A basic tenet
of conservative thought is that everyone—both vic-
tims and offenders—must be held strictly account-
able for their decisions and actions. This translates
into an emphasis on self-reliance rather than gov-
ernmental assistance. Individuals should strive to
take personal responsibility for preventing, avoid-
ing, resisting, and recovering from criminal acts
and for defending themselves, their families, and
their homes from outside attack. In accordance
with the crime control model of criminal justice,
the primary purpose of the legal system is to protect
the innocent from those who want to harm them.
As a result, lawbreakers must be punished in
proportion to the suffering they inflicted on their
victims (the philosophy of retribution, or just
deserts). Making criminals pay also is supposed to
accomplish the goals of general deterrence (to make
a negative example of them, to serve as a warning
to other would-be offenders that they should think
twice and decide not to break the law), as well as
specific deterrence (to teach them a lesson so they
won’t repeat this forbidden conduct in the future).
Incapacitating predators behind bars keeps them
away from the targets they would like to prey

The liberal tendency sees the scope of the field
as stretching beyond street crime to include crimi-
nal harm inflicted on persons by reckless corporate
executives and corrupt officials. A basic theme
within liberal thought is to endorse societal inter-
vention through the instrument of government to
try to ensure fair treatment and to alleviate needless
suffering. This position leads to efforts to extend the

“safety net” mechanisms of the welfare state to
cushion shocks and losses due to all kinds of mis-
fortunes, including crime. To “make the victim
whole again,” aid must be available from such pro-
grams as state compensation funds, subsidized crime
insurance plans, rape crisis centers, and shelters for
battered women. Some liberals are enthusiastic
about restorative justice experiments that, instead
of punishing offenders by imprisoning them,
attempt to make wrongdoers pay restitution to
their victims so that reconciliation between the
two estranged parties might become possible.

The radical left/critical/conflict tendency seeks
to demonstrate that the problem of victimization
arises from the exploitative and oppressive relations
that are pervasive throughout the social system.
Therefore, the scope of the field should not be lim-
ited simply to the casualties of criminal activity in
the streets. Inquiries must be extended to cover the
harm inflicted by industrial polluters, owners and
managers of hazardous workplaces, fraudulent
advertisers, predatory lenders (for example, of mort-
gages with deceptive provisions for repayment of
the loan), brutally violent law enforcement agen-
cies, and discriminatory institutions. Victims might
not be particular individuals but whole groups of
people, such as factory workers, minority groups,
customers, or neighborhood residents. From
the radical/critical/conflict perspective, victimology
can be faulted for preferring to study the more
obvious, less controversial kinds of harmful beha-
viors, mostly acts of personal violence and crude
theft by desperate individuals, instead of the more
fundamental injustices that mar everyday life: the
inequitable distribution of wealth and power that
results in poverty, malnutrition, homelessness, fam-
ily dysfunction, chronic structural unemployment,
substance abuse, and misplaced aggression toward
potential allies who are in similar circumstances.
The legal system and the criminal justice apparatus
are considered part of the problem by criminolo-
gists as well as victimologists working within this
tradition because these institutions that supposedly
promote fairness actually primarily safeguard the
interests of influential groups and privileged classes
(see Birkbeck, 1983; Friedrichs, 1983; Viano, 1983;

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Elias, 1986, 1993; Fattah, 1986, 1990, 1992a, 1992b;
Miers, 1989; Reiman, 1990; Walklate, 1991; and
Mawby and Walklate, 1993).


The current parameters of the field are evident in
the kinds of questions victimologists try to answer.
In general, these questions transcend the basics
about “who, how, where, and when,” and tackle
the questions of “why?” and “what can be done?”-
Victimologists explore not only the interactions
between victims and offenders, but also victims
and the criminal justice system as well as victims
and the larger society.

A selection of some intriguing and imaginative
studies that illustrate the kinds of issues concerning
offender–victim relationships addressed by research-
ers over the decades appears in Box 1.4.

Victimologists, like all researchers, must adopt a
critical spirit and a skeptical stance to see where the
trail of evidence leads. In the search for truth, myths
must be exposed, unfounded charges dismissed, and
commonsense notions put to the test. The follow-
ing guidelines outline the step-by-step reasoning
process that can be followed when carrying out
research (see Parsonage, 1979; Birkbeck, 1983;
and Burt, 1983).

Step 1: Identify, Define, and Describe
the Problem

The most basic task for victimologists is to deter-
mine all the different ways that a violation of the
law can inflict immediate and long-term harm: the
extent of any physical injuries, emotional damage,
and economic costs, plus any social consequences
(such as loss of status). For example, as they grow
up, severely abused children might suffer from post-
traumatic stress disorder, dysfunctional interpersonal
relationships, personality problems, and self-
destructive impulses (see Briere, 1992).

Sometimes a group is difficult to study because
there isn’t an adequate expression that describes its
common misfortune or captures the nature of its

plight. Now that terms like date rape, stalking,
cyberstalking, carjacking, battering, elder abuse,
identity theft, and bias crime have entered everyday
speech, government agencies and researchers are
exploring in what manner and how frequently peo-
ple are harmed by these offenses. On occasion, vic-
timologists help break the silence about situations
that long have been considered taboo topics by
studying activities such as sibling abuse, incestuous
sexual impositions in stepfamilies, and marital rape
(see Hines and Malley-Morrison, 2005).

Victimologists analyze how the status of being a
“legitimate victim” is socially defined. They explore
why only some people who suffer physical, emo-
tional, or economic harm are designated and treated
as full-fledged, bona fide, and officially recognized
victims and as such, are eligible for aid and encour-
aged to exercise rights within the criminal justice
process. But why are other injured parties left to
fend for themselves? One key question is, “Is the
social standing of each of the two parties taken
into account when government officials and mem-
bers of the general public evaluate whether one
person should get into legal trouble for what hap-
pened and the other should be granted assistance?”

Clearly, the status of being an officially recog-
nized victim of a crime is socially constructed.
The determination of who is included and who is
excluded from this privileged category is carried out
by actors within the criminal justice process (police
officers and detectives, prosecutors, judges, even
juries) and is heavily influenced by legislators (who
formulate criminal laws) and the media that shapes
public opinion about specific incidents.

Step 2: Measure the True Dimensions
of the Problem

Because policy makers and the general public want to
know how serious various kinds of illegal activities
are, victimologists must devise ways to keep track of
the frequency and consequences of prohibited acts.
The accuracy of statistics kept by government bureaus
and private agencies must be critically examined to
ferret out any biases that might inflate or deflate
these estimates to the advantage of those who, for

24 C H A P T E R 1

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B O X 1.4 A Sampling of the Wide Range of Studies about the Interaction between
Offenders and Victims

Identifying the Cues that Trigger a Mugger
into Action

Pedestrians, through their body language, may signal to
prowling robbers that they are “easy marks.” Men and women
walking down a city street were secretly videotaped for sev-
eral seconds, about the time it takes a criminally inclined
person to size up a potential victim. The tapes were then
shown to a panel of “experts”—prisoners convicted of
assaulting strangers—who sorted out those who looked as if
they would be easy to corner from those who might give
them a hard time. Individuals who received high muggability
ratings tended to move along awkwardly, unaware that their
nonverbal communication might cause them trouble (Grayson
and Stein, 1981).

Explaining Public Indifference toward Victims
of Fraud and Con Games

People who have lost money to swindlers often are pictured
as undeserving of sympathy in the media, and they may
encounter callousness, suspicion, or contempt when they
turn to the police or consumer affairs bureaus for help. This
second-class treatment seems to be due to negative stereo-
types and ambivalent attitudes that are widely held by the
public as well as criminal justice officials. A number of
aphorisms place blame on the “suckers” themselves—“fraud
only befalls those of questionable character,” “an honest man
can’t be cheated,” and “people must have larceny in their
hearts to fall for a con game.”

For example, white-collar crime investigators picture
even sophisticated investors who lose their money to scam-
mers in Ponzi schemes as being so blinded by their greed for
suspiciously high returns that they ignore the red flags that
should have alerted them to the likelihood that they were
being drawn into a too-good-to-be-true business arrange-
ment (Goldstein, 2011).

Con artists count on exploiting the anticipated behavior
of their “marks.” Their targets may get so preoccupied with
some “convincer” (such as a large sum of money awaiting
them) that they are too distracted to realize what is really
going on. Marks could be socially compliant to someone
impersonating an authority figure (for example, they reveal
their password in response to an e-mail allegedly from a
bank’s security officer and subsequently are taken in by a
“phishing” scheme). They may let their guard down and
assume there is safety in numbers if it seems that lots of
other people are willing to take a chance on some risky ven-
ture. They may be willing to do something illegal (such as to
buy stolen goods) and end up too compromised to go to the
police. They could be so trusting and naïve that they fall for

tear-jerking emotional appeals for financial help. And under
pressure to “act now or it will be too late,” they could make
impulsive decisions they later regret. In well-planned con
games pulled off by professionals, nothing is what it seems to
be (Stajano and Wilson, 2011).

The stereotype of defrauded parties is that they disre-
garded the basic rules of sensible conduct regarding financial
matters. They don’t read contracts before signing and don’t
demand that guarantees be put in writing before making
purchases. Their apparent foolishness, carelessness, or com-
plicity undermines their appeals for redress and makes others
reluctant to activate the machinery of the criminal justice
system and regulatory agencies on their behalf. Their claims
to be treated as authentic victims worthy of support may be
rejected if they are scorned as money-hungry “dupes” who
were merely outsmarted (Walsh and Schram, 1980; Moore and
Mills, 1990; and Shichor, Sechrest, and Doocy, 2000).

Using a broad definition of fraudulent schemes
(including various rip-offs such as dishonest home, auto, and
appliance repairs and inspections; useless warranties; fake
subscription, insurance, credit, and investment scams; phony
charities, contests, and prizes; and expensive 900-number
telephone ploys), a nationwide survey found victimization to
be widespread. More than half the respondents had been
caught up in some scam or an attempt at deception at least
once in their lives, costing an average loss of more than
$200. Contrary to the prevailing negative stereotype, the
elderly were not any more trusting and compliant; in fact,
they were deceived less often than younger people (Titus,
Heinzelmann, and Boyle, 1995).

Examining How Pickpockets View
their Targets

According to a sample of 20 “class cannons” (professional
pickpockets) working the streets of Miami, Florida, their
preferred marks (victims) are tourists who are relaxed, off
guard, loaded with money, and lacking in clout with criminal
justice officials. Some pickpockets choose “paps” (elderly
men) because their reaction time is slower, but others favor
“bates” (middle-aged men) because they tend to carry fatter
wallets. A “moll buzzer” or “hanger binger” (sneak thief who
preys on women) is looked down on in the underworld fra-
ternity as a bottom feeder who acts without skill or courage.
Interaction with victims is kept to a minimum. Although
pickpockets may “trace a mark” (follow a potential target) for
some time, they need just a few seconds to “beat him of his
poke” (steal his wallet). This is done quietly and deftly,
without a commotion or any jostling. They rarely “make a
score” (steal a lot in a single incident). The class cannon


W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 25

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some self-serving reason, wish to either exaggerate
or downplay the real extent of the problem.

In order to make measurements, victimologists
have to operationalize their concepts by develop-
ing working definitions that specify essential char-
acteristics and also mark boundaries, clarifying
which cases should be included and which should
be excluded. For example, when trying to deter-
mine how many students have experienced school
violence, should youngsters who were threatened

with a beating be counted, even if they were not
actually physically attacked?

Once victimologists measure the frequency of
some unwanted event per year, they can begin to
search for changes over time to see if a particular
type of criminal activity is marring the lives of a
greater number or fewer people as time passes. To
grasp the importance of making accurate measure-
ments, consider the problem of child abuse. Suppose
that statistics gathered by child protection agencies

“passes” (hands over) “the loot” (wallet, wad of bills) to a
member of his “mob” (an accomplice) and swiftly leaves the
scene of the crime. Only about one time in a hundred do they
get caught by the mark. And on those rare occasions when
the theft is detected, they can usually persuade their victims
not to call the police. They give back what they took (maybe
more than they stole) and point out that pressing charges
can ruin a vacation because of the need to surrender the
wallet as evidence, plus waste precious time in court appear-
ances. Cannons show no hatred or contempt for their marks.
In general, they rationalize their crimes as impersonal acts
directed at targets who can easily afford the losses or who
would otherwise be fleeced by businesses or allow their
money to be taken from them in other legally permissible
ways (Inciardi, 1976).

Exploring the Bonds between Captives
and their Captors

Hostages (of terrorists, skyjackers, kidnappers, bank robbers,
rebelling prisoners, and gunmen) are used by their captors to
exert leverage on a third party—perhaps a family, the police,
or a government agency. These captives could react in an
unanticipated way to being trapped and held against their
will. Instead of showing anger and seeking revenge, these
pawns in a larger drama may emerge from a siege with posi-
tive feelings for, and attachments to, their keepers. Their
outrage is likely to be directed at the authorities who rescued
them for acting with apparent indifference to their well-
being during the protracted negotiations. This surprising
emotional realignment has been termed the Stockholm
syndrome because it was first noted after a 1973 bank
holdup in Sweden. Several psychological explanations for this
“pathological transference” are plausible. The hostages could
be identifying with the aggressor, and they might have

become sympathetic to acts of defiance aimed at the power
structure. As survivors, they might harbor intense feelings of
gratitude toward their keepers for sparing their lives. As
helpless dependents, they might cling to the powerful figures
who controlled their every action because of a primitive
emotional response called “traumatical infantilism.” After the
ordeal, terrorized hostages need to be welcomed back and
reassured that they did nothing wrong during—and right
after—their captivity. People in occupations that place them
at high risk of being taken prisoner—ranging from conve-
nience store clerks and bank tellers to airline personnel and
diplomats—need to be trained about how to act, what to say,
and what not to do if they are held and used as a bargaining
chip during a stand-off. Law enforcement agencies need to
set up and train hostage negotiation units as an alternative
to solely relying on heavily armed SWAT teams whose
military-style assaults endanger the lives of the captives they
are trying to save. Crisis negotiators no longer consider the
bonding that may occur between captives and captors to be
detrimental. The development of the Stockholm syndrome
actually can increase the hostages’ chances of surviving the
ordeal. However, it could also mean that law enforcement
cannot count on the victims’ cooperation in working for their
own release and for later prosecuting their violent and dan-
gerous kidnappers in court. In terms of frequency of occur-
rence, it is likely that this type of coping mechanism by
captives has been overemphasized and inaccurately assumed
in cases that were diagnosed by commentators in the media.
Identifying with the aggressor and seeing rescuers as adver-
saries rarely takes place, according to an analysis of the
narratives contained in the FBI’s Hostage/Barricade Database
System (see Ochberg, 1978; Fattah, 1979; Symonds, 1980a;
Turner, 1990; Louden, 1998; Fuselier, 1999; and De Fabrique,
Romano, Vecchi, and Van Hasselt, 2007).

B O X 1.4 (Continued)

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indicate a huge increase in the number of reported
instances of suspected abuse. How can this upsurge be
explained? One possibility is to interpret this spike as
evidence that parents are neglecting, beating, and
molesting their children these days like never before.
But another explanation could be that new compul-
sory reporting requirements recently imposed on
physicians, school nurses, and teachers are bringing
many more cases to the attention of the authorities.
Thus, a sharp rise in reports might not reflect a genu-
ine crime wave directed at children by their caretakers
but merely a surge in official reports because of
improvements in detecting and keeping records of
maltreatment. Victimologists can make a real contri-
bution toward resolving this controversy by devising
ways to estimate the actual dimensions of the child
abuse problem with greater precision. Other pressing
questions that can be answered by careful measure-
ments and accurate statistics include the following:
Are huge numbers of children being snatched up by
kidnappers demanding ransoms? Or are abductions
by strangers rare? Are husbands assaulted by their
wives about as often as wives are battered by their
husbands? Or is female aggression of minor concern
when compared to male violence? Is forced sex a
common outcome at the end of an evening, or is
date rape less of a danger than some people believe
(see Loseke, Gelles, and Cavanaugh, 2005)?

Once injured parties have been identified, and
their ranks measured, researchers can carry out a
needs assessment through interviews or via a sur-
vey to discover what kinds of suffering they are
experiencing and what sorts of assistance and sup-
port they require to resolve their problems and
return to the lives they were leading before the
crime occurred. Such studies might reveal their
unmet material and emotional needs, and weak-
nesses in existing programs and policies.

Step 3: Investigate How Victims Are

Researchers scrutinize how victims actually are
treated by the criminal justice and social service

systems that are ostensibly designed to help them.
Their studies can pinpoint the sources of tension,
conflict, mistreatment, and dissatisfaction that
alienate victims from the agencies that are supposed
to serve them. Program evaluations determine
whether stated goals are being met. For instance,
many victimologists have studied how well or
how poorly the police, prosecutors, judges, and
family therapists are responding to the plight of
abused children, sexually assaulted persons, and
also battered women (see Hilton, 1993; Roberts,
2002; Hines and Malley-Morrison, 2005; Roberts
and Roberts, 2005; and Barnett, Miller-Perrin, and
Perrin, 2005).

Step 4: Gather Evidence to Test

Victimologists investigate all kinds of hypotheses:
suspicions, hunches, impressions, accusations,
assertions, and predictions. Like all social scientists,
when presented with claims about what is true and
what is false, their proper response is not to accept
or reject the assertion but to declare: “Prove it!
Show me! Where is the evidence?”

Testing hypotheses yields interesting findings,
especially discoveries that cast doubt on common-
sense notions (challenging what everyone “knows”
to be true) and widely held beliefs. A major goal is
try to sort out myths from realities.

For example, will the “dos and don’ts” tips
offered on websites for women who are being
stalked by ex-lovers actually work to reduce the
risks of violent outbursts; or are these bits of advice
largely ineffective; or could following these instruc-
tions actually be counterproductive, escalating ten-
sions and heightening dangers?

In order to illustrate each of the four steps
that victimologists might follow when researching
a particular type of suffering, a systematic
analysis of the problem of “road rage” is presented
in Box 1.5.

W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 27

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B O X 1.5 An Illustration of How to Analyze a Specific Type of Victimization: Road Rage

Step 1: Identify, Define, and Describe the

The analysis begins with a brief history that recounts when the
problem was recognized and the way in which the victims’
plight was originally portrayed.

For decades, concern about the risks surrounding auto-
mobile travel centered on accidents caused by hazardous road
conditions, speeding, and drunk driving. Although flare-ups
between motorists with short fuses must have been taking
place since the onset of the automobile age well over 100
years ago, they remained under the radar until the news
media began to report on a spate of “freeway shootings” (in
California in 1977, in Houston in 1982, in Los Angeles in
1987, and in Detroit in 1989). Newspaper headlines originally
dubbed the frightening situations as “road assaults,” “free-
way free-for-alls,” “highway violence,” “highway hostility,”
“motorist mayhem,” and even merely “unfriendly driving.”
Yet concerns about becoming a casualty of one of these
confrontations on wheels did not mount until a media
account coined the phrase “road rage” in 1988; the catchy
alliteration was meant to capture the essence of an armed
attack in which a Florida driver shot a passenger in a car that
had cut him off (see Best, 1991; and Roberts and Indermaur,
2005). During the 1990s, the sudden emergence and rapid
diffusion (across the country and around the globe) of sub-
stantial media attention to this “new crime” demonstrated
how large audiences of frazzled commuters and anxious tra-
velers considered this amorphous yet omnipresent threat to
be of great relevance. Colorful accounts—about 10,000 stor-
ies between 1990 and 1996, and nearly 4,000 in 1997 alone—
described a “spreading epidemic” of “ugly acts of freeway
fury” in which cursing, seething, and stressed-out motorists
were “driven to destruction,” because it was “high noon on
the country’s streets and highways.” Roads were pictured as
“resembling something out of the Wild West,” “highways to
homicide,” “shooting galleries,” “war zones,” and even “ter-
ror zones.” Journalists, reflecting the popular movies of their
day, originally branded offenders as “road warriors” and
“Rambos,” who rejected the prevailing outlook of “have a
nice day” in favor of a “make my day” chip-on-the-shoulder
approach to dealing with strangers. Drivers lost their tempers
and took their frustrations out on each other in numerous
ways, ranging from fistfights to intentional collisions to
gunfire (see Best, 1991; Mizell, 1997; Fumento, 1998; and
Roberts and Indermaur, 2005).

Today, cases like this one are widely recognized to be
examples of “road rage:”

A man in a SUV with his wife and two-year-old daughter
is driving down a big city highway known for its traffic
jams when he suddenly finds himself surrounded by a
swarm of men on motorcycles. He panics and bumps one
of the motorcyclists; another dismounts and he accidently
runs over him. Fearing for his safety and the well-being of
his family, he races down an exit ramp with the motor-
cycle riders in hot pursuit. They catch up with him on a
busy street, smash his vehicle’s windows, and drag him
from his SUV. A video of the beatdown goes viral, drawing
a great deal of international attention, as viewers ask,
“Where were the police—what took them so long to break
up this attack on this besieged motorist?” (It turns out
that one of the “bikers” actually was an undercover
officer infiltrating the gang, but he is indicted for
assault, along with 10 others.) (Long and Peltz, 2013)

Step 2: Measure the True Dimensions of the

The analysis proceeds by estimating the frequency of occur-
rence of this sort of incident and examining the victim–
offender interaction in order to draw evidence-based portraits
of the typical aggressors and their usual targets, and of the
amount of harm done.

Unfortunately, chilling accounts often were laced with
hyperbole and sensationalism. Consequently, heated discus-
sions erupted about whether fears were out of proportion to
actual threats. Investigations that attempted to estimate the
actual toll that road rage imposed on motorists adopted
definitions that were way too broad: media coverage, and
even some of the earliest research undertakings, character-
ized road rage as synonymous with extremely aggressive
driving habits that embodied hostility toward other motor-
ists. Part of the continuum included noncriminal acts, such as
screaming curses out the window, making threatening or
obscene gestures, flashing headlights on and off, honking
horns repeatedly, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting
others off, tailgating in a way that resembles stalking, and
getting out of the vehicle to argue face-to-face. From the
targeted motorist’s point of view, as well as from a police and
traffic safety perspective, this inclusive definition that ran-
ged from trivial to life-threatening actions seemed to make
sense, in terms of recognizing all the different dimensions of
an infuriating and ominous encounter. But from the stand-
point of both criminology and victimology, the definition
should be much more restrictive and exclude insults and

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implied threats as well as bad driving maneuvers that at most
result in summonses for moving violations in traffic court.
A more limited and precise definition of road rage would
count only those interpersonal conflicts that are matters for
the criminal justice system to resolve: outbreaks of violence
in which either one of the drivers—or one of the
passengers—intentionally or recklessly injures or kills
another driver, passenger, cyclist, or even a pedestrian, or
damages a vehicle on purpose; or uses the vehicle to make a
serious attempt to do harm to another party embroiled in the
fracas (see Smart and Mann, 2002). A driver who is threat-
ened can be considered a victim of harassment, and if a gun is
pointed, the crime becomes “menacing.” If a shot is fired, an
assault with a deadly weapon has taken place. One difficult
methodological decision confronting researchers is whether
to include or exclude incidents in which the two warring
parties were not complete strangers. For example, some car
chases are really extensions of ongoing quarrels that fall
under the category of “domestic violence” (Mizell, 1997).
Upon investigation, other clashes could turn out to be drive-
by shootings involving members of warring street gangs or
competing drug-dealing crews. But putting these exceptional
cases aside, road rage generally constitutes a type of physical
attack perpetrated by a stranger in a vehicle who approaches
a victim just by chance in an anonymous public space—a
street or highway (Roberts and Indermaur, 2005).

Criminologists zero in on the perpetrators’ possible
mental problems, anger and aggression, drug and alcohol use,
and risk-taking propensities while victimologists focus on the
characteristics of the injured parties and how they respond to
the incidents. Both sets of researchers seek to discover how
often punishable acts of road rage break out. Not all cases are
considered newsworthy by editors and journalists, so schol-
arly studies must be based on access to “official sources of
data”: the arrest records of police departments and the tran-
scripts of court proceedings, perhaps supplemented by the
files of insurance companies. However, descriptions of the
events leading up to the confrontation may be fragmentary
or incomplete, or the versions of who did what to whom
could be completely one-sided. Furthermore, just as with
media coverage, official statistics present an underestimate.
Some criminal acts that could lead to arrest and prosecution
go unreported because the authorities were not notified by
either party or by eyewitnesses. On the other hand, accounts
from unofficial sources could yield overestimates because the
working definition of road rage used by the general public
and the media has expanded far beyond the original narrower

notion of violence on wheels. Other unofficial sources of
data, including the findings of surveys, that ask motorists if
they were ever subjected to or eyewitnesses to road rage may
be cluttered with huge numbers of judgmental interpreta-
tions about incidents that would not wind up in the criminal
justice system. For example, using a broad definition,
an annual survey estimated that the most afflicted cities
in 2009 were New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit,
Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Atlanta; far fewer incidents
reportedly took place in Portland, Cleveland, Sacramento,
Baltimore, and Pittsburgh (AP, 2009).

Several websites that welcome postings by motorists
infuriated by encounters with inconsiderate, rude, careless,
or just plain inept drivers also use a definition that is too
vague and inclusive. Overly broad definitions tend to gener-
ate exaggerated estimates. The prevalence rate of ever
experiencing, perpetrating, or witnessing road rage can
approach 100 percent if the database includes motorists’
complaints about drivers who suddenly cut in front of them,
honked incessantly, braked hard without warning, swerved
dangerously, hurled insults, or even forced them on to the
shoulder. These experiences might be unnerving and insult-
ing, and some might be violations of traffic ordinances, but
as merely subjective and undocumented accusations, they
don’t rise to the level of criminal matters, so the aggrieved
parties are not genuine “victims” of physical violence or
deliberate property destruction.

The task for scholarly researchers is to sort through
this collection of media and police reports about aggres-
sive and reckless driving and focus on the incidents
of intentional collisions, assaults, shootings, and even
murders. For example, a comprehensive review of over
10,000 records of events that took place from 1990
through 1996 yielded an estimate of over 200 deaths and
about 12,600 injuries directly attributable to road rage, or
about 1,500 casualties a year resulting from collisions
arising from dangerously aggressive driving (see Mizell,
1997; and Garase, 2006). On the other hand, as real as the
threat may be, criminal acts of road rage seems to be a
relatively infrequent event, statistically speaking, at least
according to self-report surveys of drivers (Roberts and
Indermaur, 2005). Pedestrians and cyclists felt the most
vulnerable; believed that they were specifically targeted;
suffered more physically and mentally; and were more
likely to alter their behavior after the incidents, according
to a survey of a small sample of self-identified victims
(Cavacuiti et al., 2013).


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B O X 1.5 (Continued)

Road rage needs to be operationalized (precisely
defined so that it can be measured) in a restrictive manner to
include only incidents in which one driver knowingly injures
or kills another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian or uses a
vehicle as a weapon to attack someone or something. Then
criminologists could focus their attention on the defendants
who get arrested and prosecuted for their angry outbursts, by
asking questions like: Do people who pick fights when driving
also start altercations in everyday life? Do they drive as they
live? Do these hyperaggressive drivers differ demographically
and socially from average motorists? Psychologically oriented
criminologists could ask whether these belligerent drivers are
burdened with pent up anger, poor impulse control, short
fuses, and hair triggers that reflect deep-seated personality
problems (and maybe even mental disorders) that make them
a danger to themselves and anyone who strays into their
path. These emotional disturbances might include an obses-
sion with minimizing travel time to the point of always being
in a great rush; a need to try to come in first in a highly
competitive environment; a tendency to perceive the driving
mistakes of others as personal attacks on themselves or their
vehicles; and even a sense that they need to punish others to
teach others a lesson to improve their driving skills (see Ayar,

But these issues about the presumed shortcomings of
offenders are not the immediate focus of victim-centered
investigations, which seek to expand and balance out the
inquiry into the hostile encounter by paying close attention
to the injured party and to the behaviors of both individuals
during their confrontation. The victim–offender interaction
must be carefully reconstructed. Two strikingly different
possibilities arise. The first scenario is that road rage casual-
ties were innocent travelers who were cruising along and just
minding their own business when they were randomly tar-
geted by belligerent drivers. This image of a routine activity
being interrupted “out of the blue” by senseless violence is
especially chilling because automobile travel unavoidably
brings strangers from very different social backgrounds into
close proximity as they attempt to share the road with one
another. Road rage is a serious problem that must be
addressed immediately if ordinary motorists can become
embroiled in a feud without warning; if some hothead’s
wrath can be vented on anyone who is unlucky enough
to gets in his way; and if any motorist—just like getting
into a collision—can find himself under attack at

But the alternative scenario paints an entirely different
picture: that the injured party was a violence-prone individ-
ual himself. He was spoiling for a fight and was easily
inflamed and incited into action. These mutual combatants
overreacted to each other’s overtures. The initial event was
misperceived as embodying a hostile intent, and this pre-
sumed threat was countered with an inappropriately bellicose
response, thereby escalating the incident to the point of
bloodshed or a crash. The misbehavior of the victim can be as
important a catalyst in this interaction as the aggressive
actions of the assailant. In essence, offenders and victims
“find each other” as they interact within a vast pool of fellow
drivers. The question arises, in what proportion of cases are
the injured parties not totally innocent victims? How often
do those who get wounded or killed share some degree of
responsibility with the complete strangers who attacked
them? Presumably, the violations of traffic laws would not
have spiraled into a criminal matter were it not for the vic-
tim’s inadvertent triggering of the aggressive driver’s violent
response; or worse yet, the victim’s furious overreaction to
the offender’s bad driving led to the next round of escalating
hostilities. Researchers who examine the victim–offender
interaction can provide estimates of the percent of cases in
which victims are totally innocent of any incitement to vio-
lence, and the remaining percent in which those who wind up
hurt are partially at fault for triggering the aggressive driver’s
illegal response.

Media accounts portray road rage victims as tending to
be young males in their twenties and thirties (Asbridge,
Smart, and Mann, 2003). Some researchers who have studied
both parties suggest that they have uncovered situations
that illustrate the principle of homogamy: that both offen-
ders and victims share a great deal in common, socially and
demographically (according to surveys about aggressive
driving that asked about lesser skirmishes in addition to
violent episodes). The picture they have painted from their
data is that the two persons caught up in the confrontation
tend to closely resemble each other. Both usually are males;
often in their twenties and thirties; generally of lower
socioeconomic status; frequently with drug and drinking
problems; perhaps exhibiting a “macho” personality; some-
times driving around in a high-performance vehicle or sports
car with tinted windows; and most disturbingly, all too often
going around armed with guns (see Asbridge et al., 2003,
2006; Roberts and Indermaur, 2008; Hemenway, Vriniotis,
and Miller, 2006; and Fierro, Morales, and Alvarez, 2011).

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These angry young men, who have poor impulse control and
a propensity to get into fights while trying to share the road,
seem to be one and the same as those who spend a lot of time
away from home and get into brawls on street corners and in
bars. Additional studies that derive profiles of both parties
from police files and court proceedings could settle this
question about the possibility of homogamy. The research
hypotheses would be that both the offenders and their
victims would tend to be low-income, young, urban males,
rather than females, older persons, suburbanites or rural
residents, and more affluent people (Asbridge et al., 2003).
Furthermore, those whose routine activities involve a great
deal of driving may have more opportunities to become
embroiled in confrontations (Asbridge and Butters, 2013).

Step 3: Investigate How Victims Are Faring

Zero in on the criminal justice system’s response.
Motor vehicle collisions are a major cause of injury,

disability, and death, especially of young people. On a soci-
etal level, vehicle crashes are a major source of shattered
lives, emotional damage (including phobias, and in extreme
cases, post-traumatic stress disorder), truncated opportu-
nities, missed work, and other losses and expenses. Since
some unknown proportion of highway carnage is attributable
to road rage, this societal problem may impose serious
unrecognized consequences for public safety and social well-
being. How are the police, courts, and insurance companies
addressing these issues of?

Criminologists and criminal justice officials debate
whether offenders might need to be punished (through stiff
fines and time behind bars) to teach them a lesson not to
drive recklessly again (specific deterrence), and to hold them
up as negative role models to serve as a warning to other
would-be road warriors (general deterrence). Incapacitation
(through license suspensions and incarceration) will serve to
protect other motorists by removing them from the driver’s
seat. Treatment (such as anger management, time manage-
ment, and stress management) might be called for if that is
the source of their dangerously aggressive behavior behind
the wheel. But what could and should be done for the objects
of their wrath? If the homogamy thesis is correct, then vic-
tims might be negatively stereotyped as potential perpetra-
tors themselves. The authorities might automatically handle
the “ostensible targets” of road rage differently than other
innocent victims of physical violence because these

individuals might bear some responsibility for the breaking of
laws this time—and the next time, they could be the

Victim-centered questions that researchers need to
address include these: What happens in police stations,
courtrooms, and in insurance offices when the authorities
believe that both parties are partially to blame? Are charges
against the defendant reduced or dismissed if it appears that
the injured party contributed in some way to the escalation
of the confrontation? Do insurance companies reduce the
amounts of reimbursement for damages or medical treatment,
or deny the applications entirely, in cases of mutual combat?
In contrast, in cases where the injured parties are blameless,
are the sentences harsher on those convicted of highway
mayhem than of comparable street brawls? Do innocent tar-
gets of road rage get the same assistance and exercise the
same rights as innocent victims of violent street crimes? How
these victims’ cases actually are handled ought to be a prime
concern of victimologists.

Step 4: Gather Evidence to Test Hypotheses

See if this criminal activity is linked to other social problems
and whether effective responses have been devised and

Now that the term road rage is firmly entrenched in the
vocabulary of law, criminal justice, and journalism, discus-
sions of the problem generate many interesting hypotheses.
For example, a number of possible societal causes have been
suggested. Can increases or decreases in road rage be corre-
lated with other indicators of changes in the pace of life and
the level of tension, frustration, alienation, and cutthroat
competition in an area at a given time and place? Does the
problem have deeper societal roots than just the chance
encounter of two foul-tempered/short-fused individuals? To
what extent is road rage the outgrowth of underlying social
problems, such as alcohol consumption and drug abuse;
overall levels of aggression, rage, and untreated mental ill-
ness; as well as increases in commuting time, road traffic,
construction delays, and rush-hour congestion (see Smart
and Mann, 2002; and Asbridge et al., 2003).

Another interesting hypothesis that needs investigation
is: Does the yearly incidence of highway violence closely
track the level of violence on the streets—in other words, if
public safety improves and the streets become more peaceful,
does the occurrence of road rage also decline?


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One last parallel between criminology and victimol-
ogy merits highlighting. Criminology and victimol-
ogy are not well-paying fields ripe with lucrative
opportunities for employment and advancement.
Studying the modus operandi of criminals and the
mistakes made by the individuals they injured cer-
tainly doesn’t make a person invincible to physical
attacks, thefts, or swindles, although this heightened
awareness might reduce the risks a student of human
behavior and criminal conduct faces. Yet for several
good reasons a growing number of people are invest-
ing time, energy, and money to study victimology in
training academies and college courses.

First of all, those who study the plight of victims
benefit intellectually, as do all social scientists, by
gaining insights into everyday life, solving puzzling
and troubling issues, better appreciating life’s subtle-
ties, seeing phenomena more clearly, and under-
standing complex situations more profoundly.
Second, intellectually curious individuals can profit
from pursuits that expand their horizons, trans-
cend the limits of their own experiences in the
familiar routines of everyday life, free them from
irrational fears and unfounded concerns, and
enable them to overcome gut reactions of fatalism,
cynicism, emotionalism, and deep-seated prejudices.
Third, the findings generated from theorizing and
applied research have practical applications that

The next set of hypotheses to be tested is whether the
measures to curb road rage are working effectively. Legisla-
tures in a number of states passed tough new laws against
recklessly aggressive driving, hoping to deter or weed out the
problem drivers who are at high risk of causing road rage
incidents. Police departments and state highway patrol
agencies devised new ways of monitoring and videotaping
traffic flow and accidents, and launched crackdowns to vig-
orously enforce traffic laws. Criminologists need to evaluate
whether these crime control strategies are bringing roadway
violence under control.

At the same time, the National Safety Council, the AAA
Foundation for Traffic Safety, insurance companies, and
government agencies such as the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration developed awareness and education
campaigns, warning the public about how quickly minor
traffic confrontations could escalate into dangerous show-
downs. Is there much that fearful motorists can do to mini-
mize their chances of becoming the target of another driver’s
wrath, or at least to halt the up-and-back interplay before it
spirals out of control? As soon as the problem was recog-
nized, articles in the popular press and road safety educa-
tional materials alerted motorists about “How to avoid
getting shot at” and “How to handle on-the-road hostility”
plus other practical suggestions for those on the receiving
end of aggressive driving (see Best, 1991; and Mizell, 1997).
In 2007, the governor of Michigan, and in 2009, the governor
of Alabama, responding to an educational campaign against
“emotional driving” sponsored by a self-help group founded
by a parent of a woman killed in an incident, proclaimed the

middle of July as “Road Rage Awareness Week” (Targeted
News Services, 2009). Are the pragmatic tips disseminated in
driver education campaigns really effective as a way of pre-
venting victimization? If road rage incidents decline after
practical advice is widely disseminated, then these victim-
oriented countermeasures might deserve some credit for
helping concerned motorists stay out of trouble. Comparisons
of changes in the levels of reported road rage crimes in sim-
ilar jurisdictions that did and did not implement these strat-
egies should shed light on this matter.

Finally, what have been the long-term trends over the
decades? Is road rage (as distinct from changes in media
coverage) genuinely increasing or decreasing as the years roll
by? In 1997, the House Subcommittee on Surface Transpor-
tation held hearings about a reported epidemic of “auto
anarchy” that was “transforming the nation’s roadways into
crime scenes.” In the midst of all this publicity, however,
skeptics pointed out that statistics showed that the numbers
of accidents, highway deaths, and crash-related injuries
actually were trending downward, especially when the
increases in the number of drivers, registered vehicles, and
the total miles traveled were taken into account. Perhaps the
entire road rage problem had been blown way out of propor-
tion right at the outset by journalists trying to attract large
audiences, politicians seeking campaign donations and votes,
therapists looking to profit from heightened fears of a newly
recognized emotional “disorder,” and lobbyists representing
publicity-hungry agencies and organizations (see
staff, 1997; Fumento, 1998; Rathbone and Huckabee, 1999;
Hennessy and Wiesenthal, 2002; and “Rising Rage,” 2005).

B O X 1.5 (Continued)

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simultaneously ease the distress of others and foster a
sense of purpose, self-worth, accomplishment, and
satisfaction that comes from combating social

Those who study how individuals shape and in
return are influenced by the realities around them
are developing their “sociological imagination”
(Mills, 1959)—a recognition of how their particular
personal troubles usually are outgrowths of and can
be traced back to larger social problems (like pov-
erty, unemployment, dysfunctional families, and
failing schools). Specifically, by exercising their
“criminological imagination” (see Young, 2011),
those who focus on lawbreaking can raise their
consciousness about the connections between indi-
vidual difficulties, historic injustices, prevailing
social institutions and ideologies, contemporary cul-
ture, and the shortcomings of academic research
and theorizing in order to recognize the sharp con-
trast between what is and what could be.

Besides paying these dividends, it’s possible to
profit in other ways by studying various aspects of

Scrutinizing victim–offender interactions can
shed light on how miscommunication, misunder-
standings, desires, obsessions, demands, stereotypes,
reckless behavior, and provocative acts can trigger
harsh reactions that can lead to needless conflict and
avoidable tragedies.

Analyzing the way that certain victims are crit-
icized and blamed for their own downfall raises vital
questions about the degree to which individuals are
able to determine their own fate as opposed to the
extent to which larger social forces and pressures
shape a person’s behavior and social circumstances.

Exploring how some victims are assisted by
social programs while others are left to fend for
themselves raises profound issues about the proper
role of government and its collectively funded and
organized safety net meant to cushion the fall of
individuals reeling from the impact of serious losses
and major expenses.

Examining how some individuals and groups
stress self-reliance and taking responsibility for one’s
well-being, especially in terms of arming in
self-defense against troublemakers, while others

emphasize relying on police protection and collec-
tive undertakings meant to eradicate the social roots
of crime, helps to clarify the differing assumptions
and values that underlie political conflicts between
those believing in right wing as opposed to left
wing ideologies.

Delving into the dark side of family life—child
abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse—sheds light
on the all-too-common dysfunctional relationships
that undermine the notion of being “safe at home”
as a sanctuary from the cruelties of the outside
world, and suggests ways to prevent or correct
these difficult situations.

Investigating how the police and courts handle
the casualties of interpersonal violence uncovers the
criminal justice system’s priorities, and the extent to
which agencies that are supposed to deliver “blind
justice” and treat persons equally actually take into
account the victim’s social class, race, sex, and
age. It also reveals how injured parties define
the elusive ideal of “justice” in terms of varying
beliefs about vengeance, penitence, forgiveness, and

Examining the way victims were treated in the
past and how they are responded to in other socie-
ties reveals what has been, what might be, what
should be avoided, and what ought to be emulated
and adopted.


Criminologists generally study people who are
labeled as “predators” and “convicts” because of
the most antisocial and harmful acts they are
known to have committed. Those who are sympa-
thetic to offenders as troubled souls argue that people
should not be judged solely by the worst things they
have done. Victimologists generally study individuals
at the most vulnerable and miserable points in
their lives. But examining the range in reactions of
persons under attack sometimes provides an oppor-
tunity to see people at their very best, not just at

W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 33

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their low points. Consider how these individuals
who were targeted by offenders responded in ways
that are worthy of respect, even admiration:

A mother visiting a friend’s house logs in to her
sophisticated home-surveillance system to see if a
snowstorm has started yet, and using her infrared
camera trained on her backyard is startled to spot an
intruder climbing into her house. As he begins to
ransack her home, she watches in real time video, and
then hurriedly calls 911. When the burglar spies the
flashlight beams of the responding officers, he panics
and bolts outside. She directs the police to his hiding
spot, and after a brief chase, he is captured. (Yan,

A 15-year-old girl opens the door to what appears to
be a deliveryman in uniform. She recognizes him as
her former uncle who is furiously looking for his ex-
wife, and tries to slam the door shut, but he kicks it
in. He pulls out a gun and ties her up, along with
her four sisters and brothers. When her parents return
home, the man ties them up too and orders all seven
members of the family to lie face-down on the floor
and to tell him where he can find his ex-wife. When
his former in-laws and their children insist they don’t
know where she is, he methodically shoots each one in
the head. The girl is wounded but plays dead until he
runs out. Then she quickly calls 911, tells the police
that her parents and siblings have been murdered,
and warns them that the killer is on his way to his
ex-wife’s parents’ home. He is intercepted and
apprehended before he can shoot anyone else.
(Fredericks, 2014)

A 27-year-old woman who stands four feet, five
inches and weighs 90 pounds is behind the counter of
her family’s suburban convenience store when a six-
foot-tall man wearing a mask pulls a gun and
brandishes it in her face. The angry gunman screams,
“Hurry up! Give me the money!,” but she stalls and
makes believe she can’t open the cash register. When
the robber turns to see if anyone is looking, she grabs
a three-foot ax hidden behind the counter and starts

swinging it wildly, yelling, “Get out of here!” He
flees empty-handed. She confides to detectives and a
reporter that “I was scared, I was shaking. I didn’t
want to hit him, I just wanted him to get out.”
(Crowley, 2007)

A 31-year-old social worker is about to go to dinner
after a long day on a cold night when he is suddenly
confronted by a teenager wielding a knife. He hands
over his wallet to the young robber and then offers
him his coat too, surmising, “If you are willing to
risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you
must really need the money.” Then he takes the
emotionally confused adolescent to a restaurant.
When it is time to pay for the meal, the teenager
gives back his wallet, and even hands over his knife.
The social worker sums up their encounter to an
interviewer: “If you treat people right, you can only
hope that they treat you right. That’s as simple as it
gets in this complicated world.” (NPR, 2008)

A “gentleman” holds a lobby door open for a 101-
year-old woman who is on her way to church. But
then he hits her so hard that blood spurts out her
mouth and nose. A surveillance camera in the hall-
way shows the robber striking her over and over until
she finally relinquishes her grip on her handbag con-
taining $23. Her face bleeds for two weeks and her
right arm never heals properly. But nearly a year
later, she hobbles into a courtroom to identify the 45-
year-old defendant as the man who mugged her. Her
testimony at this special evidentiary hearing is pre-
served on videotape just in case she is unable to
appear as a witness for the prosecution at the trial.
(Farmer, 2008)

A 35-year-old woman is beaten, robbed, and
repeatedly raped for two hours in a dingy garage. In
court, the courageous single mother testifies that while
the gunman kept sexually assaulting her, “I had to
keep myself from going crazy. I just hummed to
myself.” Realizing that the humming also calmed the
rapist, she begins to give him a massage and to talk

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soothingly to him. As they converse, the 45-year-old
assailant apologizes, and then discloses his name and
even his date of birth, which later enables detectives to
track him down. (Shifrel, 2007a)

A 45-year-old teacher is kidnapped in a shopping
mall parking lot by a gun-toting teenage carjacker.
She secretly turns on a micro-cassette recorder to
gather evidence just in case she can’t convince the
youth to let her go. During her final 46 minutes, she
persuades the carjacker to discuss his childhood and
his experiences in the military, descriptions which
later provide detectives with valuable clues. She also
reads passages to him from a psychology textbook;
urges him to live a meaningful life and to find God;
promises to help him land a job; and sobs as she
describes how she treasures being a mother to her
young son. But it is all to no avail. He doesn’t shoot
her, but smothers her with her own coat, which con-
tains the tape recorder in a pocket that leads to his
capture. (Jones, 2007)

Victimology is not the cold or dismal discipline
it might appear to be at first glance. Victimologists
are not morbidly curious about or preoccupied
with misfortune, loss, tragedy, pain, grief, death,
and mourning. Of course, because of its inherently
negative subject matter, the discipline is problem-
oriented by nature. However, victimologists also
take part in furthering positive developments and
constructive activities when they seek to discover
effective ways of coping with hardships, transcend-
ing adversity, reimbursing financial losses, speeding
up the healing process, promoting reconciliation
between parties enmeshed in conflicts, and restor-
ing harmony to a strife-torn community.

What insights that could advance an under-
standing of resilience in the struggle to fully recover
from a shattering, life-threatening experience might
be gleaned from these cases?

A mentally deranged 60-year-old woman shoots a
member of a sheriff’s department SWAT team in the
neck. Formerly known as “the most in shape” dep-
uty by his fellow officers, he wakes up as a quadri-
plegic, confined to a wheel chair. But with great

determination he remains focused on his goal of
returning to work at a desk job in the narcotics squad,
observing “Your future is kind of bleak when you’ve
got tubes coming out of you and everyone is saying
you’ll never walk again.… But if you stay mad
about it all the time, you’re not doing anything good
for yourself.” Supported by his family and colleagues,
he optimistically reports signs of progress. “There
have been a lot of little instances, like being able to
pick up a … potato chip and eat it with my hands.”
(Young, 2008)

As part of a gang initiation ritual, a thirteen-year-old
boy is given a gun and told to use it. He confronts a
young mother, yells, “Give it up!” and shoots her in
a panic when she screams. The bullet rips through her
jaw and teeth, requiring her to undergo ten years of
agonizing reconstruction surgery. When he is caught,
he is prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole. And
yet, when he telephones her from prison after several
years, she accepts the collect charges, even though she
still is in terrible pain and can’t eat. He apologizes
for his “mistake” and for decades afterwards, they
write letters to each other. She becomes friends with
her assailant’s mother and brother, and despite con-
cerns by her husband and friends, urges the judge
(unsuccessfully) to release him from prison (Kristof,

A member of congress is shaking hands with consti-
tuents at a supermarket, when a deranged college
student emerges from the crowd and opens fire. Six
people are killed, and thirteen are wounded, includ-
ing the congresswoman, who is shot in the forehead.
Doctors estimate she has a one in ten chance to live,
but she pulls through. At her lowest ebb, she is not
even able to smile, and experts doubt that she will
ever speak or walk again. But with the help of her
astronaut husband, her family, and dedicated mem-
bers of the hospital staff, she summons up astonishing
tenacity and one breath and one hard fought word at
a time, recovers from her catastrophic head wound
better than expected. When asked in a television

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interview if she was ever angry about what happened
to her, she replies haltingly, “No. No. No. Life.
Life.” A few years later, she tells a crowd “I am
working hard, lots of therapy: speech therapy, phys-
ical therapy, and yoga too.” She insists, “My spirit
is strong as ever”… and “I am still fighting to make
the world a better place and you can too.” (Curry,
2011; Freking, 2011; and Walshe, 2014)

Evidently, studying how injured parties
respond to their plight can yield some unanticipated
benefits. Victimologists can gain a more complete
understanding and appreciation of the full range of
possible reactions to attacks. Some individuals cope
with their misfortunes in ways that are clever, bold,
even courageous, and demonstrate a determination
to behave with dignity and to pursue an unwaver-
ing commitment to justice. These persons can serve
as positive role models for other wounded people
who are seeking to recover from setbacks and over-
come hardships.


Some people who have been seriously harmed by
criminals prefer to be called survivors rather than
victims because of the term’s positive connotations—
that they are rebounding are exercising “agency” to
take charge of their lives and demonstrating their
resiliency to adversity. They see the term “victim”
as carrying a lot of unwanted baggage, such as being
“bested,” “vanquished,” and a “loser.” Already,
the expressions “survivors of incest, rape, intimate
partner violence, and child abuse” are widely used
(but not of robberies or shootings—at least not yet).

Similarly, some people initially attracted to the
discipline of victimology may begin to fear that it is
mired in negativity and preoccupied with pain, loss,
sorrow, hostility, and recriminations. Learning bitter
lessons from mistakes and feeling empathy toward
those who are suffering may not be sufficient incen-
tives to study victimology. What advocates, members
of the helping professions, and injured parties

themselves need to find out more about is how cer-
tain seriously wounded persons are able to go beyond
“just coping.” As it is put glibly in everyday language,
some seem able to “get over it,” “get past it,” “put it
behind them,” and “get on with their lives.” How do
they do it? What is the secret of their success? What
personality traits, coping skills, inner resources, and
belief systems enable individuals who have endured
shattering experiences to emerge from a period of
bereavement, depression, and anger, reconsider
their priorities, and return to their previous lives or
perhaps reorient themselves to new lifestyles (see Ai
and Park, 2005; and Underwood, 2009).

This potentially upbeat tendency within vic-
timology could be termed survivorology. Just as
gravely ill persons, refugees from war-torn coun-
tries, captives who were cruelly tortured, or
severely wounded soldiers can demonstrate great
resolve to make the most out of their remaining
time on earth and make impressive strides to piece
back together their disrupted lives, so too might
individuals who sustained vicious attacks want to
make the transition from victim to survivor.
Researchers—and the general public—can find
the outlooks and actions of certain exemplary indi-
viduals who have suffered through shocking ordeals
to be admirable, uplifting, and even inspiring.
Within victimology, survivorology could focus on
these success stories, in which individuals whose
lives looked so bleak in the immediate aftermath
of a terrible crime made great progress, surmounted
obstacles, overcame severe limitations, and trans-
formed a crisis into an opportunity.

The overarching theme of survivorology could
be to “discover the common threads that underlie the
secrets of their success” and determine how they did
it: Was their recovery and new trajectory built upon
faith and spirituality, inner strengths and outstanding
character traits, the crucial support provided by others
(family members, close friends, volunteers and men-
tors, or perhaps fellow sufferers in self-help groups),
government-funded social programs, immersion
in activism, or some other source of courage and
perseverance? And what special opportunities would
other individuals in similar dire straits need to make a
successful reentry back into society? To spur the

36 C H A P T E R 1

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development of survivorology as an area of concentra-
tion within victimology that accentuates the positive,
two key concepts need to be operationalized: resiliency
(roughly speaking, the ability to rebound after a serious
setback) and recovery (basically, regaining control over
one’s life, recuperating, restoring, returning to the con-
dition the person was in before the crime took place).
Once these two concepts of resiliency and recovery are

operationalized as variables whose magnitude can be
estimated numerically and not designated simply as a
dichotomous all or nothing situation, then different
degrees of resilience and rates of recovery need to be
investigated for various groups of victims.

The more survivorology is developed, the less
victimology will be preoccupied solely with suffer-
ing, loss, and negativity (see Box 1.6).


Victimization is an asymmetrical relationship that is
abusive, parasitical, destructive, unfair, and illegal.
Offenders harm their victims physically, financially,
and emotionally. Until recently, the plight of crime
victims was largely overlooked, even by most crim-
inologists. When some researchers began to study
victims, their initial interest betrayed an antivictim
bias: They sought evidence that the victims’ behav-
ior before and during the incidents contributed to
their own downfall. Since the 1960s, the majority
of the social scientists attracted to this new discipline
have labored to find ways to ease the suffering of
victims and to prevent future incidents. But a com-
mitment to strive for objectivity rather than to be

reflexively pro-victim is the best stance to adopt
when carrying out research or evaluating the effec-
tiveness of policies.

Victimology is best viewed as an area of spe-
cialization within criminology. Both criminologists
and victimologists seek to be impartial in their roles
as social scientists when investigating lawbreaking,
its social consequences, and the official responses by
the justice system. But much of criminology in the
past can be characterized as “offenderology,” so the
new focus on those who are on the receiving end
of interpersonal violence and theft provides some
balance and rounds out any analysis of problems
arising from lawbreaking behavior.

B O X 1.6 Questions to Spur the Development of Survivorology

How can the concept of “survivor” be operationalized so
that it is not too restrictive and yet not too inclusive?

What is resilience, and how can it be measured as a
matter of degree?

What is recovery, and how can it be measured as a
matter of degree?

Which groups of victims (such as those who have
endured repeated beatings, childhood sexual abuse,
rapes, shootings, or the loss of a loved one who died
violently) have the most success—and the most
difficulty—recovering from their ordeals?

Which groups of victims show the most resilience in
terms of characteristics such as age, sex, race and
ethnicity, education, income, and occupation?

What forms of social support (such as strong family ties,
close bonds with friends, financial reimbursement, gov-
ernment programs, individual and group counseling,
and camaraderie from a self-help group)
improve the prospects for as well as the rate of

What aspects of an individual’s character and
which personality traits foster resiliency and

What can crime victims learn about resiliency and
recovery from the travails of individuals who endured
devastating losses due to political oppression, natural
disasters, life-threatening illnesses, and other near-
death experiences—and vice-versa.

W H A T I S V I C T I M O L O G Y ? 37

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Victimologists carry out studies that seek to
identify, define, and describe all the ways that illegal
activities harm targeted individuals; to measure the
seriousness of the problem; to discover how victims’

cases are actually handled by the legal system; and
to test research hypotheses (for example, about
bystanders or survivors) to see if they are supported
by the available evidence.


bystanderology, 20

criminology, 18

direct or primary
victims, 2

ideal type, 5

ideology, 14

indirect or secondary
victims, 2

just deserts, 23

muggability ratings, 25

needs assessment, 27

objectivity, 3

offenderology, 20

operationalize, 26

operationalized, 30

post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), 22

prevalence rate, 29

principle of
homogamy, 30

socially constructed, 24

Stockholm syndrome,

subjective approach, 3

survivorology, 36

survivors, 36

victim, 2

victimism, 14

victimization, 2

victimology, 2


1. Why should victimologists strive for objectivity
rather than automatically adopt a pro-victim bias?

2. Give several examples of the kinds of research
questions that victimologists find interesting
and the kinds of studies they carry out.

3. In what ways are victimology and criminology
similar, and in what ways do they differ?

4. Should bystanders be required to notify the
police about serious crimes that they directly


1. How should the police and the public react
when hardcore criminals, such as mobsters,
drug dealers, and street gang members fight
among themselves and become casualties of

2. Generate a list of questions about stabbings that
would be of great interest to a victimologist
working within (a) an anthropological frame-
work, (b) a historical approach, and
(c) an economic perspective.


1. Perform a keyword search of a comprehensive
database of magazines and newspaper articles
and blog postings to discover whether the term
victimology is still being misused and confused
with the ideology of victimism.

2. Use a comprehensive database of magazines
and newspaper articles to determine whether
any cases currently in the news illustrate the
difficulty of identifying which party clearly is
the criminal and which is the victim.

38 C H A P T E R 1

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The Rediscovery
of Crime Victims

The Discovery, Decline, and Rediscovery of Crime


Social Movements:
Taking Up the Victims’ Cause

Elected Officials: Enacting Laws Named after Victims
The News Media: Portraying the Victims’ Plight
Commercial Interests: Selling Security Products and

Services to Victims
Victimology Contributes to the Rediscovery Process

Rediscovering Additional Groups of Victims

The Rediscovery Process in Action, Step by Step

Stage 1: Calling Attention to an Overlooked Problem
Stage 2: Winning Victories, Implementing Reforms
Stage 3: Emergence of an Opposition and Development

of Resistance to Further Changes
Stage 4: Research and Temporary Resolution of



Key Terms Defined in the Glossary

Questions for Discussion and Debate

Critical Thinking Questions

Suggested Research Projects

To trace how changes in the criminal justice system

over the centuries have impacted the role of victims
in the legal process.

To find out how and why the plight of victims has
been rediscovered in recent decades by various
social movements and groups.

To become familiar with the stages of the rediscovery

To apply the concept of rediscovery to specific groups
of victims mentioned in the news.

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Each law that prohibits a certain act as being harm-
ful defines the wrongdoer as a criminal subject to
punishment and at the same time specifies that the
injured party is a victim deserving some sort of
redress. The laws forbidding what are now called
street crimes—murder, rape, robbery, assault,
burglary, and theft—can be traced back several
thousand years. Hence, victims of interpersonal vio-
lence and theft were “discovered” ages ago, in the
sense that they were formally identified and offi-
cially recognized.

Scholars of the history of the legal system
report that in past centuries victims played a leading
role in the resolution of criminal matters. To dis-
courage retaliation by victims and their families—
acts that could lead to endless feuding if offenders
and their kin counterattacked—societies in simpler
times established direct repayment schemes. Legal
codes around the world enabled injured parties to
receive money or valuables from wrongdoers to
compensate for the pain, suffering, and losses they

This process of victim-oriented justice pre-
vailed mostly in small villages engaged in farming,
where social relations were based on personal obli-
gations, clear-cut family ties, strong religious beliefs,
and sacred traditions. But the injured party’s role
diminished as industrialization and urbanization
brought about business relations that were volun-
tary, secular, impersonal, rationalized, and contrac-
tual. Over the centuries, victims lost control over
the process of determining the fate of the offenders
who hurt them. Instead, the local governmental
structure dominated judicial proceedings and
extracted fines from convicts, physically punished
them, or even executed them. The seriousness of
the wounds and losses inflicted upon victims were
of importance only for determining the charges and
penalties wrongdoers faced upon conviction.
Restoring injured parties to the condition they
were in before the crimes occurred was no longer
the main concern. In fact, the recovery of damages

became a separate matter that was handled in
another arena (civil court) according to a different
set of rules (tort law) after criminal proceedings
were concluded (Schafer, 1968).

Historically, in the United States and in other
parts of the world, the situations of victims followed
the same evolutionary path from being at the center
of the legal process to being relegated to the side-
lines. When the 13 American colonies were settled
initially by immigrants from Great Britain in the
1600s, the earliest penal codes were based on reli-
gious values as well as English common law.
During the colonial era, police forces and public
prosecutors had not yet been established. Victims
were the key decision makers within the rudimen-
tary criminal justice system and were its direct ben-
eficiaries. They conducted their own investigations,
paid for warrants to have sheriffs make arrests, and
hired private attorneys to indict and prosecute their
alleged attackers. Convicts were forced to repay
those they harmed up to three times the value of
the goods they had damaged or stolen (Schafer,

But after the American Revolution and the
adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,
crimes were reconceptualized as hostile acts
directed against the authority of the government,
which was defined as the representative of the peo-
ple. Addressing the suffering imposed upon indivi-
duals was deemed to be less important than dealing
with the symbolic threat to the social order posed
by lawbreakers. Public prosecutors, acting on
behalf of the state and in the name of the entire
society, took over the powers and responsibilities
formerly exercised by victims. Federal, state, and
county (district) attorneys were granted the discre-
tion to decide whether to press charges against
defendants and what sanctions to ask judges to
impose upon convicts.

The goals of deterring crime through punish-
ment, protecting society by incapacitating danger-
ous people in prisons or through executions, and
rehabilitating transgressors through treatment came
to overshadow victims’ demands to be restored to
financial, emotional, and physical health.

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Over the last two centuries, the government
increasingly has assumed the obligation of providing
jail detainees and prison inmates with food, cloth-
ing, housing, supervision, medical care, recreational
opportunities, schooling, job training, psychological
counseling, and legal representation—while leaving
victims to fend for themselves. As they lost control
over “their” cases, their role dwindled to just two
contributions: filing a complaint with the police
that initiated an investigation and, if necessary, tes-
tifying for the prosecution as another piece of evi-
dence in the state’s presentation of damning facts
against the accused.

When plea negotiation (a settlement worked
out by the prosecutor and the defense attorney)
replaced a trial as the most common means of
resolving criminal cases, victims lost their last
opportunity to actively participate in the process
by presenting their firsthand experiences on the
witness stand to a jury. Victims rarely were included
and consulted when the police and prosecution
team decided upon their strategies and goals. To
add insult to injury, often they were not even
informed of the outcomes of “their” cases. Thor-
oughly marginalized, victims frequently sensed that
they had been taken advantage of twice: first by
the offender and then by a system that ostensibly
was set up to help them but in reality seemed
more intent on satisfying the needs of its core agen-
cies and key officials (see Schafer, 1968; McDonald,
1977; and Davis, Kunreuther, and Connick, 1984).

After centuries of neglect, those on the receiv-
ing end of violence and theft were given renewed
attention and, in effect, were rediscovered during
the late 1950s and early 1960s. A small number
of self-help advocates, social scientists, crusading
journalists, enlightened criminal justice officials,
and responsive lawmakers helped channel the
public’s attention to a festering problem: the total
disregard of the needs and wants of victims.
Through publications, meetings, rallies, and
petition drives, these activists promoted their mes-
sage: that victims were forgotten figures in the
criminal justice process whose best interests were
systematically overlooked but merited attention.
Discussion and debate emerged during the late

1960s and has intensified throughout the following
decades over why this injustice existed and what
could be done about it. Various groups with
their own distinct agendas formed coalitions and
mobilized to campaign for reforms. As a result,
new laws favorable to victims are being passed,
and criminal justice policies are being overhauled.

A number of distinct groups and constituen-
cies are responsible for this ongoing process of
rediscovery. They include a wide variety of social
movements; elected officials; commercial interests;
the news media; and scholars, researchers, and

Social Movements:
Taking Up the Victims’ Cause

Aside from suffering harm at the hands of criminals,
victims as a group may have very little else in com-
mon. They differ in terms of age, sex, race/ethnic-
ity, religion, social class, political orientation, and
many other important characteristics. Therefore, it
has been difficult to organize them into self-help
groups and to harness their energies into a political
force for change. Despite these obstacles, a crime
victims’ movement emerged during the 1970s. It
has developed into a broad alliance of activists,
support groups, and advocacy organizations that
lobbies for increased rights and expanded services,
demonstrates at trials, maintains a variety of web-
sites, educates the public, trains criminal justice
professionals and caregivers, sets up research insti-
tutes and information clearinghouses, designs and
evaluates experimental policies, and holds confer-
ences to share experiences and develop innovative

The guiding principle holding this diverse coa-
lition together is the belief that victims who other-
wise would feel powerless and enraged can attain a
sense of empowerment and regain control over
their lives through practical assistance, mutual sup-
port, and involvement in the criminal justice pro-
cess (see Friedman, 1985; Smith, 1985; Smith,
Sloan, and Ward, 1990; and Weed, 1995).

The victims’ movement has greatly benefited
from the work of advocates, who, by definition,

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speak in behalf of someone else, especially in legal
matters. Originally, advocates were referred to as
“ombudsmen.” Rape crisis centers and shelters for
battered women were the first to empower their
clients in the early 1970s by furnishing them with
the services of dedicated and knowledgeable people
to consult with who understood how the criminal
justice process worked and how to make the system
more responsive to their clients’ needs. These pio-
neers in advocacy usually were former victims who
knew firsthand what the injured parties were going
through. A Florida police department and a
Chicago legal services organization were the first
components of the justice system to routinely pro-
vide advocates in the mid-1970s. Shortly afterward,
prosecutors’ victim–witness assistance programs
(VWAPs) and family courts (responsible for assign-
ing guardians ad litem to represent the best interests
of abused children) followed suit. In addition to
survivors and volunteers, professionals in the help-
ing fields (such as social workers, nurses, psycholo-
gists, psychiatrists, counselors, and lawyers) began to
offer their specialized skills. Agencies provided
short-term training in crisis intervention techniques
and practical assistance with financial claims, court
proceedings, and referrals to medical, mental health,
and legal services. Courses and career preparation
became available on college campuses. Two forms
of advocacy developed: Case advocacy involves a
one-on-one relationship with a client who needs
specific assistance and focused guidance for a short
period of time. System advocacy involves repre-
senting an entire group as part of an organized lob-
bying campaign to bring about procedural reforms
that will ease their plight (Dussich, 2009a).

Major Sources of Inspiration, Guidance, and
Support Several older and broader social move-
ments have greatly influenced the growth and orienta-
tion of the victims’ movement. The most important
contributions have been made by the law-and-order
movement, the women’s movement, and the
civil rights movement.

The law-and-order movement of the 1960s
raised concerns about the plight of victims of street
crimes of violence and theft. Alarmed by surging

crime rates, conservatives adopted the “crime con-
trol” perspective and campaigned for hard-line, get-
tough policies. They insisted that the criminal jus-
tice system was society’s first line of defense against
internal enemies who threatened chaos and destruc-
tion. The “thin blue line” of law enforcement
needed to be strengthened. A willingness to tolerate
too much misbehavior was viewed as the problem,
and a crackdown on social and political deviants
who disobeyed society’s rules and disrupted the
lives of conventional people was offered as
the solution. To win over people who might
have been reluctant to grant more power to gov-
ernment agencies—police, prosecutors, and prison
authorities—they argued that the average American
should be more worried about becoming a victim
than about being falsely accused, mistakenly con-
victed, and unjustly punished (Hook, 1972). Con-
servative crime control advocates pictured the scales
of justice as being unfairly tilted in favor of the “bad
guys” at the expense of the “good guys”—the
innocent, law-abiding citizens and their allies on
the police force and in the prosecutor’s office. In a
smooth-running justice system that they envi-
sioned, punishment would be swift and sure. Attor-
neys for defendants would no longer be able to take
advantage of practices that were dismissed as “loop-
holes” and “technicalities” that undermined the
government’s efforts to arrest, detain, convict,
imprison, deter, incapacitate, and impose retribu-
tion on wrongdoers.

“Permissiveness” (unwarranted leniency) and
any “coddling of criminals” would end: More
offenders would be locked up for longer periods
of time, and fewer would be granted bail, proba-
tion, or parole. Liberals and civil libertarians who
opposed these policies as being too repressive and
overly punitive were branded as “pro-criminal” and
“antivictim” (see Miller, 1973; and Carrington,

In contrast, liberal activists in the women’s
movement have focused their energies since the
late 1960s on aiding one group of victims in partic-
ular: females who were harmed by males and then
failed to receive the support they deserved from the
male-dominated criminal justice system. Feminists

42 C H A P T E R 2

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launched both an antirape and an antibattering
movement. The antirape movement set up the
first rape crisis centers in Berkeley, California, and
Washington, D.C., in 1972. These centers were not
just places of aid and comfort in a time of pain and
confusion. They also were rallying sites for outreach
efforts to those who were suffering in isolation,
meeting places for consciousness-raising groups
exploring the patriarchal cultural traditions that
encouraged males to subjugate females, and hubs
for political organizing to change laws and policies
(see Rose, 1977; Largen, 1981; and Schechter,
1982). Some antirape activists went on to protest
the widespread problem of sexual harassment on
the street, uniting behind the slogan “Take back
the night” (see Lederer, 1980).

Other feminists helped organize battered
women’s shelters. They established the first “safe
house” in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1974. Campaigns
to end battering paralleled activities to combat rape
in a number of ways. Both projects were initiated
for the most part by former victims who viewed
their plight as an outgrowth of larger societal pro-
blems and institutional arrangements, rather than as
personal troubles stemming from their own indi-
vidual shortcomings. Both sought to empower
women by confronting established male authority,
challenging existing procedures, providing peer
support and advocacy, and devising alternative
places to turn to in a time of need. The overall
analysis that originally guided these pro-victim
efforts was that male versus female offenses (such
as rape, wife beating, sexual harassment in the
streets and at work, and incest at home) pose a
threat to all women and slows progress toward
equality between the sexes. The gravest dangers
are faced by women who are socially disadvantaged
because of racial discrimination and economic inse-
curity. According to this philosophy, girls and
women victimized by boys and men cannot count
on the privileged males at the helm of criminal jus-
tice agencies to lead the struggle to effectively pro-
tect or assist them—instead, women must empower
each other (see Brownmiller, 1975).

Similarly, liberal activists in the civil rights
movement focused their energies on opposing

entrenched racist beliefs and discriminatory prac-
tices that encouraged members of the white major-
ity to intimidate, harass, and attack people of color.
Over the decades since the 1950s, this movement
has brought together organizations representing the
interests of a wide range of minority groups, in
order to direct attention to the special threats
posed by racist violence, from lynch mobs to Ku
Klux Klan terrorism in the form of bombings and

In recent years, one of the movement’s major
concerns has been convincing the government to
provide enhanced protection to individuals who
are the targets of bias crimes, which are motivated
by the perpetrators’ hatred of the “kind of person”
the victim represents. Bias crimes can range from
harassment and vandalism to arson, beatings, and
slayings. Civil rights groups have been instrumental
in lobbying state legislatures to impose stiffer penal-
ties on attackers whose behavior is fueled by bigotry
and in establishing specialized police squads to more
effectively deter or solve these inflammatory viola-
tions of the law. Otherwise, these divisive crimes
could polarize communities along racial and ethnic
lines and thereby undermine the ongoing American
experiment of fostering multicultural tolerance
and the celebration of diversity (see Levin and
McDevitt, 2003).

Civil rights organizations also try to mobilize
public support to demand evenhandedness in the
administration of justice. A double standard,
although more subtle today than in the past, may
still infect the operations of the criminal justice sys-
tem. Crimes by black perpetrators against white
victims always have been taken very seriously—
thoroughly investigated, quickly solved, vigorously
prosecuted, and severely punished. However,
crimes by white offenders against black victims, as
well as by blacks against other blacks (see Ebony,
1979) have rarely evoked the same governmental
response and public outrage. The more frequent
imposition of the death penalty on murderers
who kill whites, especially blacks who slay whites,
is the clearest example of a discriminatory double
standard (see Baldus, 2003). Civil rights activists
also point out that members of minority groups

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continue to face graver risks of becoming victims of
official misconduct in the form of racial profiling
and police brutality—or even worse, the unjustified
use of deadly force—as well as false accusations,
frame-ups, wrongful convictions, and other miscar-
riages of justice.

Additional Contributions by Other Social
Movements Social movements that champion
the causes of civil liberties, children’s rights, senior
citizens’ rights, homosexual rights, and self-help also
have made significant contributions to bettering the
situation of victims.

The civil liberties movement’s primary focus
is to preserve constitutional safeguards and due pro-
cess guarantees that protect suspects, arrestees,
defendants, and prisoners from abuses of govern-
mental power by overzealous criminal justice offi-
cials. However, civil liberties organizations have
won court victories that have benefited victims of
street crime in two ways: by furthering police pro-
fessionalism and by extending the doctrine of
“equal protection under the law.”

In professionalized police departments, officers
must meet higher educational and training require-
ments and must abide by more demanding stan-
dards. As a result, victims are more likely to
receive prompt responses, effective service, and
sensitive treatment. If they don’t, channels exist
through which they can redress their grievances.
Guarantees of equal protection enable minority
communities to gain access to the police and pros-
ecutorial assistance to which they are entitled and to
insist upon their right to improved, more profes-
sionally trained law enforcement in contrast to
the under-policing they endured until recently.
This improves the prospects for careful and respon-
sive handling for complainants whose calls for
help were given short shrift in the past when offi-
cials discriminated against them due to their race,
ethnicity, sex, age, social class, disability, or some
other disadvantage (Walker, 1982; and Stark and
Goldstein, 1985).

Children’s rights groups campaign against
sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe corporal
punishment, gross neglect, and other forms of

maltreatment of youngsters. Their successes include
stricter reporting requirements of cases of suspected
abuse; improved procedures for arrest, prosecution,
and conviction of offenders; greater sensitivity to
the needs of victimized children as complaining
witnesses; enhanced protection and prevention
services; and more effective parenting instruction

At the other end of the age spectrum, activists
in senior citizens’ groups have pressured some
police departments to establish special squads to
protect older people from younger robbers and
swindlers and have brought about greater awareness
of the problem of elder abuse—financial, emo-
tional, and physical mistreatment by family mem-
bers or caretakers (see Smith and Freinkel, 1988).

The gay rights movement originally called
attention to the vulnerability of male homosexuals
and lesbians to blackmail, exploitation by organized
crime syndicates that ran bars and clubs, and police
harassment of those who deserved protection (see
Maghan and Sagarin, 1983). The movement now
focuses on preventing street assaults (“gay-bashing”)
against suspected homosexuals and lesbians—hate
crimes that are motivated by the offenders’ disdain
for the victims’ presumed sexual orientation.

Groups that are part of the self-help move-
ment have set up dependable support systems for
injured parties by combining the participatory spirit
of the grassroots protest movements of the 1960s
with the self-improvement ideals of the human
potential movement of the 1970s. The ideology of
self-help is based upon a fundamental organizing
principle: that people who have directly experi-
enced the pain and suffering of being harmed and
are still struggling to overcome these hardships
themselves can foster a sense of solidarity and
mutual support that is more comforting and effec-
tive than the services offered by impersonal bureau-
cracies and emotionally detached professional
caregivers (Gartner and Riessman, 1980).

Even the prisoners’ rights movement of the
late 1960s and early 1970s may have inspired victim
activism. Inmates rebelled at a number of cor-
rectional institutions, often in vicious and counter-
productive ways. They protested overcrowded

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conditions; demanded decent living standards;
insisted on greater ways of communicating with
the outside world (via uncensored mail, access to
the mass media, more family visits, and meetings
with lawyers); asked for freedom of religion; called
for more opportunities for rehabilitation, education,
and job training; and complained about mistreat-
ment and brutality by guards (see ACLU, 2008).
Many people harmed by these incarcerated offen-
ders surely wondered, “if convicts deserve better
treatment from the authorities, don’t we, too?”

The task for victimologists is to assess the
impact that all these other social movements have
had on shaping the course of the victims’ move-
ment over the decades, as well as on alleviating
the suffering of persons harmed by criminals these
days. How effective and influential have the victo-
ries of these campaigns really been?

Elected Officials: Enacting Laws Named
after Victims

Legislators engaged in the political process of enact-
ing new laws have helped to rediscover specific
groups and address their plight. Starting in the
1980s, federal, state, and local representatives real-
ized that if they proposed a new law and named it
after someone who had suffered terribly in a highly
publicized crime, their campaign would gain a great
deal of favorable media coverage that would help
build support for the law’s passage as well as for
their own reelection. All suggestions for revisions
and additions to the existing body of laws can be
controversial and might provoke opposition, but
officeholders who dare to argue against proposed
legislation that enshrines the name of an innocent
person harmed by a vicious predator run the risk of
being branded “antivictim.”

Probably the best-known example of a law
bearing the name of a crime victim is the Brady
Bill, or more formally, the Handgun Violence Preven-
tion Act. The title honors James Brady, President
Reagan’s press secretary, who was shot in the head
in 1981 by an assassin trying to kill the president (the
gunfire killed two persons guarding the president).
Passed in 1993, it imposed a computer-based FBI

criminal background check on anyone who seeks
to buy a firearm from a federally licensed dealer, in
a stepped-up attempt to protect the public from
individuals deemed to be dangerous (who had
been forbidden by federal law from purchasing fire-
arms since 1968, as a reaction to the assassination of
President Kennedy in 1963).

Another bill bearing a victim’s name is the
Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and
Campus Crime Statistics Act (originally referred to as
the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act).
Named to memorialize a 19-year-old freshman
who was raped and murdered in her dorm by
another student, it was enacted in 1990. This fed-
eral law requires all colleges that receive federal aid
to maintain and disclose annual reports about a long
list of crimes that take place on or near their cam-
puses so that prospective students and their parents
can assess the relative risks of attending various insti-
tutions of higher learning.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act
went into effect in 2008. It set up a cold case unit
within the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen
and investigate bias-motivated murders committed
before 1970. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black
teenager, was kidnapped, tortured, shot, and
dumped into a river in 1955 by two white racists
for flirting with the wife of one of the two men at a
grocery store in rural Mississippi (see Anderson,

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate
Crimes Prevention Act was passed by Congress in
2009. Named to commemorate a gay college stu-
dent who was beaten to death by bigots, and an
African-American man who was dragged to his
death behind a pickup truck by white supremacists,
the legislation expanded the coverage of the federal
government’s hate-crime law, which was originally
passed in 1969.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act,
also known as the Sex Offender Registration and
Notification Act (SORNA), was enacted by Con-
gress in 2006. Named in the memory of a six-
year-old who was abducted from a department
store and then viciously murdered, the act strength-
ened sex offender registration requirements, stiffened

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the penalties of existing laws forbidding sexually
abusing and exploiting children, and extended
federal authority over kidnappings.

Over the decades, many state legislatures have
passed statutes named after victims, such as New
Jersey’s Megan’s Law. Commemorating a seven-
year-old girl slain in 1994 by her next-door neigh-
bor, a habitual child molester, each state’s version of
Megan’s Law mandates that convicted sex offenders
register with their local police department and that
community residents be notified of their where-
abouts, so that parents—in theory, at least—can
take steps to better shield their children from
these potentially dangerous strangers.

Since the 1980s, state and county legislatures
nationwide have enacted thousands of new laws
named after victims (see Editors, New York Post,
2006; and Lovett, 2006). Two very different con-
clusions about the rediscovery of the victim’s plight
by lawmakers can be drawn. The first is to view
certain headline-making tragedies as a “final
straw” that focused much-needed attention on a
festering problem, mobilized public opinion, and
triggered long overdue legislative action by well-
meaning elected officials. The other response is to
suspect that vote-seeking politicians are exploiting
the media attention surrounding highly emotional
but very complicated situations for their own per-
sonal advantage (to advance their careers). They
grab headlines by proposing a change in the existing
body of law that will allegedly prevent such an inci-
dent from happening again. The strong feelings
evoked by a recent tragedy make it difficult for
opponents to question the wisdom of implement-
ing the “reforms” these ambitious, headline-seeking
politicians propose in the name of the victim.

The task for victimologists is to start out as
impartial observers and to gather data to see
whether the legislation bearing the name of a vic-
tim actually offers any tangible assistance to ease the
plight of individuals harmed in this particular man-
ner. Also, are these measures really effective in pre-
venting innocent people from being hurt by these
kinds of offenses in the future, or do they just pun-
ish offenders more severely on behalf of those they
already injured? Some of these recent legal reforms

enacted to ostensibly reduce the occurrence of a
certain kind of victimization might turn out to
be ill-conceived, seriously flawed, ineffective, or
even counterproductive (for example, see Cooper,

The News Media: Portraying the
Victims’ Plight

The news media deserve a great deal of credit for
rediscovering victims. In the past, offenders received
the lion’s share of coverage in newspapers and maga-
zines and on radio and television stations. Stories
delved into their backgrounds, their motives, and
what should be done with them—usually how
severely they should be punished. Scant attention
was paid to the flesh-and-blood individuals who suf-
fered because of the offender’s illegal activities.

But now those who are on the receiving end of
criminal behavior are no longer invisible or forgot-
ten people. Details about the injured parties are
routinely included to inject some human interest
into crime stories. Balanced accounts can vividly
describe the victims’ plight: how they were harmed,
what losses they incurred, what intense emotions
distressed them, what helped or even hindered
their recovery, how they were treated by care-
givers, and how their cases were handled by the
legal system. By remaining faithful to the facts,
journalists can enable their audiences to transcend
their own limited direct experiences with law-
breakers and to see emergencies, tragedies, and tri-
umphs through the eyes of the injured parties.
Skillful reporting and insightful observations allow
the public to better understand and empathize with
the actions and reactions of those who suffered
harm. In certain highly publicized cases, interviews
by journalists have given victims a voice in how
their cases ought to be resolved in court, and
even how the problem (such as child snatchings
by an angry ex-spouse, easy access to firearms, or
collisions caused by drunk drivers) should be han-
dled by the criminal justice system. Media coverage
also has given these individuals with firsthand
experiences a public platform to campaign for
wider societal reforms (Dignan, 2005).

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However, victims—and if they perish vio-
lently, their next of kin—often complain about
sensationalism, a kind of coverage that has been
branded as “scandal-mongering,” “pandering,”
“yellow journalism,” and “tabloidism.” Newspa-
pers, magazines, radio stations, and television net-
works are prone to engage in sensationalism
because they are profit-oriented businesses. Shock-
ing stories attract readers, listeners, and viewers.
Blaring headlines, gripping accounts, colorful
phrases, memorable quotes, and other forms of
media hype build the huge audiences that enable
media enterprises to charge advertisers high rates.
Producers, editors, and reporters who seek to play
up the human-interest angle may exploit the plight
of persons who have suffered devastating losses and
debilitating wounds. Not surprisingly, the “info-
tainment” shows have found that crime stories
attract a lot more notice if they are spiced up with
a heavy dose of sex, gore, and raw emotions. In the
quest for higher ratings, market-driven coverage
can sink to an “If it bleeds, it leads” rule of
thumb. If reporters turn a personal tragedy into a
media circus and a public spectacle, their intrusive
behavior might be considered an invasion of pri-
vacy. Overzealous journalists frequently are criti-
cized for showing corpses lying in a pool of
blood, maintaining vigils outside a grieving family’s
home, or shoving microphones into the faces of
bereaved, dazed, or hysterical relatives at funerals.
The injured party receives unwanted publicity and
experiences a loss of control as others comment
upon, draw lessons from, and impose judgments
on what he or she allegedly did, or did not do, or
should have done.

Incidents receive intensive and sustained cover-
age only when some aspect of the victim–offender
relationship stands out as an attention-grabber: The
act, the perpetrator, or the target must be unusual,
unexpected, strange, or perverse. Suffering harm in
ways that are typical, commonplace, or predictable
is just not newsworthy. Editors and journalists sift
through an overwhelming number of real-life trag-
edies that come to their attention (largely through
contacts within the local police department) and

select the cases that are most likely to seize center
stage, go viral, shock people out of their compla-
cency, and either stir up deep-seated fears or arouse
the public’s empathy and social conscience.

The stories that are featured strike a responsive
chord in audiences because the incidents symbolize
some significant theme—for example, that anyone
can be chosen at random, simply for being at the
wrong place at the wrong time; that complete
strangers cannot be trusted; and that bystanders
might not come to a person’s aid, especially in
anonymous, big-city settings (Roberts, 1989). His-
torically, heinous crimes that have received the
most press coverage have had one or more of
these elements in common: Either the injured
party or the defendant is a child, woman, or a
prominent or wealthy person; intimations of “pro-
miscuous” behavior by the victim or defendant help
explain the event; some doubts linger about the
guilt of the convict; and the circumstances sur-
rounding a slaying seemed unusual (Stephens,
1988; and Buckler and Travis, 2005).

Furthermore, media attention may reflect the
unconscious biases of talk show hosts, correspon-
dents, and editors who work in the newsroom.
For example, members of minority communities
have charged that national news outlets, especially
those on cable TV, focus relentless attention on the
disappearance of attractive white people, particu-
larly young women and children, but overlook
equally compelling cases involving individuals
who do not share these characteristics (see Lyman,
2005; Memmott, 2005; and Barton, 2011).

Hence, it is predictable that the unsolved
Christmas Eve murder of a six-year-old beauty
contest winner in her own upscale home, with
her parents and brother upstairs, would be the sub-
ject of incessant tabloid sensationalism (Johnson,
2008). Similarly, the disappearance of a 24-
year-old intern after jogging in a park set off an
avalanche of lurid speculation when it was revealed
that she was having an affair with a married con-
gressman (the case was solved years later when her
killer turned out to be a complete stranger who had
attacked other women in that same park at about

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the same time) (Tavernise, 2011). If these charges
are true, the problem may go deeper and may
reflect the shortcomings of market-driven journal-
ism. The gatekeepers, under organizational pres-
sures to sell their product, sift through a huge
pool of items and select stories they perceive will
resonate with the general public, at the expense of
presenting an accurate sampling of the full range of
tragedies taking place locally, nationally, and
around the world (see Buckler and Travis, 2005).

And yet, it can be argued that media coverage
of crime stories is an absolute necessity in an open
society. Reporters and news editors have a consti-
tutional right, derived from the First Amendment’s
guarantee of a free press, to present information
about lawbreaking without interference from the
government. Illegal activities not only harm partic-
ular individuals but also pose a threat to those who
may be next. People have a right as well as a need
to know about the emergence of dangerous condi-
tions and ominous developments, and the media
has an obligation to communicate this information

The problem is that the public’s right to know
about crime and the media’s right to report these
incidents clash with the victim’s right to privacy.
Journalists, editors, and victims’ advocates are
addressing questions of fairness and ethics in a
wide variety of forums, ranging from blogs and
posted comments on the Web and letters to the
editor in newspapers, to professional conferences
and lawsuits in civil court.

Several remedies have been proposed to curb
abusive coverage of a victim’s plight. One approach
would be to enact new laws to shield those who
suffer from needless public exposure, such as an
unnecessary disclosure of names and addresses in
dispatches or on websites. An alternative approach
would be to rely on the self-restraint of reporters
and their editors. The fact that most news accounts
of sexual molestations of children and of rapes no
longer reveal the names of those who were harmed
is an example of this self-policing approach in
action. A third remedy would be for the media to
adopt a code of professional ethics. Journalists who

abide by the code would “read victims their rights”
at the outset of interviews, just as police officers
read suspects their Miranda rights when taking
them into custody (see Thomason and Babbilli,
1987; and Karmen, 1989).

Victimologists could play an important role in
monitoring progress by studying how accurate
widely broadcast initial accounts are; how fre-
quently and how seriously reporters insult and
defame the subjects of their stories; and how suc-
cessfully the different reform strategies prevent this
kind of exploitation, or at least minimize any abu-
sive invasions of privacy (see Duwe, 2000).

Commercial Interests: Selling Security
Products and Services to Victims

Just as the rediscovery of victims by elected offi-
cials and the news media has benefits as well as
drawbacks, so too does the new attention paid to
injured parties by businesses. An emerging market
of people seeking out protective services and anti-
theft devices simultaneously raises the possibility of
meeting consumer needs but also of commercially
exploiting these eager customers. Profiteers can
engage in fear mongering and false advertising in
order to cash in on the legitimate concerns and
desires of individuals who feel particularly vulner-
able and even panicky. In situations where entre-
preneurs issue bold claims about some gadget’s
effectiveness, objectivity takes the form of scien-
tific skepticism. Victimologists must represent the
public interest and demand, “Prove those asser-
tions about this product or service! Where is the

Consider the question of whether expensive
automobile security systems actually work as well
as their manufacturers’ advertisements say they do.
For instance, do car alarms really deliver the layer of
protection against break-ins that their purchasers
seek and that sales pitches promise? In New York,
the City Council passed regulations restricting the
installation of new car alarms because the devices
were deemed to be largely ineffective as well as a
serious source of noise pollution. Rather than

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agreeing with frustrated motorists that the wailing
sirens do no good, or trying to defend the alarm indus-
try’s reputation and profits, nonpartisan victimologists
can independently evaluate the effectiveness of these
antitheft devices. Are car alarms really useful in deter-
ring break-ins; in minimizing losses of accessories such
as car stereos, navigation systems, or air bags; in pre-
venting vehicles from being driven away; and in aid-
ing the police to catch thieves red-handed?

Similarly, research projects could attempt to
determine whether burglar alarms actually deter or
cut short intruders’ invasions and are therefore
worth the price of installation and monthly moni-
toring fees, and whether identity theft insurance
protection is a wise investment.


The emergence and acceptance of victimology as a
scholarly endeavor has propelled the rediscovery
process onward.

The beginnings of the academic discipline of vic-
timology can be traced back to several articles, books,
and research projects initiated by criminologists dur-
ing the 1940s and 1950s. Until that time, criminol-
ogy’s attention was focused entirely on those who
violated the law: who they were, why they engaged
in illegal activities, how they were handled by the
criminal justice system, whether they should be incar-
cerated, and how they might be rehabilitated. Even-
tually, perhaps through the process of elimination,
several criminologists searching for solutions to the
crime problem were drawn to—or stumbled
upon—the important role played by victims.

These criminologists considered victims to be
worthy of serious study primarily because they were
the completely overlooked half of the dyad (pair).
The first use in English of the term victimology to
refer to the scientific study of people harmed by
criminals appeared in a book about murderers writ-
ten by a psychiatrist (Wertham, 1949). The first
scholars to consider themselves victimologists
examined the presumed vulnerabilities of certain

kinds of people, such as the very young, the very
old, recent immigrants, and the mentally incompe-
tent (Von Hentig, 1948); the “kinds of people,” (in
terms of factors such as age and sex), whose actions
contributed to their own violent deaths (Wolfgang,
1958); and the degree of resistance put up by rape
victims (Mendelsohn, 1940).

Beniamin Mendelsohn, a defense attorney in
Romania, wrote and spoke during the 1940s and
1950s about how victims were ignored, disre-
spected, and abused within the criminal justice pro-
cess. He proposed ways to help and protect them
by creating victim assistance clinics and special
research institutes, and he campaigned for victims’
rights. For his foresight, he might be deemed “the
father of victimology” (Dussich, 2009b).

During the 1960s, as the problem of street
crime intensified, the President’s Commission on
Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice
argued that criminologists ought to pay more atten-
tion to victims (thereby inspiring some to become
victimologists). The Commission’s Task Force on
Assessment (1967, p. 80) concluded:

One of the most neglected subjects in the study of
crime is its victims: the persons, households, and
businesses that bear the brunt of crime in the
United States. Both the part the victim can play
in the criminal act and the part he could have
played in preventing it are often overlooked. If it
could be determined with sufficient specificity that
people or businesses with certain characteristics are
more likely than others to be crime victims, and
that crime is more likely to occur in some places
rather than in others, efforts to control and
prevent crime would be more productive. Then the
public could be told where and when the risks of
crime are greatest. Measures such as preventive
police patrol and installation of burglar alarms and
special locks could then be pursued more efficiently
and effectively. Individuals could then substitute
objective estimation of risk for the general
apprehensiveness that today restricts—perhaps
unnecessarily and at best haphazardly—their
enjoyment of parks and their freedom of movement
on the streets after dark.

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In this call for a shift in focus, the Commis-
sion’s Task Force stressed the potential practical
benefits: More crimes could be prevented and
more criminals caught, unrealistic fears could be
calmed and unwarranted complacency dispelled,
and needless expenditures could be eliminated or
reduced. These ambitious goals have not yet been
attained. Other goals not cited by the commission
that have been added over the years include
reducing suffering, making the criminal justice sys-
tem more responsive, and restoring victims to the
financial condition they were in before the crime

During the 1960s and 1970s, criminologists,
reformers, and political activists argued persuasively
that offenders themselves were in some sense
“victims” too—of the desperation caused by pov-
erty in the midst of plenty, dysfunctional families,
failing school systems, rundown housing, job
shortages, discrimination, police brutality, and
other social problems (for example, see Ryan,
1971). In reaction to this sympathetic characteriza-
tion of lawbreakers, many people asked, “But what
about the real flesh-and-blood individuals that they
preyed upon who were innocent, law-abiding, and
vulnerable? What can be done to ease their suffer-
ing?” While grappling with that question, reformers
came to recognize that persons targeted by crim-
inals were being systematically abandoned to their
fates and that institutionalized neglect had prevailed
for too long. A consensus began to emerge that
people harmed by illegal acts deserved better treat-
ment. Plans for financial assistance were the focus of
early discussions; campaigns for enhanced rights
within the legal system soon followed.

By the 1970s, victimology had become a rec-
ognized field of study with its own national and
international professional organizations, confer-
ences, and journals. Courses in victimology sprang
up on many campuses, in part because students
wanted to discuss their own personal experiences—
which must be explored with great sensitivity (see
Cares, 2012). By the end of the 1990s, students
were taking victimology classes at more than 240
colleges and universities.

The milestones that mark victimology’s rela-
tively brief history, plus the major pioneering efforts
to provide tangible help to crime victims are pre-
sented in Box 2.1.


This process—in which people whose plight was
recognized long ago but is neglected for many
years until it finally attracts the attention it
deserves—goes on and on with no end in sight.
Some rediscovered groups that have received a
great deal of study and support include abused
children, battered women; females who have suf-
fered date rapes; kidnapped youngsters; people
targeted by bigots; individuals attacked by
enraged motorists; pedestrians, passengers, and
drivers killed in collisions caused by drunk dri-
vers; and prisoners sexually assaulted by fellow
inmates or members of the custodial staff. The
suffering of other groups unfortunately is also
becoming quite well known and increasingly
attended to: students shot in high schools and
colleges, employees subjected to workplace vio-
lence, and police officers assaulted and fired at by

And yet, there are still other groups under the
radar or waiting in the wings to be rediscovered by
those academics and scholars, practitioners, social
movements, elected officials, the news media, and
commercial interests who continue to drive the
process forward. A steady stream of fresh revelations
serves as a reminder that these neglected groups still
are “out there” and that they have compelling stor-
ies to tell, unmet needs, and legitimate demands for
assistance and support. Usually, they continue to
escape public notice until some highly unusual or
horrific incident reveals how they are being
harmed. The types of victims whose plight is now
being rediscovered—but who require much more
scrutiny and analysis, and creative remedies—are
listed in Box 2.2.

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B O X 2.1 Highlights in the Brief History of Victimology and Victim Assistance

Year Event

1924 Edwin Sutherland writes the first criminology textbook
that includes a short discussion about victims.

1941 Hans Von Hentig publishes an article focusing on the
interaction between victims and criminals.

1947 Beniamin Mendelsohn coins the term victimology in
an article written in French.

1957 In Great Britain, Margery Fry proposes legislation
that would authorize the government to reimburse
victims for their losses.

1958 Marvin Wolfgang studies the circumstances sur-
rounding the deaths of murder victims and discovers
that some contributed to their own demise.

1964 The U.S. Congress holds hearings on the plight of crime
victims but rejects legislative proposals to cover their

1965 California becomes the first U.S. state to set up a spe-
cial fund to repay victims for crime-inflicted expenses.

1966 The first nationwide victimization survey to find out
about crimes that were not reported to the police is
carried out, and its findings are considered so enlight-
ening that it becomes an annual undertaking.

1967 A presidential commission recommends that crimin-
ologists study victims.

1968 Stephen Schafer writes the first textbook about


The first sex crime squads and rape crisis centers are

1972 The federal government initiates a yearly National
Crime Victimization Survey of the general public to
uncover firsthand information about street crimes.

1973 The first international conference of victimologists is
convened in Jerusalem.

1974 The first shelter for battered women is set up in
Minnesota. The first victim advocates in law
enforcement are assigned by the police department
in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The first lawyers serving as advocates for victims in
legal proceedings are made available on the South
East Side of Chicago.


Prosecutors initiate victim–witness assistance

1976 The first scholarly journal devoted to victimology
begins publication.
A National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) is
established to bring together service providers working
for government agencies and nonprofits. The probation
department in Fresno, California, is the first to instruct
its officers to interview victims to find out how the
crime impacted them physically, emotionally, socially,
and financially.

1977 New York State enacts the first “Son of Sam” law to
prevent offenders from profiting from telling about
their exploits.

1979 The World Society of Victimology is founded.

Year Event

1981 President Reagan proclaims Victims’ Rights Week
every April.

1982 Congress passes a Victim and Witness Protection Act
that suggests standards for fair treatment of victims
within the federal court system.

1983 The President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime
recommends changes in the Constitution and in
federal and state laws to guarantee victims’ rights.

1984 Congress passes the Victims of Crime Act, which
provides federal subsidies to state victim compensa-
tion and assistance programs.

1985 The United Nations General Assembly unanimously
adopts a resolution that urges all members to respect
and extend the rights of victims of crimes and of
abuses of power.

1986 Victims’ rights activists seek the passage of consti-
tutional amendments on the federal and state levels
guaranteeing victims’ rights.

1987 The U.S. Department of Justice opens a National
Victims Resource Center in Rockville, Maryland, to
serve as a clearinghouse for information.

1990 Congress passes the Victims’ Rights and Restitution

1994 Congress passes the Violence Against Women Act.
2003 The American Society of Victimology is set up to

encourage collaboration between academicians,
researchers, and practitioners.

2004 Congress enacts the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which
pledges fair treatment and opportunities for input in
federal court proceedings.

2005 A bipartisan group of 18 members of Congress forms
a Victim’s Rights Caucus.

2007 VictimLaw, a user-friendly website set up by the
National Center for Victims of Crime, provides a
searchable database about state legislation concern-
ing restitution and compensation for financial losses.

2008 The National Museum of Crime & Punishment opens
in Washington, D.C., with exhibits that dramatize
the plights of victims.

2011 The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) of the federal
government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) launches a
website,, that evaluates the
effectiveness of programs on behalf of crime victims.

2014 The Bureau of Justice Statistics develops a webpage
that presents tables of data about victims in a user-
friendly format.

2014 California becomes the first state to pass a “Yes
Means Yes” law that requires explicit mutual consent
before engaging in sex in college campus settings.

SOURCE: Galaway and Hudson, 1981; Schneider, 1982;
Lamborn, 1985; National Organization for Victim Assistance
(NOVA), 1989, 1995; Dussich, 2003; Walker, 2003; Garlock, 2007;
Rothstein, 2008; Dussich, 2009a, 2009b; and Chappell, 2014.

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B O X 2.2 The Process of Rediscovery Goes On and On

These recently recognized groups of victims face special pro-
blems that require imaginative solutions. They eventually
will receive the assistance and support they need as the
rediscovery process continues to focus attention and
resources on their plight:

Individuals who are deaf, blind, mentally retarded,
mentally ill, or afflicted by other disabilities that
attracted molesters, assailants, robbers, or other crim-
inals who preyed upon them more often than other
potential targets (Office for Victims of Crime, 2003;
Barrow, 2008; and Harrell, 2014), particularly when
they were young (Smith and Harrell, 2013; and
Tabachnick, 2013).

People whose attackers cannot be arrested and prose-
cuted because as members of foreign delegations
they have been granted “diplomatic immunity” and
are able to escape justice by returning home
(Ashman and Trescott, 1987; Sieh, 1990; Lynch, 2003;
and Grow, 2011)

Pedestrians and passengers killed by drivers who speed,
run red lights, or ignore stop signs and may be guilty of
criminally negligent homicide (Goodman, 2013; and
Lerner, 2014).

Motorists and pedestrians slammed into during
high-speed chases by fugitives seeking to avoid arrest or
by squad cars in hot pursuit (Gray, 1993; Crew, Fridell,
and Pursell, 1995; and Schultz, Budak, and Alpert,

Motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians injured
or killed by hit-and-run drivers (Bisnar and Chase,

Native Americans living on the nation’s 310 Indian
reservations who suffer much higher victimization rates
for murder, rape, and other interpersonal crimes but
receive less protection and redress from the criminal
justice system than other U.S. citizens (Williams, 2012a,
2012b; and Erdrich, 2013).

Immigrants who feel they cannot come forward and ask
the police for help without revealing that they are
“illegal aliens” who lack the proper documents and are
subject to deportation (Davis and Murray, 1995; Davis,
Erez, and Avitabile, 2001; Chan, 2007; and Hoffmaster,
Murphy, McFadden, and Griswold, 2010)

Homeless adults robbed, assaulted, and murdered on the
streets and in shelters (Fitzpatrick, LaGory, and Ritchey,
1993; and Green, 2008)

Homeless runaway teens who are vulnerable to sexual
exploitation and rape (Tyler, Whitbeck, Hoyt, and
Cauce, 2005)

Hotel guests who suffer thefts and assaults because of
lax security measures (Prestia, 1993; Owsley, 2005; and
Ho, Zhao, and Brown, 2009)

Cruise ship passengers who suffer attacks and thefts
from fellow voyagers and members of the crew (Anderle,

Tourists who blunder into dangerous situations avoided
by streetwise locals and are easy prey because they let
their guard down (Rohter, 1993; Glensor and Peak,
2004; Lee, 2005; and Murphy, 2006)

Delivery truck drivers who are targeted by robbers,
hijackers, and highway snipers (Sexton, 1994; and
Duret and Patrick, 2004)

Prostitutes soliciting complete strangers on the streets
or over the Internet who face risks of being beaten,
raped, and murdered that are many times higher than
for other women in their age bracket (Boyer and James,
1983; Salfati, James, and Ferguson, 2008; and Mueller,

Unwanted newborns abandoned or killed by their
distraught mothers (Yardley, 1999; and Buckley,

Suspects brutally beaten by police officers
who used more force than the law allows
(Amnesty International USA, 1999; and Davey and
Einhorn, 2007)

Teachers attacked, injured, and even killed by their
students (Fine, 2001; Parker, 2014; and Freie Universi-
taet Berlin, 2014)

Underage students who experience statutory rape when
they are seduced by their high school teachers (Zernike,

Youngsters sexually molested or physically abused
through prohibited forms of corporal punishment by
parents and teachers (Goodnough, 2003; and Larzelere
and Baumrind, 2010)

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High school and college students subjected to abusive
hazing and bullying by older students that results
in injury or death (Salmivalli and Nieminen, 2002;
Montague, Zohra, Love, McGee, and Tsamis, 2008; and
Zernike and Schweber, 2014)

Terrified residents whose homes were invaded by armed
robbers (Hurley, 1995; Copeland and Martin, 2006; and
Thompson, 2011)

“Mail-order brides,” lured to the United States by
unregulated international matchmaking services on the
Internet, who fear deportation if they complain to the
authorities about their husbands’ violence (Briscoe,
2005; Morash, Hoan, Yan, and Holtfreter, 2007; and
Greenwood, 2008)

Teenage girls and young women kidnapped and held
captive as “sex slaves” by vicious rapists (Hoffman,
2003; Jacobs, 2003; Maslin, 2011; Kaufman, 2012; and
Williams, 2013)

Unsuspecting people, usually women, who feel symbol-
ically violated sexually after being secretly videotaped
during private moments by voyeurs using hidden spy
cameras (Lovett, 2003; and Williams, 2005)

Female motorists sexually abused by highway patrol
officers (Tyre, 2001)

People deceived by robbers and rapists impersonating
uniformed officers as well as plainclothes detectives
(Long, 2008; and Van Netta, 2011)

Persons arrested for drug law violations who are pres-
sured by detectives to become confidential informants
and end up wounded or murdered by dealers (Goodman,

Good Samaritans who try to break up crimes in progress
and rescue the intended victims but wind up injured or
killed themselves (Mawby, 1985; Time, Payne, and
Gainey, 2010; and Cunningham et al., 2012)

Innocent bystanders wounded or killed by bullets
intended for others, often when caught in crossfire
between rival street gangs or drug dealers fighting over
turf (Sherman, Steele, Laufersweiler, Hoffer, and Julian,
1989; and Williams, 2009)

People being blackmailed who are reluctant to turn to
the authorities for help because that would lead to

exposure of their embarrassing secrets (see Katz,
Fletcher and Altman, 1993; and Robinson, Cahill, and
Bartels, 2010)

Recipients, some of them children, of crank phone calls
laced with threats or obscenities, made by individuals
who range from “heavy breathers” and bored teenagers
to dangerous assailants (Savitz, 1986; Warner, 1988;
Leander, Granhag, and Christianson, 2005; and
Renshaw, 2008)

Residents injured by fires or burned out of their homes,
unaware that they were harmed by acts of arson until
fire marshals determine that the suspicious blazes were
intentionally set (Sclafani, 2005)

Homeowners who wind up evicted because of swindles
like mortgage fraud and foreclosure-rescue fraud (FBI,

Consumers who lose money in Internet cyber swindles
and “dotcons,” such as online pyramid investment
(Ponzi) schemes, bogus auctions, fake escrow accounts,
and other computer-based frauds (Lee, 2003b; and
Stajano and Wilson, 2011)

“Missing persons” who have vanished and are presumed
dead by their frantic relatives, but, since they were
adults with a right to privacy, cannot be the objects of
intense police manhunts unless there is evidence of foul
play (McPhee, 1999; Gardiner, 2008; and NCMA, 2008).
Sometimes their remains lie unidentified until “cyber-
sleuths” and other amateur detectives poring over
online coroners’ files and missing-persons databases are
able to match a body to a disappearance and notify the
local police department about solving one of their cold
cases, thereby helping these deceased individuals get a
proper burial, and maybe even securing “justice” for
them if their killer is convicted (Halber, 2014; and
Latson, 2014)

Unrelated individuals whose lives are snuffed out
by vicious and demented serial killers (Holmes and
DeBurger, 1988; Hickey, 1991; Egger and Egger, 2002;
Pakhomou, 2004; Flegenheimer and Rosenberg, 2011;
and AP, 2011c); and especially prostitutes, hitchhikers,
and stranded motorists, whose bodies are dumped near
highways by violence-prone long-haul truckers (Glover,
2009; and Dalesio, 2011)

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The rediscovery process is more than just a well-
intentioned humanitarian undertaking, media cam-
paign, or example of special pleading. It has far-
reaching consequences for everyday life, and the
stakes are high. Injured people who gain legitimacy
as innocent victims and win public backing are in a
position to make compelling claims on government
resources (asking for compensation payments to
cover the expenses they incurred from their physical
wounds, for example). People who know from first-
hand experience about the suffering caused by illegal
acts also can advance persuasive arguments about
reforming criminal justice policies concerning arrest,
prosecution, trial procedures, appropriate sentences,
and custodial control over prisoners. Finally, redis-
covered victims can assert that preventing others
from suffering the same fate requires a change in
prevailing cultural values about tolerating social con-
ditions that generate criminal behavior. Victims even
can make recommendations that are taken seriously
about the ways people should and should not behave
(for instance, how husbands should treat their wives,
and how closely parents should supervise their chil-
dren) and even the proper role of government (such
as how readily the state should intervene in “private”
matters such as violence between intimates).

The process of rediscovery usually unfolds
through a series of steps and stages. The sequential
model that is proposed below incorporates observa-
tions drawn from several sources. The notion of devel-
opmental stages arises from the self-definition of the
victimization process (Viano, 1989). The natural his-
tory, career, or life-cycle perspective comes from
examining models of ongoing social problems (see
Fuller and Myers, 1941; Ross and Staines, 1972; and
Spector and Kitsuse, 1987). The focus on how con-
cerns about being harmed are first raised, framed, and
then publicized arises from the constructionist
approach (see Best, 1989b). The idea of inevitable
clashes of opposing interest groups battling over gov-
ernmental resources and influence over legislation
comes from sociology’s conflict approach. The realiza-
tion that there is an ongoing struggle by victimized

groups for respect and support in the court of public
opinion is an application of the concept of stigma con-
tests (Schur, 1984).

Stage 1: Calling Attention to an
Overlooked Problem

The rediscovery process is set in motion whenever
activists begin to raise the public’s consciousness
about some type of illegal situation that “everybody
knows” happens but few have cared enough to
investigate or try to correct. These moral entrepre-
neurs, who lead campaigns to change laws and win
people over to their point of view, usually have first-
hand experience with a specific problem as well as
direct, personal knowledge of the pain and suffering
that accompany it. Particularly effective self-help and
advocacy groups have been set up by parents who
endured the ordeal of searching for their missing
children, mothers whose children were killed in col-
lisions caused by drunk drivers, and the families of offi-
cers slain in the line of duty, among others. Additional
individuals who deserve credit for arousing an indiffer-
ent public include the targets of hate-driven bias
crimes, adults haunted by the way they were molested
when they were young, women brutally raped by
acquaintances they trusted, and wives viciously beaten
by their husbands. They called attention to a state of
affairs that people took for granted as harmful but
shrugged off as “What can anyone do about it?”
These activists responded, “Things don’t have to be
this way!” Exploitative and hurtful relationships don’t
have to be tolerated—they can be prevented, avoided,
and outlawed; governmental policies can be altered;
and the criminal justice system can be made more
accountable and responsive to its “clients.”

As Stage 1 moves along, activists function as the
inspiration and nucleus for the formation of self-
help groups that provide mutual aid and solace
and also undertake campaigns for reform. Members
of support networks believe that only people who
have suffered through the same ordeal can really
understand and appreciate what others just like
them are going through (a basic tenet borrowed
from therapeutic communities that assist substance
abusers to recover from drug addiction).

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Activists also state that victims’ troubles stem from
larger social problems that are beyond any individual’s
ability to control; consequently, those who suffer
should not be blamed for causing their own misfor-
tunes. Finally, activists argue that recovery requires
empowerment within the criminal justice process so
that victims can pursue what they define as their own
best interests, whether to see to it that the offender
receives the maximum punishment permitted by law,
is compelled to undergo treatment, and/or is ordered
to pay their bills for crime-related expenses.

To build wider support for their causes, moral
entrepreneurs and self-help groups organize them-
selves into loosely structured coalitions such as the
antirape and antibattering movements. Usually, one
or two well-publicized cases are pointed to as sym-
bolic of the problem. Soon many other victims come
forward to tell about similar personal experiences.
Then experts such as social workers, detectives, and
lawyers testify about the suffering that these kinds of
victims routinely endure and plead that legal reme-
dies are urgently needed. Extensive media coverage is
a prerequisite for success. The group’s plight becomes
known because of investigative reports on television,
talk radio discussions, magazine cover stories, news-
paper editorials, and the circulation of these accounts
on blogs. Meanwhile, press conferences, demonstra-
tions, marches, candlelight vigils, petition drives, bal-
lot initiatives, lawsuits, and lobbying campaigns keep
the issue alive and the pressure on.

Sociologically, what happens during the first stage
can be termed the social construction of a social prob-
lem, along with claims-making and typification (see
Spector and Kitsuse, 1987; and Best, 1989b). A con-
sensus emerges that a pattern of behavior is harmful and
should be subjected to criminal penalties. This crystal-
lization of public opinion is a product of the activities of
moral entrepreneurs, support groups, and their allies.
Spokespersons engage in a claims-making process by
airing grievances, estimating how many people are
hurt in this manner, suggesting appropriate remedies
to facilitate recovery, and recommending measures
that could prevent this kind of physical, emotional,
and financial suffering from burdening others. Through
the process of typification, advocates point out classic
cases and textbook examples that illustrate the menace
to society against which they are campaigning.

Stage 2: Winning Victories, Implementing

The rediscovery process enters its second stage
whenever activists and advocacy groups begin to
make headway toward their goals.

At first, it might be necessary to set up indepen-
dent demonstration projects or pilot programs to
prove the need for special services. Then government
grants or funding from private foundations can be
secured. Next, federal, state, and local agencies or
nonprofit organizations can copy successful models
or take over some responsibility for providing infor-
mation, assistance, and protection. For instance, the
battered women’s movement set up shelters, and the
antirape movement established crisis centers. Eventu-
ally, local governments funded safe houses where
women and their young children could seek refuge,
and hospitals and universities organized their own
24-hour rape hotlines and crisis-intervention services.

Individuals subjected to bias crimes were redis-
covered during the 1990s. During the 1980s, only
private organizations monitored incidents of hate-
motivated violence and vandalism directed against
racial and religious minorities, as well as homosexuals.
But in 1990, the government got involved when
Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act,
which authorized the FBI to undertake the task of
collecting reports about bias crimes from local police
departments. Achievements that mark this second
stage in the rediscovery process include the imposition
of harsher penalties and the establishment of specially
trained law enforcement units in many jurisdictions
to more effectively recognize, investigate, solve, and
prosecute bias crimes. Self-help groups offer injured
parties tangible forms of support. The best example
of a rediscovery campaign that has raised conscious-
ness, won victories, and secured reforms is the struggle
waged since the early 1980s by Mothers Against
Drunk Driving (MADD). These anguished parents
argued that for too long the “killer drunk” was
able to get away with a socially acceptable and
judicially excusable form of homicide because
more people identified with the intoxicated driver
than with the innocent person who died from inju-
ries sustained in the collision. Viewing themselves as
the relatives of bona fide crime victims, not merely

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persons who perished from accidents, these crusa-
ders were able to move the issue from the obituary
page to the front page by using a wide range of tac-
tics to mobilize public support, including candle-
light vigils, pledges of responsible behavior by
children and family cooperation by their parents,
and demonstrations outside courthouses. Local
chapters of their national self-help organizations
offered concrete services: Pamphlets were distrib-
uted through hospital emergency rooms and funeral
parlors, bereavement support groups assisted griev-
ing relatives, and volunteers accompanied grieving
families to police stations, prosecutors’ offices, trials,
and sentencing hearings.

Buoyed by very favorable media coverage, their
lobbying campaigns brought about a crackdown on
DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving
while intoxicated) offenders. Enforcement measures
include roadblocks, license suspensions and revoca-
tions, more severe criminal charges, and on-the-spot
confiscations of vehicles. Their efforts also led to
reforms of drinking laws, such as raising the legal
drinking age to 21 and lowering the blood alcohol
concentration levels that officially define impairment
and intoxication (Thompson, 1984). Along with the
55 mph speed limit, mandatory seat belt laws,
improved vehicle safety engineering, better roads,
and breakthroughs in emergency medical services,
the achievements of MADD and its allies have
saved countless lives (Ayres, 1994).

Stage 3: Emergence of an Opposition
and Development of Resistance to
Further Changes

The third stage in the rediscovery process is marked by
the emergence of groups that oppose the goals sought
by victims of rediscovered crimes. The victims had to
overcome public apathy during Stage 1 and bureau-
cratic inertia during Stage 2. During Stage 3, they
encounter resistance from other quarters. A backlash
arises against perceived excesses in their demands. The
general argument of opponents is that the pendulum is
swinging too far in the other direction; that people are
uncritically embracing a point of view that is too
extreme, unbalanced, and one-sided; and that special

interests are trying to advance an agenda that does not
really benefit the law-abiding majority.

Spokespersons for a group of recently rediscov-
ered victims might come under fire for a number of
reasons. They might be criticized for overestimating
the number of people harmed when the actual
threat to the public, according to the opposition,
is much smaller. Advocates might be condemned
for portraying all those who were hurt as totally
innocent of blame—and therefore deserving of
unqualified support—when in reality some are
partly at fault and shouldn’t get all the assistance
that they demand. Activists might be castigated for
making unreasonable demands that will cost the
government (and taxpayers) too much money.
They also might be denounced for insisting upon
new policies that would undermine cherished con-
stitutional rights, such as the presumption of inno-
cence of persons accused of breaking the law. For
example, allegations about child abuse or elder
abuse can lead to investigations that permanently
stigmatize the alleged wrongdoers even if the
charges later turn out to be unfounded (see Crystal,

When the antirape movement claimed to have
discovered an outbreak of date rapes against college
students, skeptics asked why federally mandated sta-
tistics about incidents reported to campus security
forces showed no such upsurge. They contended
that hard-to-classify liaisons were being redefined as
full-fledged sexual assaults, thereby maligning some
admittedly sexually aggressive and exploitative col-
lege men as hard-core criminals (see Gilbert, 1991;
Hellman, 1993; and MacDonald, 2008a). When the
battered women’s movement organized a clemency
drive to free certain imprisoned wives who had
slain their abusive husbands (in self-defense, they
contended, but prosecutors and jurors disagreed),
critics charged that these abused women would be
getting away with revenge killings. When adults
who believed that they had endured incest insisted
that new memory retrieval techniques were helping
them recall repressed recollections of sexual moles-
tations by parents, stepparents, and other guardians,
some accused family members banded together and
insisted they were being unfairly slandered because

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of a therapist-induced false memory syndrome
(see Chapters 8, 9, and 10 for an in-depth analysis
of these three controversies).

Even the many accomplishments of the entire
victims’ movement can be questioned (see Weed,
1995). Under the banner of advancing victims’
rights, pressure groups might advocate policies that
undermine whatever progress has been made
toward securing humane treatment for offenders
and reentry opportunities for ex-prisoners. Victim
activism can unnecessarily heighten fear and anxiety
levels about the dangers of violence and theft and
divert funds toward repressive measures and away
from social programs designed to tackle the root
causes of street crime.

Groups that focus their energies on the plight
of individuals injured by interpersonal violence also
can distract attention from other socially harmful
activities such as polluting the environment or mar-
keting unsafe products, and their reforms can raise
expectations about full recovery that just cannot be
reasonably met (Fattah, 1986). It is even possible
that what was formerly a grassroots movement
run by volunteers who solicited donations has
metamorphosed into a virtual “victim industry.” It
engages in a type of mass production, churning out
newly identified groups of victims by dwelling on
kinds of suffering that can arise from noncriminal
sources such as bullying, emotional abuse, sexual
harassment, sexual addiction, eating disorders, and
credit card dependency (see Best, 1997).

Stage 4: Research and Temporary
Resolution of Disputes

It is during the fourth and last stage of the rediscov-
ery process that victimologists can make their most
valuable contributions. By getting to the bottom of
unsolved mysteries and by intervening in bitter
conflicts, researchers can become a source of accu-
rate assessments, by helping to evaluate competing
claims about whether the problem has or has not
been brought under control, and by determining
whether treatment and prevention measures are
genuinely effective. By maintaining objectivity,

victimologists can serve as arbiters in these heated

For example, during the 1980s, a series of
shocking shootings by disgruntled gun-toting
employees led to the rediscovery of victims of
workplace violence. In the aftermath of these
slaughters, worried employees insisted that employ-
ers call in occupational safety specialists to devise
protection and prevention programs. Anxious man-
agers usually acceded, fearing expensive lawsuits
and lowered morale and productivity. But research-
ers have determined that these highly publicized
multiple murders accounted for just a tiny fraction
of a multifaceted but far less newsworthy set of
dangers. Most of the cases of workplace violence
across the country involve robberies, unarmed
assaults, and complaints about stalkers acting in a
menacing way. Many incidents that disrupt the
smooth functioning of factories and offices are not
even criminal matters, such as instances of verbal
abuse, bullying, and sexual harassment (Rugala,

During Stage 4, a standoff, deadlock, or truce
might develop between victims’ advocates who
want more changes, and their opponents who resist
any further reforms. But the fourth phase is not
necessarily the final phase. The findings and policy
recommendations of neutral parties such as victi-
mologists and criminologists do not settle questions
once and for all. Concerns about some type of vic-
timization can recede from public consciousness for
years, only to reappear when social conditions are
ripe for a new four-stage cycle of rediscovery of
(1) claims making, (2) reform, (3) opposition, and
(4) temporary resolution.

A number of types of formerly overlooked vic-
tims have reached Stage 4 in the rediscovery pro-
cess. Recently collected data can be analyzed to try
to put the public’s fears into perspective, to attempt
to resolve ongoing controversies, and to assess the
impact of countermeasures designed to assist those
who are suffering and to prevent others from
sharing their same fate (an example that stirs up
strong emotions in a great many people, trafficking
in human beings, appears in Box 2.3).

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B O X 2.3 An Illustration of the Four Stages in the Rediscovery Process:
The Plight of Victims of Human Trafficking

Stage One: Reviving Public Outrage About a Longstanding

Trafficking in human beings is widely recognized as a
lucrative racket and a major aspect of the crime problem in a
great many source, transit, and destination countries across
the globe. But it is not a new development: Its victims were
first discovered over 100 years ago. (The slave trade that
brought Africans in chains to the Americas during the age of
European colonialism is a different problem that goes back
further in history, and its horrors transcend the confines of
crime and victimization.)

During the early years of the twentieth century, a world-
wide movement against “white slavery” arose. Its stated goal
was to stop prostitutes from Europe from being sent to brothels
throughout the colonial empires of the Western powers. The
sexual enslavement of white females eventually proved to be
what social scientists call a moral panic because the problem
turned out to be far smaller and less significant than was pop-
ularly depicted. And yet, the campaign to stop it led to a series
of treaties, including the International Agreement for the
Suppression of the White Slave Traffic (1904), the League
of Nation’s International Convention for the Suppression of
Traffic in Women and Children (1921) and its Convention for
the Suppression of Traffic in Women of Full Age (1933), and the
United Nation’s Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic
in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
(1949) (Lobasz, 2009).

Compelling girls and women to take part in the sex
trade is only part of this problem. The other part is the eco-
nomic exploitation of migrant workers who are smuggled
across borders to toil in homes, factories, and fields. Starting
in the late 1980s, reformers began to call attention to their
plight. A number of factors came together to heighten con-
cern and provoke outrage: a new focus by human rights
groups on the many ways females are exploited around the
world; the growing desperation in many societies of single
mothers to find ways to support their children (what sociol-
ogists call the feminization of poverty); the collapse of the
Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, which
caused many young women to search for a means of survival
abroad; environmental degradation due to the mismanage-
ment of natural resources that triggered large-scale migra-
tions across national borders of workers seeking
opportunities in a rapidly globalizing economy; and the con-
solidation of organized crime’s hold over the smuggling of
weapons, drugs, and people (Jahic and Finckenauer, 2005;
Lobasz, 2009;Chuang, 2010; and Smilowitz, 2014).

When prominent people began to characterize human
trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery” and warn that
profiting from the “controlled service” of others was one of the
fastest growing criminal industries in the world, a social move-
ment developed to oppose it. It brought together international
organizations, human rights groups, religious leaders, charitable
organizations, political figures, criminal justice officials, social
workers, victim advocates, and thousands of well-intentioned
grassroots “abolitionists” motivated by stirring phrases like
“free the slaves” and “break the chains of bondage.” Two rather
unlikely allies joined together to campaign for stronger laws
against sex trafficking. The first were certain American feminists
who viewed prostitution as an entrenched institution of male
dominance and its female providers as subordinates compelled to
sell their bodies because of a lack of meaningful economic
alternatives. The second political force was a coalition of con-
servative evangelical Christians, whose concerns about men who
take advantage of “fallen women” stemmed from matters of
conscience and strongly held beliefs about purity, innocence,
virtue, sin, evil, and immorality. Their religiously motivated
crusade centered on preserving traditional marriages and fami-
lies rather than on liberating women from subordination to
patriarchal control by opening up better opportunities that
would enable them to become financially independent (see
Chuang, 2010; and Bernstein, 2010).

The rediscovery process moved forward quickly after
prominent figures spoke out.

President Clinton (2000) announced “…anti-trafficking
provisions represent a major step forward in my Administra-
tion’s ongoing effort to eradicate modern-day slavery. In
1998, I issued an Executive Memorandum directing my
Administration to combat this insidious human rights abuse
through a three-part strategy of prosecuting traffickers, pro-
tecting and assisting trafficking victims, and preventing
trafficking.… Over the past several years, we have taken
every opportunity to shine a bright light on this dark corner
of the criminal underworld, in part by continually raising
with leaders around the world the need to work together to
combat this intolerable and reprehensible practice.…”

President Bush (2003) intoned, “It takes a special kind
of depravity to exploit and hurt the most vulnerable members
of society. Human traffickers rob children of their innocence,
they expose them to the worst of life before they have seen
much of life. Traffickers tear families apart. They treat their
victims as nothing more than goods and commodities for sale
to the highest bidder.… Many victims are beaten. Some are
killed. Others die spiritual and emotional deaths, convinced

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after years of abuse that their lives have no worth. This trade
in human beings brings suffering to the innocent and shame
to our country, and we will lead the fight against it.”

President Obama advanced similar arguments. He echoed
the views of previous chief executives that human trafficking
should be called by its real name, “modern slavery” and that the
focus of strategies to combat this crime should continue at
home, not just abroad. He declared, “The bitter truth is that
trafficking also goes on right here. It’s the migrant worker
unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker…. The teenage girl—
beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happen-
ing in the United States of America” (Flock, 2012).

The discovery that sex trafficking wasn’t only a problem
in distant lands but that it was cropping up here too added a
sense of urgency that spurred people to action. As President
Bush (2004) put it, “It is estimated that between 14,500 and
17,500 victims of trafficking cross our borders every year. U.S.
law enforcement has documented cases of Latvian girls traf-
ficked into sexual slavery in Chicago, or Ukrainian girls traf-
ficked in Los Angeles, and Maryland, or Thai, Korean, Malaysian
and Vietnamese girls trafficked in Georgia, or Mexican girls
trafficked in California, New Jersey and here in Florida. Many of
the victims are teenagers, some as young as 12 years old.”

In order to gain the greatest amount of support for the
campaign, advocates socially constructed a “perfect victim”
who did not voluntarily choose to leave her family and to sell
her body. They promoted the image of an innocent young girl
who was kidnapped from her remote village and then
drugged, beaten, and broken in spirit until she was obedient
and submissive; passed around and then sold into slavery;
and later transported from her poverty-stricken source
country through some transit country until she wound up as
a virtual prisoner in a cruelly run brothel in some strange,
far-off destination country. This socially constructed perfect
victim—young, female, helpless, yearning to be rescued,
protected, assisted, and given sanctuary—captured the pub-
lic’s imagination. But what about those who did not fit this
sympathy-evoking stereotype of the perfect victim? Women
who were willing to be smuggled across borders and agreed to
be “sex workers” in foreign settings, but did not foresee that
they would be intimidated, stripped of their false identity
papers, and strictly controlled, do not evoke the same degree
of compassion from the public, police officers, prosecutors,
judges, and immigration officials. Indifference can easily turn
to outright hostility toward these “illegal aliens” who chose
and consented to “prostitute themselves.” Somewhere in
between are those naïve young women who were procured by

organized crime recruiters via employment scams: false pro-
mises of decent-paying legitimate jobs in domestic settings as
maids or nannies, or in modeling, or even as dancers in strip
clubs. Instead, after overstaying their visa limits or entering
the country with counterfeit documents that were later con-
fiscated by the trafficker, they wound up as exploited
undocumented workers, forced to submit to the demands of
pimps, brothel managers, and customers in the commercial
sex trade in order to pay off their border-crossing debts and
to protect their families abroad from retaliation by the traf-
ficker’s syndicate (Rieger, 2007; Lobasz, 2009; and Uy, 2011).

The United Nations declared its first “World Day against
Trafficking in Persons” on July 30, 2014. Its Protocol to Pre-
vent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defined
human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation,
transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the
threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduc-
tion, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a
position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of pay-
ments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having
control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Banned activities included “the exploitation of the prostitu-
tion of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced
labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, ser-
vitude, or the removal of organs” (Smilowitz, 2014).

In the United States, the definition of sex trafficking
has broadened substantially over the years. Physical trans-
port across international borders no longer was an essential
part of the definition; crossing state boundaries within the
United States became a sufficient trigger for federal prosecu-
tion (U.S. Department of State, 2007). Later expansions of
the definition even dropped the requirement of movement
across state lines and simply focused on the use of force,
coercion, or fraud to keep someone trapped in a condition
of servitude (Farrell, McDevitt, and Fahey, 2010). The work-
ing definition of sex trafficking used by local law enforce-
ment agencies often boils down to a simple formulation:
adult prostitution that involves coercion and any sexual
exploitation of children (Gonzalez, 2013).

Because the definition has evolved so dramatically,
activists currently work to raise awareness by dispelling the
following myths and misconceptions: Trafficking does not
necessarily involve smuggling or forced movement, transpor-
tation, or border-crossing; physical force, physical abuse, or
physical restraint does not have to take place; victims are not
only foreign nationals or immigrants but can be males as well
as females, adults as well as minors, and even well educated


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B O X 2.3 (Continued)

and affluent persons, not just poorly educated, poverty-stricken
people; and the offense of trafficking can occur even if the victim
consents and receives payment. However, certain populations
remain especially vulnerable: undocumented immigrants; refu-
gees and asylum seekers; runaways and homeless youth; mem-
bers of groups that have been oppressed, marginalized, and
impoverished; and individuals who have been severely abused
and traumatized. Trafficked persons were mostly mired in the
sex trade (brothels, escort services, massage parlors, street
prostitution, and even strip clubs), or they were stuck perform-
ing backbreaking labor, like planting and picking crops or land-
scaping and construction, or menial jobs, especially in the hotel
and hospitality industry; janitorial services; home, health, and
elder care; and factories and sweatshops (Polaris Project, 2012).
For example, a woman from another country who is hired as a
nanny to tend to a child around the clock without any time off, is
provided with sparse meals and cramped quarters, and then is
threatened with exposure and deportation (because she has
overstayed her visa) if she complains about her predicament can
be considered trafficked. Similarly, an undocumented day
laborer who picks up occasional construction jobs but then is
cheated out of his wages and intimidated from protesting
because the employer warns him about a call to the immigration
authorities is also being coercively exploited (Grant, 2013). As
the original definition broadened to encompass so many more
people and such a wide variety of situations, the number of
persons designated as victims and the number of programs
designed to assist them grew dramatically.

A search of journalism databases revealed that media
coverage of the problem grew exponentially from a mere
handful of articles at the start of the 1990s to about 3,750 in
2008 alone (Farrell et al., 2010).

Stage Two: Passing Legislation and Setting Up
Assistance Programs

Raids against transnational trafficking rings, statements by
world leaders, international conferences, and articles as well as
popular movies depicting sexual slavery heightened pressures to
“do something.” In response, the Clinton administration drafted
a comprehensive approach that embodied the prosecution of
profiteers, protections for trafficked persons, and prevention
measures. In 1994, the U.S. Department of State declared traf-
ficking across borders to be a severe violation of human rights
and began to issue an annual “Trafficking in Persons Report”
that monitored what other countries were doing to try to bring
the problem under control. The State Department’s Office to
Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons originally focused on
the sexual exploitation of women and girls smuggled by inter-
national rings feeding the demand for prostitutes but broadened
its scope to include forced labor. Foreign nationals who assist
investigations and prosecutions are eligible for the designation

“qualified victims,” and they might be granted “continued
presence” and immigration relief (from deportation), which can
lead to permission to work in legitimate jobs, legal residency,
and eventual citizenship. Federally funded services (provided
through contracts with NGOs) include medical, dental, and
mental health care; sustenance and shelter; help with transla-
tion and interpretation; legal assistance; and transportation
(Jahic and Finckenauer, 2005; Lobasz, 2009; Chuang, 2010; and
U.S. Department of State, 2011). However, to be eligible for
these forms of support, plus possibly restitution and a visa, the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must certify that
the person meets the hard to prove standards of a “severe traf-
ficking victim” (George, 2012).

In 2000, an international agreement went into effect:
the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish
Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. That
same year, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection
Act (TVPA). Both laws defined trafficking as the recruitment
and movement of children, women, and men for the purpose
of subjecting these victims to involuntary servitude in labor-
intensive activities. The TVPA was reauthorized and
strengthened in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013. The 2013
reauthorization strengthened efforts to ban child marriage
and to prevent the purchase of products made by labor traf-
ficking victims. The National Defense Authorization Act of
2013 enables government agencies to terminate any con-
tracts with organizations and individuals that engage in or
support trafficking (Polaris Project, 2014a; 2014b).

An Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division was set up in
the Office of Refugee Resettlement that is part of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. It funds the
National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), which
staffs a hotline and tipline.

The U.S. Department of Justice runs a Bureau of Justice
Assistance (BJA) and an Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). The
BJA in cooperation with the OVC has funded 42 Anti-Human
Trafficking Task Forces across the country, which pair law
enforcement agencies with service providers in order to offer
effective first responses to exploited persons. The Immigration
and Customs Enforcement Division of the Department of Home-
land Security runs a Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit that
seeks to locate individuals brought in from other countries. A
Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center is a collaborative effort
that involves the Department of State, Department of Justice,
Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director
of National Intelligence that functions as a repository of infor-
mation about these illegal activities (Polaris Project, 2014a).

Besides the Department of Health and Human Services, the
State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and
the Department of Justice, at least 15 international organi-
zations participate in the global struggle to suppress human

60 C H A P T E R 2

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trafficking, including the United Nations, the International
Labor Organization, the Organization of American States, the
Association of Southeast Nations, and the World Bank
(Lobasz, 2009).

On the home front, all 50 states and the District of
Columbia have passed legislation to combat sex and labor
trafficking. However, most states still lack adequate laws to
support and assist persons who have escaped, and 12 states
had failed by 2014 to make even minimal efforts to pass such
legislation, according to a rigorous rating system. The FBI’s
efforts to disrupt human trafficking draw upon its Civil Rights
Unit (CRU) and the Violent Crimes Against Children Section
(VCACS). The CRU investigates forced labor; sex trafficking of
adults by force, fraud, or coercion; and the sexual exploita-
tion of foreign minors, while the VCACS focuses on the com-
mercial exploitation of Americans under the age of 18 who
have been drawn into the sex trade. The FBI has established
close to 70 Child Exploitation Task Forces that operate around
the country, in which its agents work in tandem with victim
specialists from its Office for Victim Assistance, as well as
state and local law enforcement agencies. The Bureau
announced in 2014 that a nationwide crackdown on the sex
trafficking of underage persons, part of its Innocence Lost
initiative, swept up about 280 pimps and similar exploiters
and led to the rescuing of nearly 170 minors from their con-
trol. Since its creation in 2003, the Innocence Lost sting
operations have resulted in the identification and recovery of
approximately 3,600 sexually exploited minors (FBI, 2014a).

Activists have identified the immediate needs of per-
sons extracted from the clutches of traffickers that ought to
be provided by local law enforcement and social welfare
agencies: temporary housing, assistance to relocate to
another area, transportation on a daily basis, legal advice,
and of course physical protection. Ideally, a trained counselor
should be assigned to the rescued person’s case within a few
hours (Gonzalez, 2013). Advocacy groups are developing and
then recommending various “best practices” that fit within a
victim-centered approach to prevent the smuggling and sale
of human beings across national boundaries, to safeguard
these rescued individuals from further harm, and to
repatriate them to their country of origin or else reintegrate
them into the destination society, at first with legal
immigrant status and eventually with citizenship rights.

Stage Three: Challenges Arise and Opposition Emerges

No one approves of or defends involuntary servitude and
sexual violence, but the crusade against human trafficking
has provoked some opposition among thoughtful people and
concerned groups for a number of reasons.

First of all, some activists share the moral outrage of
the crusaders but feel that the widespread use of the

shocking phrase modern-day slavery is overly dramatic and
an historically inaccurate equation of contemporary forms of
servitude with the horrific institutionalized barbarism of the
transatlantic slave trade that for several centuries relent-
lessly brought fresh supplies of captive Africans to the new
world as chattel to be bought, sold, and worked to near
death (similarly, the very serious terms lynching, genocide,
and holocaust can be inappropriately applied to lesser

Other critics are dismayed that this reform movement
has become drawn into a divisive and intractable debate over
the “oldest profession”: whether the sale of sexual favors is
inherently coercive, invariably embodies female subordina-
tion, and must be driven out of business by punishing prof-
iteers, pimps, the women themselves, and their customers.
Some argued that becoming a sex worker as an adult can be a
voluntary and rational choice, and that these employees or
independent contractors deserve economic rights, medical
care, and basic legal protections rather than further stigma-
tization and permanent criminal records that just drive their
forbidden exchanges of erotic acts for money deeper under-
ground where they become even more dangerous (see Grant,
2013). In 2003, the Bush administration reaffirmed its oppo-
sition to pimping, pandering, and maintaining brothels as
inherently harmful and dehumanizing and as furnishing an
incentive for the international sex trade in females. This
stance prohibited any nongovernmental service organizations
that receive federal funding to help victims from supporting
any toleration of prostitution as a solution to the trafficking
problem. As a result, advocacy groups have become embroiled
in a debate over prostitution, instead of focusing their ener-
gies on devising improved services for individuals who feel
trapped (see DeStefano, 2007; Chuang, 2010; Cavalieri, 2011;
and Uy, 2011). Some defense attorneys representing
indigents estimate that many, but not all, of their clients
arrested on prostitution charges are, in fact, trafficked
according to the current broadened definition, and many
more have survived an extensive amount of brutality and
trauma. But they ask why hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates
prostitution with slavery usually leads to crackdowns in
which the ostensible victims who are supposed to be
rescued by raids instead are prosecuted, resulting in their
facing jail time, possible deportation, warrants for failure to
appear in court, and rap sheets that undermine their
efforts to find jobs and housing in order to leave “the life”
(Mugulescu, 2014).

Many concerned activists and advocacy groups feel that
the media’s preoccupation with lurid stories about sex traf-
ficking causes lawmakers and law enforcement agencies to lose
sight of the more pervasive forms of people smuggling for the
purposes of taking terrible advantage of them as migrant


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B O X 2.3 (Continued)

laborers as they toil in the fields, factories, and private homes of
their exploitive employers (see Chuang, 2010; and Uy, 2011).

Similarly, an emphasis on the criminal justice approach
to trafficking as a threat to border security (especially in a
post-9/11 world) and as a way of smashing transnational
organized syndicates draws substantial amounts of very lim-
ited resources toward “crime-fighting” and away from efforts
to protect and address the needs of victims (see Lobasz, 2009;
Chuang, 2010; and Uy, 2011).

Finally, some skeptics suspect that the true magnitude of
the problem has been exaggerated by campaigners who dissemi-
nate shocking overestimates in order to arouse an otherwise
jaded public (see Grant, 2013). They point out that the actual
number of cases, successful prosecutions, and verified victims are
tiny fractions of these large, widely circulated figures. For
example, between 2000 and early 2007, federal agencies had
certified only 1,175 people from 77 countries as victims of human
trafficking (U.S. Department of State, 2007). During 2009, the
State Department issued only about 600 T visas and Continuing
Presence orders to cooperating victims (U.S. Department of State,
2011). Yet a CIA report in 2000 estimated that up to 50,000
women and children are trafficked into the United States each
year for the sex trade (see Rieger, 2007). Other estimates came in
lower; the yearly figure cited above by President Bush was about
one-third the size of the CIA estimate but still way beyond the
tiny number of rescued persons. On New York’s Long Island, an
area reputed to be a hotbed of trafficking, not one arrest was
made during 2005, and only one woman was rescued from pros-
titution (Mead, 2006). As for the importation of teenage girls
from abroad and from other parts of the United States to the
streets of New York City for the purposes of prostitution, a fed-
erally funded ethnographic study of underage sex workers found
very few that could be considered “trafficked.” The estimates
derived from the field interviews were surprising: Nearly half
were boys; almost half were recruited into the sex trade by
friends; only 1 in 10 were involved with pimps; over 9 in 10 were
born in the United States; and more than half were native New
Yorkers (see Curtis et al., 2008; and Hinman, 2011).

Several explanations attempt to account for this dis-
crepancy between rough estimates and actual statistics. One
is that the low numbers indicate that the U.S. government
has not allocated sufficient resources to thoroughly train law
enforcement officers and to fund extensive investigations
into this problem and extract people from the clutches of
traffickers and exploiters. A variation on this theme is that
there is insufficient cooperation and coordination between
the agencies tasked by the TVPA enforcement provisions with
bringing this problem under control. But others suspect that
the low numbers of substantiated cases reveal that political
figures and advocacy groups may have greatly overestimated
the prevalence of trafficking into (as well as within) the
United States (see Farrell et al., 2010).

Stage Four: Research Findings Temporarily Resolve

The true intensity of the problem remains unknown since
trafficking often goes undetected and unreported due to its
covert nature, the reluctance of victims who feel vulnerable
and fear reprisals to turn to the authorities for help, mis-
conceptions about its definition, and a lack of awareness
about it in some localities (Polaris Project, 2014b).

The first set of reasonably accurate statistics about the
profiles of victims in human trafficking cases was derived
from those federal task forces that collected “high-quality”
data about their investigations during the period of 2008–
2010. A little over 525 confirmed victims were located in
about 390 cases. Most of the investigations concerned sex
trafficking rather than labor trafficking. In the sex trafficking
cases, the overwhelming proportion of victims were female
(94 percent). Also, the vast majority were younger than 25
years old (87 percent) and U.S. citizens (83 percent). As for
the victims’ race and ethnicity, more were black (40 percent)
and white (26 percent) than Hispanic or Asian. In the labor
trafficking cases, most of the victims were over 24 years
of age (62 percent), and more were males (32 percent),
Hispanics (63 percent), and Asians (17 percent). None were
U.S. citizens (Banks and Kyckkelhahn, 2011).

A portrait of the problem was drawn from nearly 1,500
individuals who considered themselves to be caught up in sex
and labor trafficking and who directly contacted a hotline for
victims during the five-year period from 2007 to 2012. The
most common complaints about sex trafficking involved
prostitutes controlled by pimps. The majority of these pimps
recruited these young women in social settings by feigning
romantic interest, by promising them that they would earn
enough to enjoy the material comforts they longed for, and
by discouraging them from having casual sex “for free.” Then
they pressured them to perform sex acts at hotels, motels,
truck stops, brothels, and streets for customers solicited
through online advertisements. Most of the complaints about
labor trafficking came from women from foreign nations
stuck doing domestic work in the Northeast as well as in
southern Florida and southern California, and from migrant
farm workers. Minors were more likely to be exploited sexu-
ally than through unpaid labor. Callers reported that they
most often became trapped because of lies, false promises,
and debts (Polaris Project, 2013).

Victimologists want to discover why many individuals
caught up in these oppressive situations do not run to the
authorities for help. In other words, what can be done to
increase the reporting rate? Exactly how do the traffickers lure
or deceive their targets (presumably through false promises of a
better life and ploys about legitimate jobs); how do they recruit
children (perhaps by capitalizing on their innocence and

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naïveté, sometimes with parental complicity); and how do they
dominate and intimidate those who find themselves trapped
into involuntary servitude, even when chances to escape their
predicament repeatedly arise? Are victims immobilized because
their exploiters confiscate all their documents, take advantage
of language barriers, threaten reprisals against loved ones at
home in the source country, and scare them about deportation
if they dare seek help? Perhaps some individuals who enter the
country improperly and toil mightily don’t perceive themselves
to be trafficking victims—they don’t realize that exploitive
relationships that might be acceptable back home may fall
under the heading of trafficking here. Whether these explana-
tions are sufficient, relevant, and comprehensive needs to be
further researched by directly interviewing victims who have
been extracted, perhaps unwillingly, from their perilous life-
styles (see George, 2003; Landesman, 2004; Bureau of Public
Affairs, 2005; Glaberson, 2005; Saunders, 2005; Rieger, 2007;
Uy, 2011; and Dank, 2014).

The murder of several border crossers in Arizona by
smugglers (called “coyotes”) holding them hostage in frus-
trated attempts to extort more money from their families
back home indicated the depth of the perils victims face
(Fulginiti, 2008). A surge of unaccompanied minors from
Central America across the nation’s southern border during
2014 raised the specter of homeless youth ripe for sexual

exploitation (Hulse, 2014). Furthermore, studies based on
surveys completed by municipal and county police depart-
ments have concluded that most of these law enforcement
agencies lacked sufficient policies and adequate training to
accurately identify trafficking victims and successfully
investigate their cases (Wilson, Walsh, and Kleuber, 2006;
Farrell et al., 2010; and George, 2012).

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
have compiled lists of behaviors and situations to help
investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Immigration
and Naturalization Service, and state and local law enforce-
ment and child protection agencies, to better recognize traf-
ficking victims if they encounter them in their daily duties.
Officers and concerned members of the general public should
be on the lookout for the potential signs of being trafficked
for the purpose of exploitation in the sex trade or for debt
peonage. These clues appear in Table 2.1.

Whether the problem is growing or subsiding and
whether specific government assistance and rescue efforts are
effective remain subjects of controversy that require addi-
tional research. This is why the plight of trafficking victims
within the United States can be considered to have arrived at
Stage 4 of the rediscovery process.

T A B L E 2.1 Possible Indicators That a Person Is a Trafficking Victim

Does the individual …?

Live on or very close to the work premises

Bunk in a sparse place with many other occupants

Lack personal space and possessions

Frequently move from one work site to another

Appear unfamiliar with how to get around the neighborhood

Seem unable to travel around freely

Admit that he/she cannot socialize with outsiders and attend religious services

Disclose that he/she was recruited for one line of work but then was compelled to perform other tasks

Confide that earnings are garnished and held by someone else

Indicate that identification and travel documents are held by someone else

Appear to have been coached about what to say to immigration and police officers

Seem unable to talk openly and to communicate freely with family and friends

Look injured from beatings or show signs of malnourishment or lack of medical treatment

Defer to someone else who insists on speaking or interpreting for him/her

Claim to be represented by the same attorney that handles the cases of many other

undocumented workers (illegal aliens)

SOURCES: Blue Campaign, 2010; Walker-Rodriguez and Hill, 2011.

T H E R E D I S C O V E R Y O F C R I M E V I C T I M S 63

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Laws that recognized that individuals harmed by offen-
ders deserved governmental support and economic aid
were passed centuries ago, but until the middle of the
twentieth century, the plight of crime victims was
largely overlooked, even by most criminologists.

Today, the plight of victims is being brought to
the public’s attention by journalists covering the
crime beat, social movements mobilizing in behalf
of certain individuals and groups who embody their
causes and agendas, elected officials seeking voters’
support, and commercial interests advertising pro-
ducts and services to guard against victimization.

The rediscovery process goes through four
stages. After a group’s plight becomes known and
reforms are implemented, an opposition frequently
arises that resists further changes that might be to
the group’s advantage. When conflicts arise, victi-
mologists can help resolve them by studying how
seriously these newly rediscovered groups actually
suffer, if their numbers are really growing or declin-
ing, and whether reform measures and efforts
designed to assist them are genuinely working as


bias crimes, 43

Brady Bill, 45

children’s rights groups,

civil court, 40

civil liberties
movement, 44

civil rights movement,

claims-making, 55

elder abuse, 44

English common law,

false memory
syndrome, 57

movement, 42

Megan’s Law, 46

plea negotiation, 41

public prosecutors, 40

self-help movement, 44

sensationalism, 47

street crimes, 40

tort law, 40

trafficking in human
beings, 58

women’s movement,


1. Identify some of the most important milestones
in the history of academic victimology.

2. Highlight some of the first breakthroughs in
victim assistance.

3. Summarize what happens at each stage of the
rediscovery process.

4. Explain how the campaign to rescue victims of
human trafficking has sparked some controversies.


1. Identify a group of victims of some specific
illegal activity who still has not been rediscov-
ered and was not mentioned in this chapter.
Describe the kinds of harm this group might be

2. Argue that the rediscovery of victims by the
news media, elected officials, and commercial
enterprises is a “mixed blessing” by stressing the
downside: the potential for exploiting their
plight for some ulterior purpose such as per-
sonal gain or profiting from their suffering.

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1. Find out about some recently proposed or
passed laws in your state that have been named
in honor of crime victims. In each case, ask
whether this legislation offers anything
specific—other than ratcheted-up punishment
of the offender—to ease the victim’s plight.

2. Choose a group from the list in Box 2.2 whose
plight is currently being rediscovered. Pose
questions that researchers ought to examine.
Find out about the composition of this group,

the nature of its losses, and the efforts now
underway to ease its suffering.

3. Choose several groups whose plight is now
well known, such as physically abused children,
kidnapped children, battered women, abused
elders, or carjacked motorists. Find out about
how their plight was first rediscovered by
looking up the oldest or earliest articles that
appear in a comprehensive database of news-
paper, magazine, and journal articles.

T H E R E D I S C O V E R Y O F C R I M E V I C T I M S 65

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Victimization in
the United States:
An Overview

Victimization Across the Nation: The Big Picture

Making Sense of Statistics
The Two Official Sources of Data

Facts and Figures in the Federal Bureau of Investiga-
tion’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR)

Facts and Figures in the Bureau of Justice Statistics’
National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

Comparing the UCR and the NCVS
A First Glance at the Big Picture: Estimates of the

Number of New Crime Victims Each Year
A Second Look at the Big Picture: Watching the FBI’s

Crime Clock
Delving Deeper into the Big Picture: Examining Vic-

timization Rates
Tapping into the UCR and the NCVS to Fill in the

Details of the Big Picture
Searching for Changes in the Big Picture: Detecting

Trends in Interpersonal Violence and Theft
Taking a Longer View: Murders in the United States

over the Past Century

The Rise and Fall of Murder Rates Since 1900

Putting Crime into Perspective: The Chances of Dying
Violently—or from Other Causes


Key Terms Defined in the Glossary

Questions for Discussion and Debate

Critical Thinking Questions

Suggested Research Projects

To appreciate how statistics can be used to answer

important questions.

To become aware of the ways statistics can be used to
persuade and mislead.

To find out what information about crime victims is
collected routinely by the federal government’s
Department of Justice.

To become familiar with the ways that victimologists use
this data to estimate how many people were harmed by
criminal activities and what injuries and losses they suffered.


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Victimologists gather and interpret data to answer
crucial questions such as: How many people are
harmed by criminals each year? Is victimization
becoming more of a problem or is it subsiding as
time goes by? And which groups are targeted the
most and the least often? Researchers want to find
out where and when the majority of incidents
occur, whether predators on the prowl intimidate
and subjugate their prey with their bare hands or
use weapons, and if so, what kinds? It is also impor-
tant to determine whether individuals are attacked
by complete strangers or people they know, and
how these intended targets act when confronted
by assailants. What proportion try to escape or
fight back, how many are injured, what percentage

need to be hospitalized, and how much money do
they typically lose in an incident?

The answers to specific questions like these
yield statistical portraits of crime victims, the pat-
terns that persist over the years, and the trends
that unfold as time passes; when taken together,
they constitute what can be termed the big picture
—an overview of what is really happening across
the entire United States during the twenty-first
century. The big picture serves as an antidote to
impressions based on direct but limited personal
experiences, as well as self-serving reports circulated
by organizations with vested interests, misleading
media images, crude stereotypes, and widely held
myths. But putting together the big picture is not
easy. Compiling an accurate portrayal requires care-
ful planning, formulation of the right questions,
proper data collection techniques, and insightful

The big picture is constructed by making sys-
tematic observations and accurate measurements on
the local level. Then, these village, city, and county
reports must be aggregated so victimologists and
criminologists are able to characterize the situation
in an entire state, region of the country, and ulti-
mately the nation as a whole. (Sociologists would
call this process as going from an up-close and per-
sonal micro level up to a more institutional and
systemwide macro level of analysis.) An alternative
path to follow is to assemble a randomly selected
nationwide sample and then ask those people to
share their experiences about what offenders did
to them during the past year. If the sample is rep-
resentative and large enough, then the findings
from this survey can be generalized to project esti-
mates about what is happening in the country as a
whole. Once the big picture is assembled, it
becomes possible to make comparisons between
the situation in the United States and other post-
industrial societies around the world. The similari-
ties are increasing and cultural differences are
diminishing as globalization is fostering a modern
way of life, which involves seeking higher educa-
tion, commuting over congested highways to
work, shopping in malls, watching cable TV pro-
gramming, using the Internet, and calling the police


To explore the kinds of information about victims that
can be found in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
annual Uniform Crime Report.

To learn how the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting
System is extracting more information drawn from
police files about victims.

To appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of this source
of official statistics.

To discover what data about victims and their plight can
be found in the federal government’s alternative source
of information, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National
Crime Victimization Survey.

To recognize the strengths and weaknesses of this alter-
native source of government statistics.

To assemble official statistics to spot trends, and especially
whether the problem of criminal victimization has
been intensifying or diminishing over recent decades.

To develop a feel for historical trends in the level of
violence in the United States.

To be able to weigh the threat of crime against other
perils by understanding comparative risks.

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on smartphones for help, that has spread to even the
most remote regions of the planet.

Until the 1970s, few efforts were made to rou-
tinely monitor and systematically measure various
indicators of the plight of the nation’s victims. By
the 1980s, a great many social scientists and agencies
were conducting the research needed to bring the
big picture into focus. Also, all sorts of special-
interest groups began keeping count and dissemi-
nating their own estimates about the suffering of a
wide variety of victims, including youngsters
wounded at school, college students hurt or killed
on campus, children reported missing by their par-
ents, and people singled out by assailants who hate
their “kind.”

The statistics presented in this chapter come
from official sources and shed light on the big
picture concerning “street crimes” involving inter-
personal violence and theft.

Making Sense of Statistics

Statistics are meaningful numbers that reveal impor-
tant information. Statistics are of crucial importance to
social scientists, policy analysts, and decision makers
because they replace vague adjectives such as
“many,” “most,” and “few” with precise numbers.

Both victimologists and criminologists gather
their own data to make their own calculations, or
they scrutinize official statistics, which are com-
piled and published by government agencies. Why
do they pore over these numbers? By collecting,
computing, and analyzing statistics, researchers can
answer intriguing questions. Accurate and credible
statistics about crimes and victims are vital because
they can shed light on these important matters:

Statistics can be calculated to estimate
victimization rates, which are realistic
assessments of threat levels that criminal activ-
ities pose to particular individuals and groups.
What are the odds various categories of people
face of getting robbed or even murdered dur-
ing a certain time period? Counts (such as
death tolls) answer the question “How many?”
Better yet, rates (number of persons who get
robbed out of every 100,000 people in a year)

can provide relative estimates about these
disturbing questions.

Statistics can expose patterns of criminal
activity. Patterns reflect predictable relation-
ships or regular occurrences that show up
during an analysis of the data year after year.
For instance, a search for patterns could answer
these questions: Is it true that murders generally
occur at a higher rate in urban neighborhoods
than in suburban and rural areas? Are robberies
committed more often against men than
women, or vice versa?

Statistical trends can demonstrate how situa-
tions have changed over the years. Is the bur-
den of victimization intensifying or subsiding as
time goes by? Are the dangers of getting killed
by robbers increasing or decreasing?

Statistics can provide estimates of the costs and
losses imposed by illegal behavior. Estimates
based on accurate records can be important for
commercial purposes. For example, insurance
companies can determine what premiums to
charge their customers this year based on
actuarial calculations of the typical financial
expenses suffered by policyholders who were
hospitalized last year after being wounded by

Statistics can be used for planning purposes to
project a rough or “ballpark figure” of next
year’s workload. Law enforcement agencies,
service providers, and insurance companies can
anticipate the approximate size of their case-
loads for the following year if they know how
many people were harmed the previous year.

Statistics also can be computed to evaluate the
effectiveness of criminal justice policies and to
assess the impact of prevention strategies. Are
battered women likely to lead safer lives after
their violent mates are arrested, or will they be
in greater danger? Do gun buyback programs
actually save lives or is their impact on the local
murder rate negligible?

Finally, statistical profiles can be assembled to
yield an impression of what is usual or typical

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about victims in terms of their characteristics
such as sex, age, and race/ethnicity. For
example, is the widely held belief accurate that
most of the people who die violently are young
men from troubled families living in poverty-
stricken, big-city neighborhoods? Portraits
based on data can also provide a reality check
to help ground theories that purport to explain
why some groups experience higher rates of
predation than others. For example, if it turns
out that the frail elderly are robbed far less
often than teenagers, then any theory that
emphasizes only the physical vulnerability of
robbers’ targets will be totally off-base or at best
incomplete as an explanation of which groups
suffer the most, and why.

However, statistics might not only be used,
they can also be abused. Statistics never speak for
themselves. Sometimes, statistics can be circulated
to mislead or deceive. The same numbers can be
interpreted quite differently, depending on what
spin commentators give them—what is stressed
and what is downplayed. Cynics joke that statistics
can be used by a special-interest group just like a
lamppost is used by a drunkard—for support rather
than for illumination.

Officials, agencies, and organizations with
their own particular agendas may selectively
release statistics to influence decision makers or
shape public opinion. For example, law enforce-
ment agencies might circulate alarming figures
showing a rise in murders and robberies at budget
hearings to support their arguments that they need
more money for personnel and equipment to bet-
ter protect and serve the community. Or these
same agencies might cite data showing a declining
number of victimizations in order to take credit for
improving public safety. Their argument could be
that those in charge are doing their jobs so well,
such as hunting down murderers or preventing
robberies, that they should be given even more
funding next year to further drive down the rate
of violent crime. Statistics also might serve as
evidence to argue that existing laws and policies
are having the intended desirable effects or,

conversely, to persuade people that the old meth-
ods are not working and new approaches are

Interpretations of mathematical findings can
be given a spin that may be questionable or
debatable—for example, emphasizing that a shelter
for battered women is “half empty” rather than
“half full,” or stressing how much public safety
has improved, as opposed to how much more prog-
ress is needed before street crime can be considered
under control. As useful and necessary as statistics
are, they should always be viewed with a healthy
dose of scientific skepticism.

Although some mistakes are honest and
unavoidable, it is easy to “lie” with statistics by
using impressive and scientific-sounding numbers
to manipulate or mislead. Whenever statistics are
presented to underscore or clinch some point in
an argument, their origin and interpretation must
be questioned, and certain methodological issues
must be raised. What was the origin of the data,
and does this source have a vested interest in shap-
ing public opinion? Are different estimates available
from other sources? What kinds of biases and inac-
curacies could have crept into the collection and
analysis of the data? How valid and precise were
the measurements? How were key variables
operationalized—defined and measured? What
was counted and what was excluded, and why?

Victimologists committed to objectivity must
point out the shortcomings and limitations of data
collection systems run by the government. They try
to interpret statistics without injecting any particular
spin into their conclusions because (it is hoped) they
have no “axe to grind” other than enlightening
people about the myths and realities surrounding
the crime problem.


As early as the 1800s, public officials began keeping
records about lawbreaking to gauge the “moral
health” of society. Then, as now, high rates of inter-
personal violence and theft were taken as signs of
social pathology—indications that something was

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profoundly wrong with the way people generally
interacted in everyday life. Annual data sets were
compiled to determine whether illegal activities
were being brought under control as time passed.
Monitoring trends is even more important today
because many innovative but intrusive and expensive
criminal justice policies intended to curb crime have
been implemented.

Two government reports published each year
contain statistical data that enable victimologists to
keep track of what is happening out on the streets.
Both of these official sources of facts and figures
are disseminated each year by the U.S. Depart-
ment of Justice in Washington, D.C. Each of
these government data collection systems has its
own strengths and weaknesses in terms of provid-
ing the information victimologists and criminolo-
gists are seeking to answer their research questions.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform
Crime Report (UCR): Crime in the United States
is a massive compilation of all incidents “known”
to local, county, and state police departments
across the country. The FBI’s UCR is a virtual
“bible” of crime statistics based on victims’ com-
plaints and direct observations made by officers. It
is older and better known than the other official
source, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National
Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS): Criminal
Victimization in the United States. The BJS’s
NCVS provides projections for various regions
and for the entire country based on incidents vol-
untarily disclosed to interviewers by a huge
national sample drawn from the general public.

Facts and Figures in the Federal Bureau of
Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR)

The UCR was established in 1927 by a committee
set up by the International Association of Chiefs of
Police. The goal was to develop a uniform set of
definitions and reporting formats for gathering
crime statistics. Since 1930, the FBI has published
crime data in the UCR that was forwarded volun-
tarily to Washington by police departments across
the United States. In recent years, more than
18,000 village, town, tribal, college, municipal,

county, and state police departments and sheriff’s
departments in all 50 states, the District of
Columbia, and several territories that serve about
97 percent of the more than 300 million inhabit-
ants of the United States participate in the data
collection process, usually by sending periodic
reports to state criminal justice clearinghouses.
Several federal law enforcement agencies now
contribute data as well (FBI, 2014).

The FBI divides up the crimes it tracks into
two listings. Unfortunately, both Part I and Part II
of the UCR have been of limited value to those
interested in studying the actual flesh-and-blood
victims rather than the incidents known to police
departments or the characteristics of the persons
arrested for allegedly committing them.

Part I of the UCR focuses on eight index
crimes, the illegal acts most people readily think
about when they hear the term “street crime.”
Four index crimes count violent attacks directed
“against persons”: murder, forcible rape, robbery,
and aggravated assault. The other four monitor
crimes “against property”: burglary, larceny (thefts
of all kinds), motor vehicle theft, and arson. (The
category of arson was added in 1979 at the request
of Congress when poor neighborhoods in big cities
experienced many blazes of suspicious origin.
However, incidents of arson are still unreliably
measured because intentionally set fires might
remain classified by fire marshals as being “of
unknown origin.”) These eight crimes (in actual
practice, seven) are termed index crimes because
the FBI adds all the known incidents of each one
of these categories together to compute a “crime
index” that can be used for year-to-year and
place-to-place comparisons to gauge the seriousness
of the problem. (But note that this grand total is
unweighted; that means a murder is counted as
just one index crime event, the same as an
attempted car theft. So the grand total [like “com-
paring apples and oranges”] is a huge composite
that is difficult to interpret.)

The UCR presents the number of acts of vio-
lence and theft known to the authorities for cities,
counties, states, regions of the country, and even
many college campuses (since the mid-1990s; see

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Chapter 11). For each crime, the FBI compiles
information about the number of incidents reported
to the police, the total estimated losses in billions
of dollars due to property crimes, the proportion of
cases that were solved, and some characteristics of
the suspects arrested (age, sex, race)—but, unfortu-
nately for victimologists, nothing about the people
who suffered harm and filed the complaints.

In Part II, the UCR only provides counts of
the number of people arrested for 21 assorted
offenses (but no estimates of the total number of
these illegal acts committed nationwide). Some
Part II crimes that lead to arrests do cause injuries
to individuals, such as “offenses against women and
children,” as well as “sex offenses” other than forc-
ible rape and prostitution. Others do not have
clearly identifiable victims, such as counterfeiting,
prostitution, gambling, drunkenness, disorderly
conduct, weapons possession, and drug offenses.
Still other Part II arrests could have arisen from
incidents that directly harm identifiable individuals,
including embezzlement, fraud, vandalism, and
buying/receiving/possessing stolen property.

The Uniform Crime Reporting Division fur-
nishes data in separate annual publications about
how many hate crimes were reported to police
departments (see Chapter 11). It also issues a yearly
analysis of how many law enforcement officers
were feloniously assaulted and slain in the line of
duty, the weapons used against them, and the
assignments they were carrying out when they
were injured or killed (also analyzed in Chapter 11).

From a victimologist’s point of view, the
UCR’s method of data collection suffers from sev-
eral shortcomings that undermine its accuracy and
usefulness (see Savitz, 1982; and O’Brien, 1985).
First of all, underreporting remains an intractable
problem. Because many victims do not inform
their local law enforcement agencies about illegal
acts committed against them and their possessions
(see Chapter 6), the FBI’s compilation of “crimes
known to the police” is unavoidably incomplete.
The annual figures about the number of reported
crimes recorded as committed inevitably are lower
than the actual (but unknown) number of crimes
that really were carried out. Second, the UCR

focuses on accused offenders (keeping track of the
age, sex, and race) but does not provide any infor-
mation about the complainants who reported the
incidents. Only information about murder victims
(their age, sex, and race) is collected routinely (see
Chapter 4). Third, the UCR lumps together reports
of attempted crimes (usually not as serious for vic-
tims) with completed crimes (in which offenders
achieved their goals). Fourth, when computing
crime rates for cities, counties, and states, the FBI
counts incidents directed against all kinds of targets,
adding together crimes against impersonal entities
(such as businesses and government agencies) on the
one hand, and individuals and households on the
other. For example, the totals for robberies include
bank holdups as well as muggings; statistics about bur-
glaries combine attempted break-ins of offices with
the ransacking of homes; figures for larcenies include
goods shoplifted from department stores in addition
to thefts of items swiped from parked cars.

Another shortcoming is that the FBI instructs
local police departments to observe the hierarchy
rule when reporting incidents: List the event under
the heading of the most serious crime that took
place. The ranking in the hierarchy from most ter-
rible to less serious runs from murder to forcible
rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, vehicle
theft, and finally larceny. For instance, if an armed
intruder breaks into a home and finds a woman
alone, rapes her, steals her jewelry, and drives off
in her car, the entire incident will be counted for
record-keeping purposes only as a forcible rape
(the worst crime she endured). The fact that this
person suffered other offenses at the hands of
the criminal isn’t reflected in the yearly totals of
known incidents. If the rapist is caught, he could
also be charged with armed robbery, burglary,
motor vehicle theft, possession of a deadly weapon,
and possession of stolen property, even though
these lesser offenses are not added to the UCR’s

Phasing in a National Incident-Based Reporting
System Fortunately, the UCR is being overhauled
and is becoming a much more useful source of
information about individuals who are harmed

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by lawbreakers. The FBI is converting its data col-
lection format to a National Incident-Based Reporting
System (NIBRS).

Law enforcement officials began to call for a
more extensive record-keeping system during the
late 1970s. The police force in Austin, Texas, was
the first to switch to this comprehensive data
collection and reporting system. However, other
big-city police departments that deal with a huge
volume of crime reports have had trouble meeting
NIBRS goals and timetables, so complete imple-
mentation has been postponed repeatedly. North
Dakota and South Carolina were the first two states
to adopt NIBRS formatting in 1991. As of 2008,
NIBRS data collection was taking place in 32 states
and the District of Columbia, covering 25 percent
of the nation’s population, 26 percent of its
reported crimes, and 37 percent of its law enforce-
ment agencies (IBR Resource Center, 2011). But
the switchover seems to be proceeding very slowly.
A 2012 NIBRS national report compiled figures
submitted by 6,115 law enforcement agencies
(only 33 percent of the over 18,000 participating
departments) in 32 states that covered about 30 per-
cent of the nation’s population and 28 percent of all
crimes known to police departments across the
country (FBI, 2014b).

One major change is the abandonment of the
hierarchy rule of reporting only the worst offense
that happened during a sequence of closely related
events. Preserving a great many details makes it pos-
sible to determine how often one crime evolves into
another, such as a carjacking escalating into a kidnap-
ping, or a robbery intensifying into a life-threatening
shooting. For the incident cited above that was cate-
gorized as a forcible rape under the hierarchy rule,
this new record-keeping system also would retain
information about the initial burglary; the resulting
robbery; the vehicle theft; other property stolen
from the victim and its value; other injuries sus-
tained; the woman’s age, sex, and race; whether
there was a previous relationship between her and
the intruder; and the date, time, and location of
the incident. Until the advent of the NIBRS com-
puter database, only in cases of homicide were some
of these facts extracted from police files and retained.

Another significant aspect of the overhaul is
that the NIBRS provides expanded coverage of
additional illegal activities. Instead of just eight
closely watched UCR index offenses, FBI compu-
ters are now prepared to keep track of 46 Group A
offenses derived from 22 categories of crimes. In
addition to the four “crimes against persons” and
the four “against property” of the UCR’s Part I,
the new Group A monitors offenses that formerly
had been listed in Part II or just not collected at all.
Victim-oriented data are becoming available for
simple assault (including intimidation), vandalism
(property damage and destruction), blackmail
(extortion), fraud (swindles and con games), forcible
sex crimes (sodomy, sexual assault with an object,
and fondling), nonforcible sex offenses (statutory
rape and incest), kidnapping (including parental
abductions), and the nonpunishable act of justifiable
homicide. The data collected about a victim of a
Group A offense include these variables: sex, age,
race and ethnicity, area of residence, type of injury,
any prior relationship to the offender, and the
circumstances surrounding the attack in cases of
aggravated assault and murder. If items were stolen,
the details preserved about them include the types
of possession taken and their value, and in cases of
motor vehicle theft, whether the car was recovered.
Also, the NIBRS makes a distinction between
attempted and successfully completed acts (from
the criminal’s point of view) (IBR Resource
Center, 2011).

Already, some data mining studies based exclu-
sively on the NIBRS archives from selected states
and cities address some intriguing issues. For exam-
ple, an analysis of roughly 1,200 cases of abductions
in the 12 states that had switched over to NIBRS by
1997 shed light on a previously overlooked subcat-
egory of “holding of a person against his or her
will,” called acquaintance kidnapping. This newly
recognized offense includes situations such as when
a teenage boy isolates his former girlfriend to punish
her for spurning him, to pressure her to return to
him, to compel her to submit sexually, or to evade
her parents’ efforts to break them up. Also included
are incidents in which street gang members spirit off
rivals to intimidate them, retaliate against them, or

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even recruit them. In these types of hostage takings,
the perpetrators tend to be juveniles just like their
teenage targets, the abductions often take place
in homes as opposed to public places, and the cap-
tives are more likely to be assaulted (Finkelhor and
Ormrod, 2000).

Several studies using NIBRS data from certain
jurisdictions have revealed important findings about
various types of murders. In general, elderly men
are murdered at twice the rate as elderly women
(Chu and Kraus, 2004). Specifically, older white
males are the most frequent victims of “eldercide”;
they are killed predominantly by offenders who are
below the age of 45 and tend to be complete stran-
gers. Female senior citizens are more likely to be
slain by assailants who are older than 45 and are
often either a spouse or grown child (Krienert and
Walsh, 2010). Murders of intimate partners tend to
be committed late at night, during weekends, and
in the midst of certain holidays more often than at
other times (Vazquez, Stohr, and Purkiss, 2005).
Also, the higher homicide rate in Southern cities
actually may not be due to a presumed subculture
of violence or “code of honor” that supposedly
compels individuals likely to lose fights and suffer
beatings to nevertheless stand up to the aggressors
to save face (Chilton, 2004).

Facts and Figures in the Bureau of Justice
Statistics’ National Crime Victimization
Survey (NCVS)

Victimologists and criminologists have reservations
about the accuracy of the official records kept by
police departments that form the basis of the FBI’s
UCR as well as its NIBRS. Tallies maintained by
local law enforcement agencies surely are incom-
plete due to victim nonreporting. Also, on occa-
sion, these closely watched statistics may be
distorted by police officials as a result of political
pressures to either downplay or inflate the total
number of incidents in their jurisdiction in order
to manipulate public opinion about the seriousness
of the local crime problem or the effectiveness of
their crime-fighting strategies (for example, see
Eterno and Silverman, 2012).

Dissatisfaction with official record-keeping
practices has led criminologists to collect their
own data. The first method used was the self-
report survey. Small samples of people were
promised anonymity and confidentiality if they
would “confess” on questionnaires about the crimes
they had committed. This line of inquiry consis-
tently revealed greater volumes of illegal acts than
were indicated by official statistics in government
reports. Self-report surveys confirmed the hypothe-
sis that large numbers of people broke the law
(especially during their teens and twenties), but
most were never investigated, arrested, or con-
victed, especially if they were members of middle-
or upper-class families. But self-reports about
offending did not shed any light on those who
were on the receiving end of these illegal acts.

After establishing the usefulness of self-report
surveys about offenses, the next logical step for
researchers was to query people from all walks of
life about any street crimes that may have been
committed against them rather than by them. These
self-report studies originally were called “victim
surveys.” But that label was somewhat misleading
because most respondents answered that they were
not victims—they had not been harmed by street
crimes during the time period in question.

The first national survey about victimization
(based on a random sample of 10,000 households)
was carried out in 1966 for the President’s Com-
mission on Law Enforcement and the Administra-
tion of Justice. It immediately confirmed one
suspicion: A sizable percentage of individuals in
the sample who told interviewers that they had suf-
fered losses and/or sustained injuries acknowledged
that they had not reported the incident to the
police. This proof of the existence of what was
termed the “dark figure” (meaning a murky, mys-
terious, imprecise number) of unreported crimes
further undercut confidence in the accuracy of the
FBI’s UCR statistics for all offenses except murder.
Confirming the existence of unreported crime also
underscored the importance of continuing this
alternative way of measuring victimization rates
and trends by directly asking members of the gen-
eral public about their recent experiences.

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In 1972, the federal government initiated a
yearly survey of businesses as well as residents in
26 large cities, but the project was discontinued in
1976. In 1973, the Census Bureau began interview-
ing members of a huge, randomly selected, nation-
wide, stratified, multistage sample of households
(clustered by geographic counties). Until 1992,
the undertaking was known as the National Crime
Survey (NCS). After some revisions, it was retitled
the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

The Aspects of Victimization That It
Measures NCVS respondents answer questions
from a survey that runs more than 20 pages. They
are interviewed every six months for three years.
The questioning begins with a series of screening
items, such as, “During the last six months did any-
one break into your home?” If the respondent
answers yes, follow-up questions are asked to col-
lect details about the incident.

When completed, the survey provides a great
deal of data about the number of violent and prop-
erty crimes committed against the respondents, the
extent of any physical injuries or financial losses
they sustained, and the location and time of the
incidents. It also keeps track of the age, sex, race/
ethnicity, marital status, income level, and place of
residence of the people disclosing their misfortunes
to survey interviewers. The survey records the vic-
tims’ perceptions about the perpetrators (in terms of
whether they seemed to have been drinking and if
they appeared to be members of a gang), whether
they used weapons, and what self-protective
measures—if any—the respondents took before,
during, and after the attack. Additional questions
probe into any prior relationships between them,
as well as the reasons why they did or did not report
the crime to the police.

The survey is person-centered. It is geared
toward uncovering the suffering of individuals 12
years of age or older and the losses experienced by
entire households (but not of workplaces, such as
burglaries of offices or robberies of banks). The
questionnaire focuses on crimes of violence (forc-
ible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) just like
the UCR, plus simple assault, but not murder.

It also inquires about two kinds of thefts from indi-
viduals (personal larceny with contact like purse
snatching and pickpocketing, and without any
direct contact), and three types of stealing directed
at the common property of households—burglary,
larceny, and motor vehicle theft—again, just like
the UCR (except that crimes against collectivities
like organizations and commercial enterprises are
not included in the NCVS but are counted in the
UCR). Identity theft is now examined, but the list
of possible offenses is far from exhaustive. For
example, respondents are not quizzed about
instances of kidnapping, swindling, blackmail,
extortion, and property damage due to vandalism
or arson.

The benefit of survey research is that it elimi-
nates the futility of attempting the impossible: inter-
viewing every person (of the nearly 265 million
people 12 years old or older residing in the entire
United States in 2013) to find out how he or she
fared in the past year. The combined experiences of
just about 160,000 individuals over the age of 11
living in roughly 90,000 households randomly
selected to be in the national sample in 2013 can
be projected to derive estimates of the total number
of people throughout the country who were
robbed, raped, or beaten, and of households that
suffered burglaries, larcenies, or car thefts (Truman
and Langton, 2014).

Shortcomings of the Data At the survey’s incep-
tion, the idea of asking people about their recent
misfortunes was hailed as a major breakthrough that
would provide more accurate statistics than those
found in the UCR. But, for a number of reasons,
the technique has not turned out to be the fool-
proof method for measuring the “actual” amount of
interpersonal violence and theft that some victimol-
ogists had hoped it would be. (For more extensive
critiques of the methodology, see Levine, 1976;
Garofalo, 1981; Skogan, 1981b, 1986; Lehnen
and Skogan, 1981; Reiss, 1981, 1986; Schneider,
1981; O’Brien, 1985; Mayhew and Hough, 1988;
Fattah, 1991; and Lynch and Addington, 2007).

First, the findings of this survey, like any other,
are reliable only to the extent that the national

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sample is truly representative of the population of
the whole country. If the sample is biased (in terms
of factors connected to victimization, such as age,
gender, race, class, and geographical location), then
the projections made about the experiences of the
roughly 250 million people who actually were not
questioned in 2013 will be either too high or too
low. Because the NCVS is household based, it
might fail to fully capture the experiences of tran-
sients (such as homeless persons and inmates) or
people who wish to keep a low profile (such as
“illegal” immigrants or fugitives).

Second, the credibility of what people tell poll-
sters is a constant subject of debate and a matter of
continuing concern in this survey. Underreporting
remains a problem because communication barriers
can inhibit respondents from disclosing details
about certain crimes committed against them (inci-
dents that they also probably refused to bring to the
attention of the police). Any systematic suppression
of the facts, such as the unwillingness of wives to
reveal that their husbands beat them, of teenage
girls to divulge that they suffered date rapes, or of
young men to admit that they were robbed while
trying to buy illicit drugs or a prostitute’s sexual
services, will throw off the survey’s projection of
the true state of affairs. Furthermore, crimes com-
mitted against children under 12 are not probed (so
no information is forthcoming about physical and
sexual abuse by caretakers, or molestations or kid-
nappings by acquaintances or strangers). Memory
decay (forgetting about incidents) also results in
information losses, especially about minor offenses
that did not involve serious injuries or expenses.

But overreporting can occur as well. Some
respondents may exaggerate or deliberately lie for
a host of personal motives. Experienced detectives
filter out any accounts by complainants that do not
sound believable. They deem the charges to be
“unfounded” and decide that no further investiga-
tion is warranted (see Chapter 6). But there is no
such quality control over what people tell NCVS
interviewers. The police don’t accept all reports of
crimes at face value, but pollsters must. “Stolen”
objects actually may have been misplaced, and an
accidentally shattered window may be mistaken as

evidence of an attempted break-in. Also, no verifi-
cation of assertions takes place. If a person in the
sample discusses a crime that was supposedly
reported to the local police, there is no attempt to
double-check to see if the respondent’s recollec-
tions coincide with the information in the depart-
ment’s case files. Forward telescoping is the
tendency to vividly remember traumatic events
and therefore believe that a serious crime occurred
more recently than it actually did (within the sur-
vey’s reference period of “the previous six
months”). It contributes to overreporting because
respondents think a crime should be counted,
when actually it was committed long before and
ought to be excluded.

Because being targeted within the previous six
months is a relatively rare event, tens of thousands
of people must be polled to find a sufficient number
of individuals with incidents worthy of discussion to
meet the requirements for statistical soundness. For
example, about 1,000 people must be interviewed
in order to locate just a handful who were recently
robbed. Estimates derived from small subsamples
(such as robbery victims who are elderly and
female) have large margins of error. The NCVS
therefore requires a huge sample and becomes
very expensive to carry out.

Even with a relatively large number of partici-
pants, the findings of the survey can only describe
the situation in the nation as a whole. The serious-
ness of the crime problem in a particular city,
county, or state cannot be accurately determined
because the national sample is not large enough to
break down into local subgroups of sufficient size
for statistical analysis (with a few exceptions). Fur-
thermore, the projected absolute number of inci-
dents (offenses committed and victims harmed)
and the relative rates (victims per 1,000 people
per year) are really estimates at the midpoint of a
range (what statisticians call a confidence inter-
val). Therefore, NCVS rates always must be
regarded as approximate, plus or minus a certain
correction factor (margin of error) that depends
mostly on the size of the entire sample (all respon-
dents) and becomes statistically questionable for a
very small specific subsample, such as low-income

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young men, living in cities, who were robbed
within the last six months.

The NCVS has improved over the years as
better ways have been devised to draw representa-
tive samples, to determine which incidents coincide
with or don’t fit the FBI’s uniform crime definition,
and to jog respondents’ memories (Taylor, 1989).
In particular, more explicit questions were added
about sexual assaults (involving unwanted or
coerced sexual contact) that fell short of the legal
definition of forcible rape and about instances of
domestic violence (simple assaults) (Hoover, 1994;
and Kindermann, Lynch, and Cantor, 1997).

Over its four decades, the survey’s questions
have been refocused, clarified, and improved. But
the accuracy of the NCVS has suffered because of
waves of budget cuts. To save money, the sample
size has been trimmed repeatedly. Over the dec-
ades, expensive “paper and pencil interviews”
(PAPI) carried out at people’s homes have been
replaced by follow-up phone calls (computer-
assisted telephone interviews [CATI]) and mail-in
questionnaires. The response rate for individuals
who were invited to participate has held steady at
about 88 percent; in other words, 12 percent of the
people chosen for the study declined to answer
questions in 2010 as well as in 2013 (Truman,
2011; and Truman and Langton, 2014).

Comparing the UCR and the NCVS

For victimologists, the greater variety of statistics
published in the NCVS offer many more possibili-
ties for analysis and interpretation than the much
more limited data in the UCR. But both official
sources have their advantages, and the two can be
considered to complement each other.

The UCR, not the NCVS, is the source to turn
to for information about murder victims because
questions about homicide don’t appear on the
BJS’s survey. (However, two other valuable,
detailed, and accurate databases for studying homi-
cide victims are death certificates as well as public
health records maintained by local coroners’ and
medical examiners’ offices. These files may contain
information about the slain person’s sex, age, race/

ethnicity, ancestry, birthplace, occupation, educa-
tional attainment, and zip code of last known
address [for examples of how this non-UCR data
can be analyzed, see Karmen, 2006]).

The UCR is also the publication that presents
information about officers slain in the line of duty,
college students harmed on campuses, and hate
crimes directed against various groups. The UCR
is the place to go for geographically based statistics;
it provides data about the crimes reported to law
enforcement agencies in different towns and cities,
entire metropolitan areas, and counties, states, and
regions of the country. NCVS figures are calculated
for the whole country, four geographic regions, and
urban/suburban/rural areas, but are not available
for specific cities, counties, or states (because the
subsamples would be too small to analyze). The
UCR, but not the NCVS, calculates the overall
proportion of reported crimes that are solved by
police departments. Incidents counted in the
UCR can be considered as having passed through
two sets of authenticity filters: Victims felt what
happened was serious enough to notify the author-
ities shortly afterward, and officers who filled out
the reports believed that the complainants were
telling the truth as supported by some evidence.
Although limited information about arrestees is
provided in the UCR, this annual report doesn’t
provide any descriptions of the persons harmed by
those accused rapists, robbers, assailants, burglars,
and other thieves (until the NIBRS replaces current
record-keeping formats).

NCVS interviewers collect a great deal of
information about the respondents who claim
they were harmed by street crimes. The NCVS is
the source to turn to for a more inclusive account-
ing of what happened during a given year because it
contains information about incidents that were but
also were not reported to the police. The yearly
surveys are not affected by any changes in the degree
of cooperation—or level of tension—between com-
munity residents and their local police, by improve-
ments in record-keeping by law enforcement
agencies, or by temporary crackdowns in which
all incidents are taken more seriously. But the
NCVS interviewers must accept at face value the

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accounts respondents describe. Also, the NCVS
annual report has nothing to offer about murders,
line-of-duty assaults and deaths of police officers,
offenses committed against children under 12,
robberies and burglaries directed at commercial
establishments, and injuries and losses from inten-
tionally set fires.

Even when both of these official sources col-
lect data about the same crimes, the findings might
not be strictly comparable. First of all, the defini-
tions of certain offenses (such as rape) can vary, so
the numerators may not count the same incidents.
The UCR kept track only of rapes of women and
girls (sexual assaults against boys and men were
considered as “forcible sodomy”) until a gender-
neutral definition that explicitly described all forms
of intrusive bodily invasions was adopted in 2011.
The NCVS counts sexual assaults against males as
well as females. Similarly, the definitions of rob-
bery and burglary are not the same in the two
official record-keeping sources. For example, the
UCR includes robberies of commercial establish-
ments and burglaries of offices, but the NCVS
does not.

In addition, the denominators differ. While the
FBI computes incidents of violence “per 100,000
people,” the BJS calculates incidents “per 1,000
people age 12 or older.” For property crimes, the
NCVS denominator is “per 1,000 households,” not
individuals (the average household has between
two and three people living in it).

Therefore, it is difficult to make direct compar-
isons between the findings of the UCR and the
NCVS. The best way to take full advantage of
these two official sources of data from the federal
government is to focus on the unique information
provided by each data collection system.

Even when the new and improved NIBRS
data storage system is taken into account, several
important variables are not tracked by any of
these government monitoring systems. For exam-
ple, information about the victims’ education, occu-
pation, ancestry, birthplace, and rap sheet is not
collected by the UCR, the NIBRS, or the NCVS.
Yet these background variables could be crucial to
investigate certain issues (like robbers preying on

recent immigrants or murders of persons known to
be involved in the drug scene).

A First Glance at the Big Picture:
Estimates of the Number of New Crime
Victims Each Year

To start to bring the big picture in focus, a first step
would be to look up how many Americans reveal
that they were victims of street crimes each year.

The absolute numbers are staggering: Police
forces across the nation learned about nearly 1.25
million acts of “violence against persons” during
2013, according to the FBI’s (2014) annual Uniform
Crime Reports. In addition, over 9 million thefts
were reported to the police (however, some were
carried out against stores or offices, not individuals
or families). The situation was even worse, accord-
ing to the BJS’ National Crime Victimization Survey.
It projected that people 12 years old and over suf-
fered an estimated 6.1 million acts of violence, and
households experienced close to 16.8 million thefts
during 2013 (Truman and Langton, 2014).

Some individuals and households are victim-
ized more than once in a year, so the number of
incidents might be greater than the number of peo-
ple. Then again, in some incidents, more than one
person might be harmed, so the number of people
could be larger than the number of criminal events.
Either way, it is obvious that each year, millions of
Americans are initiated into a group that they did
not want to be part of: They join the ranks of those
who know what it is like from firsthand experience
to endure crime-inflicted injuries and losses.

A Second Look at the Big Picture:
Watching the FBI’s Crime Clock

Consider another set of statistics intended to sum-
marize the big picture that are issued yearly by the
FBI in its authoritative UCR. This set is called the
Crime Clock, and it dramatizes the fact that as
time passes—each and every second, minute,
hour, and day—the toll keeps mounting, as more
and more people join the ranks of crime victims
(see Figure 3.1).

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The Crime Clock’s statistics are calculated in a
straightforward manner. The total number of inci-
dents of each kind of crime that were reported to all
the nation’s 18,000 plus police departments is
divided into the number of seconds (60 60
24 365 31,536,000) or minutes (60 24
365 525,600) in a year. For instance, about
14,200 people were slain in the United States in
2013. The calculation (525,600/14,200 37) indi-
cates that every 37 minutes another American was
murdered that year (FBI, 2014).

Just a glance at this chart alerts even the casual
reader to its chilling message. The big picture it
portrays is that crimes of violence (one every 27
seconds) and theft (one every 4 seconds) are all
too common. As the Crime Clock ticks away, a

steady stream of casualties flows into morgues,
hospital emergency rooms, and police stations
throughout the nation. At practically every
moment, someone somewhere in the United States
is experiencing what it feels like to be harmed by a
criminal. These grim reminders give the impression
that becoming a victim someday is virtually inevi-
table. It seems to be just a matter of time before
one’s “number is called” and disaster strikes. Sooner
or later, it will be every American’s “turn”—or so it

Furthermore, it can be argued that these alarm-
ing figures revealed by the Crime Clock are actually
underestimates of how dangerous the streets of the
United States really are, due to a shortcoming in the
report’s methodology. The big picture is really


forcible rape




motor vehicle theft

aggravated assault

violent crime

crime index offense

property crime

F I G U R E 3.1 The FBI’s Crime Clock, 2013
SOURCE: FBI, 2014.

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much worse. The FBI’s calculations are based solely
upon crimes known to police forces across the
country. But, of course, not all illegal acts are
brought to the attention of the authorities. The
police find out about only a fraction of all the inci-
dents of violence and an even smaller proportion of
the thefts that occur because many victims do not
share their personal troubles with the uniformed
officers or detectives of their local police depart-
ments. The reporting rate varies from crime to
crime, place to place, year to year, and group to
group (see Chapter 6 for more details about victim
reporting rates). Hence, one way to look at these
Crime Clock statistics is to assume that they repre-
sent the tip of the iceberg: The actual number of
people harmed by offenders in these various ways
must be considerably higher.

However, the only disclaimer the FBI offers is
this: “The Crime Clock should be viewed with
care. The most aggregate representation of UCR
data, it conveys the annual reported crime experi-
ence by showing a relative frequency of occurrence
of the Part I index offenses. It should not be taken
to imply a regularity in the commission of crime.
The Crime Clock represents the annual ratio of
crime to fixed time intervals” (FBI, 2014, p. 44).
In other words, the reader is being reminded that
in reality, the number of offenses carried out by
lawbreakers ebbs and flows, varying with the time
of day, day of the week, and season. These Crime
Clock numbers represent projections over the
course of an entire year and not the actual timing
of the attacks. These street crimes do not take place
with such rigid regularity or predictability.

The Crime Clock mode of presentation—
which has appeared in the UCR for decades—has
inherent shock value because as it ticks away, the
future seems so ominous. Members of the public
can be frightened into thinking they may be next
and that their time is nearly up—if they haven’t
already suffered in some manner at least once.

This countdown approach lends itself to media
sensationalism, fear-mongering political campaigns,
and marketing ploys. Heightened anxieties can be
exploited to garner votes and to boost the sales of
burglar alarms, automobile antitheft devices, or

crime insurance. For example, according to the
Better Business Bureau (2014), a common phone
scam begins with a warning based on this type of
Crime Clock “data”: “The FBI reports that there
is a home break-in in the United States every
15 seconds.…” The robocall then invites the fright-
ened recipient to sign up for a “free” security
system that, of course, has many hidden costs.

Delving Deeper into the Big Picture:
Examining Victimization Rates

Statistics always must be scrutinized carefully,
double-checked, and then put into perspective
with some context. Victimologists and criminolo-
gists look at both raw numbers and rates. Raw
numbers reveal the actual numbers of victims.
For example, the body count or the death toll is a
raw number indicating how many people were dis-
patched by murderers. Rates are the appropriate
measurements to use when comparing the inci-
dence of crime in populations of unequal size,
such as the seriousness of the violence problem in
different cities or countries, or at different periods of

The UCR could offer another disclaimer—but
doesn’t—that the Crime Clock’s figures are unnec-
essarily alarming because they lack an important
measurement of risk—the recognition that there
are millions of potential targets throughout the
nation. The ticking away of the Crime Clock is
an unduly frightening way of depicting the big pic-
ture because it uses seconds, minutes, hours, or days
as the denominator of the fraction. An alternative
formulation could be used in the calculation: one
that places the reported number of victimizations in
the numerator of the fraction and the (huge) num-
ber of people or possessions who are in danger of
being singled out by criminals into the denomina-
tor. Because there are so many hundreds of millions
of residents, homes, and automobiles that could be
selected by predators on the prowl, the actual
chances of any given individual experiencing an
incident during the course of a year may not be
so high or so worrisome at all. This denominator
provides some context.

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This alternative calculation—using a large
denominator, “per 100,000 persons per year”—
puts the problem in perspective and can yield a
very different impression. In fact, the UCR does
present these “crime rates”—which also could be
called “victimization rates”—right after the Crime
Clock in every yearly report. It seems to make a
world of difference in terms of context. The
implicit message when rates are calculated is almost
the opposite: Don’t worry so much about being
targeted. These misfortunes will probably burden
someone else.

Indeed, the UCR’s yearly findings seem rel-
atively reassuring, suggesting that the odds of
being harmed are not at all as ominous as the
Crime Clock implies. For example, the Crime
Clock warned that a violent crime took place
about every 27 seconds during 2013. That
understandably sounds frightening because vio-
lence is the part of the street crime problem
that the public worries about the most. How-
ever, when the UCR findings are presented
with a huge denominator as a rate (per 100,000
persons per year), the figure seems less worri-
some. For every 100,000 Americans, only 368
were subjected to a violent attack during 2013.
Another way of expressing that same rate is that
99,632 out of every 100,000 persons made it
through the year unscathed. Put still another
way, only about 0.4 percent (far less than 1 per-
cent) of the public complained to the police that
they had been raped, robbed, or assaulted that
year (or they were murdered). (Remember,
however, that not all acts of violence are
reported; some robberies were of stores or
banks, or other commercial enterprises or offices;
and also, some individuals face much higher or
much lower risks of being targeted, as will be
explained in Chapter 4.)

As described above, victimization rates also
are computed and disseminated by another
branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, the
BJS. Its estimates about the chances of being
harmed come from a different source—not

police files, but a nationwide survey of the pop-
ulation: the NCVS. The survey’s findings are
presented as rates per 1,000 persons per year for
violent crimes, and per 1,000 households per
year for property crimes (in contrast to the
UCR’s per 100,000 per year; to compare the
two sets of statistics, just move the NCVS fig-
ure’s decimal point two places to the right to
indicate the rate per 100,000). The NCVS’s find-
ings indicated that 23.2 out of every 1,000 resi-
dents age 12 and over in the United States (or
2,320 per 100,000, or 2.3 percent) were on the
receiving end of an act of violence during 2013.
(This estimate is substantially greater than the
UCR figure because it includes those incidents
that were not reported to the police but were
disclosed to the interviewers; and it counts a
huge number of less serious simple assaults
while the UCR only counts more serious aggra-
vated assaults—for definitions, see Box 3.1
below.) Furthermore, the NCVS supplies some
reassuring details that are not available from the
UCR: The rate of injury was about 6 per 1,000
(Truman and Langton, 2014). In other words,
the victim was not physically wounded in
about three quarters of the confrontations.
Accentuating the positive (interpreting these sta-
tistics with an “upbeat” spin), despite widespread
public concern, for every 1,000 residents of the
United States (over the age of 11), 977 were
never confronted and 994 were not wounded
during 2013.

In sum, the two sources of data—the UCR and
the NCVS—published by separate agencies in the
federal government strive to be reasonably accurate
and trustworthy. What differs is the way the statis-
tics are collected and presented. Each format lends
itself to a particular interpretation or spin. The
UCR’s Crime Clock calculations focus on the
number of persons harmed per hour, minute, or
even second. But stripped of context, these figures
are unduly alarming because they give the impres-
sion that being targeted is commonplace. They
ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of

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Americans went about their daily lives throughout
the year without interference from criminals. The
rates per 100,000 published in the UCR and per
1,000 in the NCVS juxtapose the small numbers
who were preyed upon against the huge numbers
who got away unscathed in any given year. This
mode of presenting the same facts yields a very dif-
ferent impression: a rather reassuring message that
being targeted is a relatively unusual event.

Tapping into the UCR and the NCVS to Fill
in the Details of the Big Picture

The two official sources of government statistics
can yield useful information that answers impor-
tant questions about everyday life, such as, “How
often does interpersonal violence break out?”
(Note that when working with statistics and
rounding off numbers such as body counts and
murder rates, it is easy to forget that each death
represents a terrible tragedy for the real people
whose lives were prematurely terminated, and a
devastating loss for their families.)

The BJS’s definitions that are used by NCVS
interviewers appear side by side in Table 3.1 with
the FBI’s definitions that are followed by police
departments transmitting their figures to the
UCR. Also shown are the estimated numbers of
incidents and victimization rates for 2013 derived
from both data collecting programs.

Glancing at the data from the UCR and the
NCVS presented in Table 3.1, the big picture
takes shape. Note that the numbers of incidents
and the victimization rates from the NCVS are
often higher than the UCR figures for each type
of offense. The main reason is that the NCVS num-
bers include crimes not reported to the police, and
therefore not forwarded to FBI headquarters for
inclusion in the UCR.

Both sources of data expose a widely
believed myth. Contrary to any false impressions
gained from news media coverage and television
or movie plots, people suffer from violent crimes

much less frequently than from property crimes.
Every year, larceny (thefts of all kinds, a broad
catch-all category) is the most common crime of
all. Burglary is the second most widespread form
of victimization, and motor vehicle theft ranks
third. According to NCVS findings, thefts of
possessions—the stealing of items left unattended
outdoors plus property or cash taken by someone
invited into the home, such as a cleaning person
or guest—touched an estimated 10,050 out of
every 100,000 households, or roughly 10 per-
cent, in 2013. Fortunately, this kind of victimi-
zation turns out to be the least serious; most of
these thefts would be classified as petty larcenies
because the dollar amount stolen was less than
some threshold specified by state laws, such as
$1,000). The NCVS finding about how common
thefts are each year is confirmed by the UCR.
Larcenies of all kinds (including shoplifting
from stores in the UCR definition) vastly out-
number all other types of crimes reported to
police departments.

As for violent crimes, fortunately a similar pat-
tern emerges: The most common is the least serious
type. Simple assaults (punching, kicking, shoving,
and slapping) are far more likely to be inflicted
than aggravated assaults, robberies, rapes, or mur-
ders. Aggravated assaults, which are intended to
seriously wound or kill, ranked second in frequency
on the NCVS. According to the UCR, aggravated
or “felonious assaults” were the most common type
of violent offense reported to the police, but that is
because the UCR doesn’t monitor the number of
simple assaults committed. Only the number of
arrests for simple assaults, not the number of inci-
dents, appears in Part II of the UCR; the NIBRS
keeps track of statistics for both simple and aggra-
vated assaults but a nationwide tally is not yet

Because so many complicated situations can
arise, interviewers for the NCVS receive instruc-
tions about how to categorize the incidents victims
disclose to them. Similarly, the FBI publishes a
manual for police departments to follow when

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T A B L E 3.1 Estimated Nationwide Victimization Rates from the UCR and the NCVS, 2013

Crime Definition Incidents Rate (per 100,000)

FBI’s UCR Definitions

Murder The willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another;
includes manslaughter and deaths due to recklessness; excludes
deaths due to accidents, suicides, and justifiable homicides.

14,200 4.5

Forcible Rape The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will;
includes attempts; excludes other sexual assaults and statutory rape.

80,000 25

Robbery The taking of or attempting to take anything of value from the care, cus-
tody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force; includes
commercial establishments and carjackings, armed and unarmed.

345,000 109

Aggravated Assault The unlawful attacking of one person by another for the purpose of
inflicting severe bodily injury, often by using a deadly weapon;
includes attempted murder and severe beatings of family members;
excludes simple, unarmed, minor assaults.

724,000 229

Simple Assault No weapon used, minor wounds inflicted Not measured Not computed
Burglary The unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft;

includes unlawful entry without applying force to residences and
commercial and government premises.

1,928,000 610

Larceny-Theft The unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property
from the possession of another; includes purse snatching, pocket
picking, thefts from vehicles, thefts of parts of vehicles, and sho-
plifting; excludes the use of force or fraud to obtain possessions.

6,004,000 1,900

Motor Vehicle Theft The theft or attempted driving away of vehicle; includes automobiles,
trucks, buses, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and commercially owned
vehicles; excludes farm machinery and boats and planes.

700,000 221

BJS’s NCVS Definitions

Murder Not included in the survey Not measured Not computed

Rape is the unlawful penetration of a male or female through the use of
force or threats of violence; includes all bodily orifices, the use of objects,
and attempts as well as verbal threats. Sexual assaults are unwanted sex-
ual contacts, such as grabbing or fondling; includes attempts and may not
involve force; excludes molestations of children under 12.

174,000 110

Robbery The taking directly from a person of property or cash by force or
threat of force, with or without a weapon; includes attempts;
excludes hold-ups of commercial establishments.

369,000 240

Aggravated Assault The attacking of person with a weapon, regardless of whether an
injury is sustained; includes attempts as well as physical assaults
without a weapon that result in serious injuries; excludes severe
physical abuse of children under 12.

633,000 380

Simple Assault The attacking of person without a weapon resulting in minor wounds
or no physical injury; includes attempts and intrafamily violence.

2,047,000 1,580

Household Burglary The unlawful entry of residence, garage, or shed, usually but not
always, for the purpose of theft; includes attempts; excludes
commercial or governmental premises.

2,458,000 2,570 (per 100,000

Theft The theft of property or cash without contact; includes attempts to
take possessions and stealing by persons invited inside.

9,071,000 10,050 (per 100,000

Motor Vehicle Theft The driving away or taking without authorization of any household’s
motorized vehicle; includes attempts.

556,000 520 (per 100,000

NOTES: All UCR and NCVS figures for incidents were rounded off to the nearest 1,000, except for murder, which is rounded off to the nearest 100.
All NCVS rates were multiplied by 100 to make them comparable to UCR rates.
The FBI definition of rape is the old narrow one, referred to as the “legacy” definition, not the new expanded one.

SOURCES: FBI’s UCR, 2013; BJS’s NCVS, 2013 (Truman and Langton, 2014).

82 C H A P T E R 3

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they submit records to the UCR about the crimes
they are aware of that were committed in their
jurisdiction. These guidelines are intended to insure
that the annual crime reports are genuinely
“uniform”—in the sense that the same definitions
and standards are used by each of the roughly
18,000 participating law enforcement agencies.
For example, all police and sheriffs’ departments
are supposed to exclude from their body count of
murders all cases of vehicular homicides caused by
drunk and impaired drivers; accidental deaths; justi-
fiable homicides carried out by officers of the law or
by civilians acting in self-defense; and suicides. But
some very complex situations may arise on rare
occasions and need to be clarified, so guidelines
for scoring them on the UCR are disseminated by
the FBI. Some of these instructions appear in
Box 3.1 below. (Note that local prosecutors might
view these crimes differently.)

Poring over “details” like the precise wording
of definitions and arguing over what should and
should not be included and counted, or excluded
and not monitored, may seem like a rather dry
technical exercise and even a “boring” waste of
time. However, definitions and the statistics derived
from them can really matter. For example, consider
the implications of this issue:

Police officials and women’s groups …
applauded a recommendation by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation subcommittee that the
definition of rape used by the agency be
revised. The definition, written more than
80 years ago, has been criticized as too narrow,
resulting in thousands of rapes being excluded
from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. The
subcommittee recommends a broader defini-
tion, to include anal and oral rape as well as
rapes involving male victims. (Goode, 2011).

What would be the consequence of adopting
the more inclusive definition? Initially, forcible
rape rates as monitored by this government source
would rise, reflecting a more comprehensive and
accurate count of the actual amount of sexual
violence in the United States. That larger statistic
could result in the allocation of additional federal,

state, and local resources to fund efforts to catch
and prosecute more rapists, and to provide support
and assistance to a greater number of victims
(Goode, 2011).

Searching for Changes in the Big Picture:
Detecting Trends in Interpersonal Violence
and Theft

The data in the annual UCR as well as the NCVS
represent the situation in the streets and homes
of America after a particular year has drawn to a
close. These yearly reports can be likened to a snap-
shot at a certain point in time. But what about a
movie or video that reveals changes over time? To
make the big picture more useful, a crucial question
that must be answered is whether street crime is
becoming more or less of a problem as the years
roll by.

Sharp increases in rates over several consecutive
years are commonly known as crime waves.
Downward trends indicating reduced levels of
criminal activity can take place as well. Ironically,
there isn’t a good term to describe a sudden yet
sustained improvement in public safety. Perhaps
the term crime crash (see Karmen, 2006) captures
the essence of such a largely unexpected, year-
after-year downturn (just as a quick plunge in the
price of shares on the stock market is called a crash,
except that a “crime crash” goes on for years before
it is noticeable, and then is welcomed).

During the late 1960s, a major crime wave
engulfed the country, according to the FBI’s UCR,
which was the only annual source of nationwide
data during that decade. Since 1973, the findings of
the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) NCVS have
provided an additional set of figures to monitor the
upward and downward drifts in victimization rates.
The establishment of a second, independent report-
ing system to measure the amount of street crime in
contemporary American society initially appeared to
be a major breakthrough in terms of bringing the big
picture into sharper focus. In theory, the federal gov-
ernment’s two monitoring systems should support
and confirm each other’s findings, lending greater
credence to all official statistics shared with the

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public. But in practice, estimates from the UCR and
the NCVS have diverged for particular categories of
offenses during certain brief stretches of time, cloud-
ing the big picture about national trends (Rand &
Rennison, 2002).

The UCR measures the violent crime rate by
adding together all the known cases of murder,
forcible rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. The

NCVS doesn’t ask about murder (a relatively small
number) but it does inquire about simple assaults (a
huge number). The BJS then combines all disclosed
cases of simple and aggravated assault, all sexual
assaults (of males as well as females), and some rob-
beries (only of people, not banks or stores) into its
violent crime rate. Other differences in data collec-
tion methodology plus divergent definitions that

B O X 3.1 The FBI’s Instructions About How to Classify Certain Complicated
Crimes: Guidelines from the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook

Part A. Does the death of the victim fall into the category
of a murder?

What if the victim…:

SITUATION 1) …is confronted by a robber or other assailant
and suffers a heart attack and dies?

ANSWER: Do not count this as a murder, but simply as a
robbery or as an assault (because it is not a “willful

SITUATION 2) …is a woman in the ninth month of pregnancy
who is stabbed in the stomach; she survives, but
the fetus dies?

ANSWER: Do not categorize this as a murder. Score this as
an aggravated assault against the woman
(because the definition of murder excludes
deaths of unborn fetuses).

SITUATION 3) …is a firefighter or a police officer who enters a
burning building and dies; later it is determined
that the blaze was intentionally set by an

ANSWER: Do not count this as a murder because it is under-
stood that firefighting and police work is hazard-
ous and requires taking grave risks.

SITUATION 4) …is a motorist embroiled in a road rage incident
who dies because his adversary intentionally
crashes his vehicle into the motorist’s car?

ANSWER: Score this as a murder. If the victim survives,
then consider the incident to be an aggravated
assault (the vehicle is the deadly weapon), no
matter how minor the injury to the person or the
damage to the car.

Part B. Is it a rape?
What if the victim…

SITUATION 1) …is slipped a date-rape drug in her drink by a
man who is after her, but he is unable to lure her
away from her friends?

ANSWER: Count this as an attempted forcible rape, since he
intended to have intercourse with her against
her will (she would be incapable of giving con-
sent because of her temporary mental or physical
incapacity) but was thwarted by his inability to
get her alone.

SITUATION 2) …is married to a man who beats her until she
submits to intercourse?

ANSWER: Count this as a forcible rape. Ever since marital
rape was recognized as a crime, the law no longer
permits a husband to be exempt from arrest for
forcing himself on his wife.

Part C. Is the incident an armed robbery?
What if the victim…

SITUATION 1) …is a cashier in a store who is ordered to hand
over money by a man who claims to have a
weapon in his pocket but does not brandish it,
so the cashier does not actually see it?

ANSWER: Score this as an armed robbery, since the robber
claimed to have a weapon (or perhaps had a fake
knife or gun).

SITUATION 2) …returns home and surprises a burglar, who
then assaults him with a crowbar, steals valu-
ables, and escapes out the door?

ANSWER: Score this as an armed robbery, since the resident
was confronted and attacked by the intruder.

SOURCE: Adapted and reworded from Uniform Crime Reporting System Guidelines (FBI, 2009).

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were discussed above may help explain some of the
inconsistent results in the years between 1973 and
the start of the 1990s, when the two trend lines
were not in synch. But one finding clearly emerges:
According to both of these monitoring systems,
violent crime rates “crashed” during the 1990s
and have continued to drift downward, as the
graph in Figure 3.2 demonstrates.

A parallel set of problems and findings arise
when the changes over time in property crime
rates are graphed. The UCR defines property
crime to include burglary, motor vehicle theft,
and larcenies against persons and households but
also against commercial enterprises, government
offices, and nonprofit entities. The NCVS counts
burglaries, vehicle thefts, and larcenies but only if
they are directed against individuals and their
households. Once again, despite differing signals
during the first 20 years, the takeaway message of

the graph in Figure 3.3 echoes that of Figure 3.2:
Property crime rates “crashed” during the 1990s
and have fallen farther during the twenty-first

In sum, both the FBI’s UCR and the BJS’s
NCVS confirm that diminishing numbers of resi-
dents of the 50 states are being affected by the social
problems of violence and theft. In other words,
even though each year millions of new individuals
join the ranks of crime victims, the rate of growth
has been slowing down for about two decades. This
substantial decline in victimization rates since the
early 1990s is certainly good news. But how
much longer will this crime crash continue? Few
social scientists, politicians, or journalists would
dare declare that the “war on crime” has been
won. And since the experts can’t agree about the
reasons why this substantial improvement in public
safety took place, if someday there is a return to the



F I G U R E 3.2 Trends in Violent Victimization Rates, United States, 1973–2013
SOURCES: FBI’s UCRs 1973–2013; BJS’s NCVSs 1973–2013.

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“bad old days” of much higher rates of victimiza-
tion, the causes of this reversal will be the subject of
bitter debate (see Karmen, 2006).


Another aspect of the big picture involves getting a
feel for historical trends. Is the level of criminal
violence in the United States today far worse or
much better than in the distant past? Is the United
States becoming a safer place to live or a more dan-
gerous society as the decades pass by? Today’s crime
problem needs to be seen in a broader context.

Historians write about the carnage of the past,
especially when the first European settlers arrived,

and then during the time period of the Thirteen
Colonies, the American Revolution, the centuries
of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the
frontier days of the “Wild West.” But accurate
records are hard to find before industrialization
took place, cities sprang up, and urban police forces
began to guard local residents on a daily basis.

Graphs are particularly useful for spotting his-
torical trends at a glance. Trends in homicide rates
can be traced further back than changes over time
for the other interpersonal crimes.

Murder is the most terrible crime of all because it
inflicts the ultimate harm, and the damage cannot be
undone. The irreparable loss isalso felt by the departed
person’s loved ones. But the social reaction to the
taking of a person’s life varies dramatically. It is deter-
mined by a number of factors: the state’s laws, the
offender’s state of mind, the deceased’s possible con-
tribution to the escalation of hostilities, the social



F I G U R E 3.3 Trends in Property Crime Rates, United States, 1973–2013
SOURCES: FBI’s UCRs 1973–2013; BJS’s NCVSs 1973–2013.

86 CH APT ER 3

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standing of each party, where the crime was commit-
ted, how the person was dispatched, and whether the
slaying attracted media coverage and public outcry.
Some murders make headlines, while others slip by
virtually unnoticed except by the next of kin. Some
killings lead to the execution of the perpetrator; others
ruled to be justifiable homicides result in no penalty
and possibly even widespread approval.

Homicide is broadly defined as the killing of one
human being by another. Not all homicides are pun-
ishable murders. All murders are socially defined:
How to handle a specific killing is determined by
legislators, police officers, and detectives; prosecutors
and defense attorneys; judges and juries; and even
the media and the public’s reaction to someone’s
demise. Deaths caused by carelessness and accidents
are not classified as murders (although if the damage
was foreseeable, they might be prosecuted as man-
slaughters). Acts involving the legitimate use of
deadly force in self-defense whether carried out
against felons by police officers or by private citizens
under attack (see Chapter 13) are also excluded from
the body counts, as are court-sanctioned executions.

The law takes into account whether a killing was
carried out intentionally (with “express malice”), in a
rational state of mind (“deliberate”), and with advance
planning (“premeditation”). These defining charac-
teristics of first-degree murders carry the most severe
punishments, including (depending on the state) exe-
cution or life imprisonment without parole. Killing
certain people—police officers, corrections officers,
judges, witnesses, and victims during rapes, kidnap-
pings, or robberies—may also be capital offenses.

A homicide committed with intent to inflict
grievous bodily injury (but no intent to kill) or
with extreme recklessness (“depraved heart”) is
prosecuted as a second-degree murder. A murder
in the second degree is not a capital crime and can-
not lead to the death penalty.

A homicide committed in the “sudden heat of
passion” as a result of the victim’s provocations is con-
sidered a “voluntary” (or first-degree) manslaughter.
The classic example is the “husband who comes home
to find his wife in bed with another man and kills
him.” Offenders convicted of manslaughter are pun-
ished less severely than those convicted of murder.

A loss of life due to gross negligence usually is
handled as an “involuntary” (second-degree) man-
slaughter, or it may not be subjected to criminal
prosecution at all. Involuntary manslaughter in
most states occurs when a person acts recklessly,
or appreciates the risk but does not use reasonable
care to perform a legal act, or commits an unlawful
act that is not a felony and yet a death results.

Some types of slayings have special names (see
Holmes, 1994): infanticide (of a newborn by a par-
ent), filicide (of a child by a parent or stepparent),
parricide (of a parent by a child), eldercide (of an
older person), intimate partner homicide (of a
spouse or lover), serial killing (several or more vic-
tims dispatched one at a time over an extended
period), mass murder (several people slaughtered
at the same time and place), felony murder (com-
mitted during another serious crime, like robbery,
kidnapping, or rape), and contract killing (a profes-
sional “hit” for an agreed-upon fee).

The UCR has been monitoring murder (com-
bined with manslaughter) rates since the beginning
of the 1930s, but in the beginning only big-city
police departments forwarded their records to FBI
headquarters. Fortunately, another source of data is
available that is drawn from death certificates
(maintained by coroner’s offices, which are called
medical examiners offices in some jurisdictions)
that list the cause of death. This database, compiled
by the National Center for Health Statistics, can be
tapped to reconstruct what happened during the
earliest years of the twentieth century up to the
present. Graphing this data facilitates the identifica-
tion of crime waves and spikes but also sharp drops
and deep “crashes” in the homicide rate over the
decades. Long-term trends can then be considered
in context (against a backdrop of major historical
events affecting the nation as a whole).

The Rise and Fall of Murder Rates Since 1900

It is possible to look back over more than a century
to note how the homicide rate has surged and ebbed
in America during various historical periods.

As the trend line in Figure 3.4 indicates, homi-
cide rates appeared to rise at the outset of the 1900s

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as states’ coroners’ offices joined the statistical report-
ing system. From 1903 through the period of World
War I, which was followed by the prosperous
“Roaring Twenties” until the stock market “crash”
of 1929, the murder rate soared. It rose even further
for a few more years until it peaked in 1933. So
during the first 33 years of the twentieth century,
the homicide rate skyrocketed from less than 1
American killed out of every 100,000 each year to
nearly 10 per 100,000 annually.

The number of violent deaths plummeted after
Prohibition—the war on alcohol—ended in 1933,
even though the economic hardships of the Great
Depression persisted throughout the 1930s. During
the years of World War II, when many young men
were drafted to fight overseas against formidable
enemies trying to conquer the world, only 5 slayings
took place for every 100,000 inhabitants. A brief surge
in killings broke out as most of the soldiers returned

home from World War II, but then interpersonal
violence continued to decline during the 1950s,
reaching a low of about 4.5 slayings for every
100,000 people by 1958.

During the turbulent years from the early 1960s
to the middle 1970s, the number of deadly confron-
tations shot up, doubling the homicide rate. This
crime wave reflected the demographic impact of
the unusually large baby-boom generation passing
through its most crime-prone teenage and young-
adult years, as well as the bitter conflicts surrounding
the sweeping changes in everyday life brought about
by social protest movements that arose during the
1960s and lasted well into the 1970s. The level of
lethal violence during the twentieth century reached
its all-time high in 1980, when the homicide rate hit
10.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. After that peak,
murder rates dropped for several years until the
second half of the 1980s, when the crack epidemic

YeYeY ar


F I G U R E 3.4 An Historical Overview of Homicide Rates, United States, 1900–2013

88 CH APT ER 3

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touched off another escalation of bloodshed. By the
start of the 1990s, murder rates once again were close
to their highest levels for the century. But as that
decade progressed, the fad of smoking crack, selling
drugs, and toting guns waned; the economy
improved; the proportion of the male population
between 18 and 24 years old dwindled; and conse-
quently, the murder rate tumbled (see Fox and
Zawitz, 2002; and Karmen, 2006). The death toll
has continued to drift downward throughout the
twenty-first century, even during the hard times of
the Great Recession that set in after the subprime
mortgage meltdown, stock market crash, and
corporate bailouts of 2008, as Figure 3.4 shows.

Returning to the UCR database, the impressive
improvement in public safety became strikingly
evident in 2013, when the body count declined
to about 14,200, about 10,500 fewer victims than
in 1991, when the death toll had reached an
all-time record of close to 24,700. Taking popula-
tion growth into account, the U.S. murder rate in
2013 stood at 4.5 killings per 100,000 inhabitants,
an overall “crash” of about 50 percent since 1991
(Cooper and Smith, 2011). The U.S. murder rate
hadn’t been as low as 4.5 since 1958.


One final way to grasp the big picture involves
weighing the relative threats posed by different types
of misfortunes. The chance of being harmed by a
criminal needs to be compared to the odds of being
hurt in an accident or of contracting a serious illness.
The study of comparative risks rests on estimates
of the likelihood of experiencing various negative
life events. One purpose of studying comparative
risks is to determine what kinds of threats (crimes,
accidents, or diseases) merit greater precautionary
measures by both individuals and government-
sponsored campaigns. (A list of calamities could
be expanded to include plagues, fires, and natural

disasters such as floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and
hurricanes.) Once the chances of being stricken by
dreaded events are expressed in a standardized way,
such as rates per 100,000 people, the dangers can be
compared or ranked, as they are in Table 3.2. The
data is derived from death certificates filed in all 50
states and the District of Columbia. It is collated by
the National Center for Health Statistics into a
National Vital Statistics System (Xu et al., 2014).

The nationwide data assembled in the first column
of Table 3.2 pertains to people of all ages, both sexes,
and varying backgrounds. The statistics in column 2
indicate that overall, about 800 out of every 100,000
Americans died in 2010. That year, the number of
deaths from natural causes (diseases) greatly exceeded
losses of life from external causes (accidents, suicides,
and homicides). In particular, heart disease, cancer, and
stroke were by far the leading causes of death in
the United States at the end of the first decade of
the twenty-first century. As for other untimely
demises, more people died from accidents (including
car crashes) than from homicide (murders plus deaths
by “legal intervention”—justifiable homicides by
police officers as well as executions of death row
prisoners). In fact, more people took their own lives
through suicides than lost them due to violence
unleashed by others (homicide was added to the
bottom of the list and did not rank in the top 10 leading
causes of death). Tentatively, it can be concluded that
most people worry too much about being murdered
and ought to focus more of their energies toward their
health, eating habits, and lifestyles instead.

However, this inspection of comparative risks
surely doesn’t seem right to some readers. For exam-
ple, dying from Alzheimer’s disease might be a very
real and scary prospect to aging baby boomers, but it is
off the radar screen for most millennials. The useful-
ness of comparing the mortality rates assembled in the
second column of Table 3.2 to each other is limited.
The reason is simple: The data in the second column
of the table ignores the key factor of age. Column 2’s
figures about the causes of death describe the dangers
faced by the “average” American, a social construct
that each person resembles to some extent. But the
actual odds a specific individual faces may differ
tremendously from this fictitious composite norm.

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Besides age, the most important determinants
of mortality rates are sex, race/ethnicity, social
class, and place of residence. To make more mean-
ingful comparisons, some of these key variables,
especially age, must be controlled, or held constant
(see Fingerhut, Ingram, and Feldman, 1992). Death
rates for young adults appear in the third column of
Table 3.2.

Comparing the rates in column 3 to those in
column 2 reveals some sharp differences. For exam-
ple, of all Americans between the ages of 20 and 24
(of both sexes and all races), only 87, not 800, out
of every 100,000 died in 2010. For people in their
early twenties, homicide was a real threat—the
third leading cause of death—after accidents (espe-
cially involving motor vehicles) and suicides. Few
young adults died from heart attacks, cancer,
strokes, influenza, or other diseases like HIV/
AIDS (NCHS, 2013). Also, although this is not
shown in the table, within every age group, being
murdered loomed as a greater danger to boys and
men than to girls and women, and to racial minori-
ties as compared to members of the white majority.
These observations raise an important issue. Besides
comparative risks, victimologists have to also study

differential risks. The perils facing different
groups (in terms of age, sex, race/ethnicity, social
class, and other factors) can vary dramatically. Dif-
ferential risks will be scrutinized in the next chapter.

Another problem with risk comparisons is that
the ranking represents a snapshot image of a fluid
situation. Thus, Table 3.2 captures a moment fro-
zen in time—the relative standing of dangers of
accidents, diseases, and lethal violence in 2010.
But it cannot indicate underlying trends. The
chances of something terrible ending a life can
change for everyone substantially over the years.
That is why yearly data must be assembled into
tables and graphs in order to spot trends.

For example, an encouraging downward trend in
fatal accidents took place during the 1980s. Deaths
due to plane crashes, falls, drownings, fires, and poi-
sonings all dropped during that decade, probably as a
result of greater safety consciousness, new devices
such as smoke detectors and car seats for children,
and new policies such as mandatory seat belt laws
and tougher penalties for drunk driving. By 1990,
the risk of dying in a car crash had fallen to its lowest
level since the 1920s, according to a study by the
National Safety Council (Hall, 1990). During the

T A B L E 3.2 Comparing the Risks of Death Posed by Crime, Accidents, and Certain Diseases, 2010 and 2012

Cause of Death

Death Rate
per 100,000,

All Americans, 2010

Death Rate
per 100,000,

20–24 years olds, 2010

Death Rate
per 100,000,

All Americans, 2012

All causes 800 87 733
1) Heart problems (cardiovascular disease) 194 3 171
2) Cancers (malignant neoplasms) 186 5 167
3) Lung problems (pulmonary and respiratory

45 Fewer than 1 42

4) Strokes (cerebrovascular disease) 42 Fewer than 1 37
5) Accidents (unintentional injuries) 39 36 39
6) Alzheimer’s disease 27 Fewer than 1 24
7) Diabetes 22 Fewer than 1 21
8) Kidney problems (nephritis) 16 Fewer than 1 13
9) Influenza and pneumonia 16 1 14

10) Suicides (intentional self-harm) 12 14 13
Homicides (including legal intervention) (assault) 6 13 5*
All other causes 194 12

NOTE: Homicide rate for 2012 is estimated from the FBI’s UCR for 2012.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Report, 2013; Yu et al.,
2014 (column 5)

90 C H A P T E R 3

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1990s, the chances of being murdered diminished
impressively, as did the odds of perishing shortly
after contracting full-blown HIV/AIDS. As the
chances of dying from a particular disease, a terrible
accident, or a fatal assault rise or fall over time, list-
ings of comparative risks must undergo periodic
revision (CDC, 1999).

Column 4 in Table 3.2 shows that mortality rates
did change somewhat over a time span of just two
years. In general, the trends were in the desirable
direction. The death rate for the diseases listed in
Table 3.2 all declined, which means the life expec-
tancy of the average American increased. The only
disappointing trend was a small rise in the suicide
rate. Accidental deaths remained at the same level in
2012 as in 2010.

To further complicate the picture, occupation
must be taken into account when comparing the
risks of becoming a homicide victim to the risk of
suffering a fatal injury at work. Risks are closely tied
to tasks; some jobs are far more dangerous than
others. Focusing on deaths in the workplace, studies
conducted by the National Institute for Safety and
Health and by the federal government’s Bureau of

Labor Statistics established that fatal accidents take
place most often in jobs related to construction, farm-
ing and forestry, and transportation. Putting accidents
aside, researchers discovered that certain lines of work,
such as law enforcement and cab driving, carry much
greater risks of being murdered on the job. (See
Chapters 4 and 11 for a discussion of homicides at

In sum, individuals face widely varying risks of
being murdered, depending on which groups they
fall into (who they are, where they live, and what
they do on a daily basis).

Now that the big picture has been studied from
a number of angles—nationally, historically, and
comparatively—it is time to zoom in on specific
crimes. The analysis of the big picture has revealed
that the most terrible of all violent crimes—
homicide—is also the least likely to take place.
Data from official sources will help reveal what
suffering it inflicts on the population of the United
States. In addition to murders, aggravated assaults as
well as robberies (two crimes that potentially could
escalate into slayings) will be the focus of the next


Statistics can convey important information about
crimes and their victims, but consumers of numerical
data must ascertain exactly what was counted, how
accurate the measurements are, and whether vested
interests are promoting particular interpretations.
The two leading sources of data about crime victims
published annually by the U.S. Department of Jus-
tice are the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and the BJS’s
National Crime Victimization Survey. The UCR draws
on police files and is useful to victimologists who
want to study murders, but it is of limited value for
research into other kinds of victimizations until the
National Incident-Based Reporting System is completely
phased in and replaces it. The NCVS contains infor-
mation about interpersonal violence as well as prop-
erty crimes and gathers data directly from members
of a large national sample who answer questions
about their misfortunes over the past six months.

Victimization rates are expressed per 1,000 in the
NCVS or per 100,000 in the UCR in order to facili-
tate fair comparisons between groups, cities, or
countries of different sizes.

According to both the NCVS and the UCR,
the twin problems of interpersonal violence and
theft have subsided so substantially since the early
1990s up to the present that these crime rates can be
said to have “crashed.” The homicide rate in 2013
was just about the same as in the late 1950s, before
“crime in the streets” became a matter of great pub-
lic concern.

Comparative risks reveal which kinds of mis-
fortunes are more or less likely than others: Homi-
cide is not the leading cause of death for any group.
Comparative risks show how crime is often not as
great a threat to well-being as injuries and deaths
from accidents and diseases.

V I C T I M I Z A T I O N I N T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S : A N O V E R V I E W 91

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big picture, 67

comparative risks, 89

coroner’s offices, 87

Crime Clock, 77

crime crash, 83

crime waves, 83

differential risks, 90

forward telescoping, 75

hierarchy rule, 71

index, 70

medical examiners, 87

memory decay, 75

National Crime
Victimization Survey
(NCVS), 70

official statistics, 68

Part I crimes, 70

Part II crimes, 71

patterns, 68

profiles, 68

range (confidence
interval), 75

rates, 79

raw numbers, 79

self-report survey, 73

spin, 69

statistics, 68

trends, 68

Uniform Crime Report
(UCR), 70

victimization rates, 68


1. Choose some statistics presented in this chapter
and interpret them in two ways: First, make
them seem as alarming as possible; and second,
portray them as reassuringly as possible.

2. What kinds of information about victims of
interpersonal violence and theft can be found
in the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports?

What are the sources of inaccuracies in these

3. What kinds of information about victims of
interpersonal violence and theft can be found
in the BJS’s annual National Crime Victimization
Survey? What are the sources of inaccuracies in
these statistics?


1. What information about the people who get
injured or killed by offenders is not systemati-
cally collected by the UCR and the NCVS, or
even the NIBRS? Why would this additional
information be important? How could it be
used and what issues could it shed light on?

2. Make up some hypothetical scenarios in which
people with a vested interest in convincing the
public that victimization rates are either going
up or going down could “shop around” for
UCR or NCVS statistics about robberies or
burglaries to support their claim.


1. Find out the latest rates per 100,000 people
for the seven index crimes for your home
state by searching the FBI website where the
UCR statistics are posted. What crime rates
are substantially higher or lower in your state
than for the entire United States (as shown in
Table 3.1)?

2. Find out the definitions and the precise wording
of the questions that are asked in the NCVS by
downloading the survey instrument from the
BJS website. Discuss how the inquiries about
aggravated assault, rape, and other sexual assaults are
phrased, and why respondents might be confused
or unclear about how to answer these questions.

92 C H A P T E R 3

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A Closer Look at the Victims
of Interpersonal Crimes
of Violence and Theft

Addressing Some Troubling Questions

Identifying Differential Risks: Which Groups Suffer
More Often Than Others?

Focusing on Murders

Where It Is Safer or More Dangerous: Making
International Comparisons

The Geographic Distribution of Violent Deaths in the
United States

Who Gets Killed by Whom? How, Where, and Why?
Who Faces the Gravest Threats of Being Murdered?
Changes over Time in Near Death Experiences:

Trends in Aggravated Assault Rates
Focusing on Robberies

Robbers and the People They Prey Upon
Robberies: Who, How Often, How, Where, When
Changes over Time in Robbery Rates
Checking Out Whether More Robberies Are Turning into

Differential Risks: Which Groups Get Robbed the Most

and the Least Often?

Focusing on Burglaries

Trends and Patterns in Burglaries
Focusing on Motor Vehicle Theft

Stealing Cars for Fun and Profit
Trends in Motor Vehicle Theft
Which Motorists Should Be Most Concerned

When Parking?
Focusing on Individuals Whose Identities Were Stolen

The Nature of the Problem and How Many People
Experience Its Aggravations

Losses and Suffering
Is the Problem Growing or Subsiding?
Who Faces the Greatest Risks?

Predicting the Chances of Becoming a Victim
Someday: Projecting Cumulative Risks


Key Terms Defined in the Glossary

Questions for Discussion and Debate

Critical Thinking Questions

Suggested Research Projects

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The previous chapter painted the “big picture”
about all forms of victimization in the entire country
in recent years. This chapter focuses on certain inter-
personal crimes of violence and theft in greater
depth. People attacked by murderers, other danger-
ous assailants, and robbers are examined first. Indivi-
duals and households whose homes are burglarized,
whose cars are driven off by thieves, and whose
identities are stolen by impostors are investigated
later in the chapter. (The plight of abused children
is examined in Chapter 8; the dilemma faced by
intimate partners who are beaten by batterers is
explored in Chapter 9; and the suffering imposed
by rapists is examined in Chapter 10.)

Victimologists gather and interpret data to
answer disturbing questions such as: How many

people are robbed, wounded, and even murdered
by criminals each year? How rapidly are the ranks
of people who have suffered these misfortunes
growing? Researchers want to find out where and
when the majority of crimes occur, and, in the age
of globalization, where in the world are the streets
much more dangerous and where are they dramat-
ically safer?

A matter of particular concern is which groups
are targeted the most and the least often.

Specifically, which groups are at a higher risk of
getting slain, shot, stabbed, or robbed? Data from
the UCR and the NCVS will be used to answer a
set of unsettling questions:

What are the odds of being attacked during any
given year? Incidence rates measure the
number of new victims per 1,000 or per
100,000 persons annually and thereby reveal
the risks people face.

How many people know what it is like to be
confronted by a robber who growls, “Your
money or your life!” Prevalence rates esti-
mate the proportion of people per 1,000 or per
100,000 who have ever experienced some

What are the chances that a person will be
harmed by a violence-prone opponent at least
once during his or her entire life (not just in a
single year) [incidence rate], or during previ-
ous years [prevalence rate]? Cumulative risks
estimate these lifetime likelihoods by project-
ing current situations into the future.

Is violence a growing problem in American
society, or is it subsiding? Trend analysis
provides the answer by focusing on changes
over time.

Does violent crime burden all communities
and groups equally, or are some categories
of people more likely than others to be
held up, physically injured, and killed?
Differential risks indicate the odds of an
unwanted event taking place for members of
one social demographic group as compared
to another.

To understand the meaning of differential risks.

To appreciate the complications of making international

To discover which countries and which cities across the
globe have the highest and lowest homicide rates.

To use official statistics to spot national trends in murders,
aggravated assaults, and robberies in recent decades.

To discover the profile of the typical victim in order to
determine which demographic groups face the highest
and lowest chances of getting murdered and also of
being robbed.

To appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of statistical
projections about the risk any given individual faces
of being on the receiving end of violence.

To grasp the meaning of cumulative risks.

To become acquainted with the suffering of people
whose homes are burglarized.

To become knowledgeable about the situation of people
whose cars are stolen.

To become familiar with the aggravation arising from
identity theft.

94 C H A P T E R 4

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Identifying Differential Risks: Which
Groups Suffer More Often Than Others?

The first step in a victim-centered analysis addresses
the issue, “Which groups sustain the greatest
casualties? Which groups face lesser threats of

Victimization rates for the entire population
indicate how frequently murders, rapes, robberies,
and assaults are committed against “average”
Americans and how often “typical” households
suffer burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, and identity
theft. It is reasonable to suspect that the chance of
becoming a victim is not uniform for everyone but
is more likely for some types and less likely for

The discussion about comparative risks at the
conclusion of Chapter 3 revealed that different
age groupings of people do not all face the same
odds of getting killed accidentally—say, from a
skiing mishap—or of dying from a particular dis-
ease, such as cancer. People with attributes in
common such as age or sex may be affected by
crime much more or much less often than others.
If these suspicions can be documented, then any
overall rate that projects a risk for all Americans
might mask important variations within sub-
groups. In other words, it is necessary to “disag-
gregate” or “deconstruct” or break down
victimization rates into their component pieces
in order to reveal the differential risks faced by
particular categories of people.

A pattern within a victimization rate is recog-
nizable when one category suffers significantly
more than another. The most obvious example is
the incidence of rape: Females are much more
likely to be sexually violated than are males. Search-
ing for patterns means looking for regularities
within a seemingly chaotic mass of information
and finding predictability in what at first appear to
be random events.

The differential risks derived from patterns
identified in the data will be investigated in this
chapter for the violent crimes of murder and rob-
bery and for the property crimes of burglary, motor
vehicle theft, and identity theft.


Where It Is Safer or More Dangerous:
Making International Comparisons

In order to bring the big picture into sharper focus
during the era of globalization, it is important to
remember that victimization rates vary dramati-
cally not only from time to time but also from
one place to another. The greatest variations can
be found by comparing one society to another.
Cross-national comparisons reveal the magnitude
of the crime problem in different countries at one
point in time.

The main source of data about victimization
rates in other countries is a branch of the United
Nations—its Office on Drugs and Crime Control–
which periodically surveys its members’ law
enforcement agencies. Also, the European Union
(EU) collects data from the criminal justice systems
of its member states and publishes an annual
European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal
Justice Statistics. In the past, the International Police
Organization (Interpol) also publicly posted data.

Since 1989, most European countries have
participated in an International Crime Victim Sur-
vey that generates statistics that are considered more
reliable than data from police departments. Police
in the various countries use different definitions for
common crimes like rape, burglary, and robbery.
Also, some police forces are more scrupulous
about recording incidents and forwarding their
data to headquarters than others. Differences in
record-keeping practices can make comparisons dif-
ficult too (for example, some countries do not fol-
low the “hierarchy rule”), and, of course, the
willingness of victims to reveal their troubles to
the authorities varies dramatically from place to
place (Van Dijk et al. 2007; and Loftus, 2011).

Making international comparisons of victimiza-
tion rates continues to be difficult, and hasty con-
clusions can be misleading. Some governments do
not routinely disclose reliable and up-to-date data
about their crime rates, or they publish figures that
seem unrealistically low, probably because their
regimes fear that high rates will damage their

A C L O S E R L O O K A T T H E V I C T I M S O F I N T E R P E R S O N A L C R I M E S O F V I O L E N C E A N D T H E F T 95

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nations’ public images and scare off potential
tourists and investors.

Researchers who studied cross-national crime
data decades ago came to these conclusions: Com-
pared to other nations providing trustworthy statis-
tics, U.S. victimization rates for violent crimes were
very high, for auto theft were fairly high, and for
burglary were near the middle of the range (Kalish,
1988). Violence is more of a problem in the United
States than in many other highly developed socie-
ties, but theft is not (Zimring and Hawkins, 1997).

Narrowing the focus strictly to the number of
murders in various societies still requires careful
attention to methodological issues. Each country’s
definitions of intentional, wrongful, punishable kill-
ings reflect laws and local customs that govern the
way deaths are classified. For international compar-
isons to be valid, definitions of killings that consti-
tute murder must be consistent. For example, not
all countries consider infanticides as murders. Also,
certain countries may count attempted murders as
intentional homicides, but in the United States
(and most other societies) cases in which wounded
people survive are classified as aggravated assaults.
Other inconsistencies result if a nation’s body
count includes deaths from legal interventions
(such as the use of deadly force by police officers
and court-ordered executions), totally uninten-
tional deaths (like negligent manslaughter and
vehicular homicides), and assisted suicides.

The United Nations asks its member states
about their crime problems and promotes the use
of definitions that are as consistent as possible.
These official statistics have been assembled in
Table 4.1 in order to present a picture of the varia-
tions in murder rates across the globe.

What very important factor do Austria, China,
Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, Germany,
Hungary, Ireland, Indonesia, Japan, the Netherlands,
Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Korea, and
Switzerland have in common? They are among
the most peaceful societies on the planet, with a
murder rate close to just one slaying per 100,000
inhabitants. As for the English-speaking advanced
industrial countries, citizens of the United States
have a lot more to worry about in terms of

succumbing to lethal interpersonal violence
than people who reside in the United Kingdom,
Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Most of the
countries in the EU have very low murder rates.
Some of the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and
Latin America report that they experience levels of
lethal violence that are lower than those in the
United States: Morocco, Turkey, Liberia, Egypt,
Vietnam, Chile, and Cuba.

Table 4.1 reveals that the people who suffer the
greatest casualties tend to live in Central and South
America and the offshore island nations in the
Caribbean Sea, especially Honduras and Venezuela,
but also Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica,
the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Trinidad and
Tobago, the Bahamas, the U.S. Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico, and Panama. South
Africa, despite the dismantling of apartheid several
decades ago, also is still burdened by disturbingly
high levels of bloodshed.

Note that some of the killings that boost the
body count in strife-torn societies across the globe
are not the outgrowth of ordinary street crime
but are the result of intense political polarization,
expressed as vigilantism (including slayings by
death squads), terrorism, and low-intensity guerrilla
warfare waged against governments by insurgent
groups and drug trafficking cartels. War-torn coun-
tries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan were excluded
from Table 4.1.

Some countries are strikingly different from
others in terms of their economies, criminal justice
systems, cultural traditions, and age distributions
(for example, many developing societies have
huge populations of young people and relatively
few old people). Therefore, it might make more
sense to limit comparisons of murder rates to fairly
similar, highly industrialized nations. Because a key
determinant of the murder rate in any country is
simply the proportion of the population that falls
into the highest risk group (young males), one
way to deal with variations would be to calculate
the homicide rate for every 100,000 teenage boys
and young men in each society. Following this pro-
cedure and then restricting the comparison only to
other highly industrialized societies, the United

96 C H A P T E R 4

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States stood out as having the worst murder rate
during the late 1980s (Deane, 1987; Rosenthal,
1990). Another way to take the substantial demo-
graphic differences from country to country into
account is to calculate the murder rate of a popula-
tion and then adjust that number to reflect a stan-
dardized age distribution in order to improve
comparability over time and between countries.

When 1980s murder rates in different nations
were analyzed, higher rates tended to be associated
with great economic inequality (huge gaps between
the wealthy and the poor), limited government

funding of social programs for the disadvantaged,
cultural supports for legitimate violence by govern-
ment officials and agencies (frequent executions and
few restraints on the use of force by the police),
family breakdown (high divorce rates), high rates
of female participation in the labor force, and ethnic
heterogeneity (see Gartner, 1990).

Clearly, geographic location—in which society
a person resides—is a major factor that determines
murder risks around the globe. Substantial varia-
tions also can be anticipated between different cities
in foreign countries. The wide range in murder

T A B L E 4.1 Murder Rates Across the Globe: Selected Countries, 2012

Murder Rate per 100,000

Inhabitants Country
Murder Rate per 100,000


Australia 1 Italy 1
Austria 1 Jamaica 39
Bahamas 30 Japan 0.3
Belgium 2 Liberia 3
Belize 45 Mexico 22
Bolivia 12 Morocco 2
Brazil 25 Netherlands 1
Canada 2 New Zealand 1
Chile 3 Nicaragua 11
China 1 Nigeria 20
Colombia 31 Pakistan 8
Costa Rica 9 Panama 17
Cuba 4 Peru 10
Czech Republic 1 Philippines 9
Denmark 1 Puerto Rico (U.S.) 27
Dominican Republic 22 Poland 1
Egypt 3 Russian Federation 9
El Salvador 41 Saudi Arabia 1
Estonia 5 South Africa 31
Finland 2 South Korea 1
France 1 Spain 1
Germany 1 Switzerland 1
Greece 2 Thailand 5
Guatemala 40 Trinidad/Tobago 28
Honduras 90 Turkey 3
Hungary 1 United Kingdom (England and Wales) 1
Ireland 1 Ukraine 4
Israel 2 United States 5
India 4 Venezuela 54
Indonesia 1 Vietnam 3
Iran 4

NOTES: All rates are rounded off to the nearest whole number, except for those less than 1 per 100,000.
The latest figures available for a few of the countries are from 2011, not 2013.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.

SOURCE: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Control, 2014.

A C L O S E R L O O K A T T H E V I C T I M S O F I N T E R P E R S O N A L C R I M E S O F V I O L E N C E A N D T H E F T 97

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rates in the world’s leading cities is evident in Table
4.2. Note that cities, which have much smaller
populations than entire countries, have the poten-
tial to show more volatility in homicide rates per
100,000 inhabitants from one year to the next. The
rampages of a relatively small number of offenders
can have a noticeable statistical impact. Ciudad
Júarez, Mexico, may be the most dramatic case to
illustrate this point. Its body count stood at about
300 homicides in 2007. Then a wave of drug-
related violence engulfed the city, and during
2010 about 3,000 murders took place, a shocking
tenfold increase (Valencia, 2010).

The cities with the most violent deaths per
capita (taking the size of the population into
account) are mostly in Central and South America
and on certain Caribbean islands: Nassau (Bahamas),
Belize City (Belize), Santo Domingo (Dominican
Republic), San Salvador (El Salvador), Guatemala
City (Guatemala), Tegucigalpa (Honduras),
Kingston (Jamaica), Panama City (Panama), and
Caracas (Venezuela). When these big city rates
assembled in Table 4.2 are compared to the entire
country’s rates that were presented in Table 4.1, a
pattern can be discerned: The leading city often has
a higher murder rate than the rest of that country.
However, there are some exceptions to this pattern,
in which the leading city is safer than the country as
a whole, such as Mexico City (Mexico) and Moscow
(Russia). Reliable statistics are not available for cer-
tain cities known to be burdened by terribly high
levels of violence, such as Cape Town as well as
Johannesburg, South Africa (Rueda, 2013).

As for the United States, four cities in 2013 had
murder rates that were in the same league as some
of the roughest cities in the world: Detroit (with 45
per 100,000), New Orleans (with 41), St. Louis
(with 38), and Baltimore (with 37). New Yorkers
(at 4) were murdered at a rate that was slightly
lower than “average Americans” (4.5 per
100,000). But New Yorkers have much more to
fear than the inhabitants of large European cities
of over several million inhabitants on the list, such
as London, Paris, or Rome. Tokyo, the largest city
on the list, was the most peaceful place of all. Other
huge urban areas with extremely low murder

T A B L E 4.2 Murder Rates in Selected Cities
Around the World

Murder Rate per 100,000

Residents, 2012

Australia—Sydney 1
Austria—Vienna 1
Bahamas—Nassau 44
Belgium—Brussels 3
Belize—Belize City 105
Brazil—Sao Paulo 14
Canada—Toronto 1
China—Hong Kong 0.4
Colombia—Bogota 17
Costa Rica—San Jose 18
Czech Republic—Prague 1
Denmark—Copenhagen 1
Dominican Republic—Santo Domingo 29
El Salvador—San Salvador 53
Estonia—Tallinn 6
Egypt—Cairo 2
Finland—Helsinki 2
France—Paris 2
Germany—Berlin 1
Greece—Athens 2
Guatemala—Guatemala City 117
Honduras—Tegucigalpa 102
Hungary—Budapest 2
Indonesia—Jakarta 0.7
Italy—Rome 1
Jamaica—Kingston 50
Japan—Tokyo 0.2
Kenya—Nairobi 6
Mexico—Mexico City 9
Netherlands—Amsterdam 2
New Zealand—Auckland 0.7
Panama—Panama City 53
Poland—Warsaw 2
Portugal—Lisbon 0.6
Russia—Moscow 4
Spain—Madrid 1
South Korea—Seoul 0.8
Trinidad—Port of Spain 17
United Kingdom—London 1
United States—Detroit 45*
United States—New Orleans 41*
United States—St. Louis 38*
United States—New York 4*
Venezuela—Caracas 100**

NOTES: All rates are rounded off to the nearest whole number, except
for those less than 1 per 100,000.
For some cities, 2011 is the latest year available.
*U.S. city rates are for 2013, the latest figures available.
**Estimated for 2013 (Cawthorne and Rawlins, 2014).

SOURCE: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Control, 2014.

98 C H A P T E R 4

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rates of less than 1 per 100,000 were Hong Kong,
China; Seoul, South Korea; Jakarta, Indonesia; and
Auckland, New Zealand.

The above examination of international compar-
isons has revealed a crucial risk factor: where a person
lives (and by extension, the people one interacts with
on a daily basis) has a major impact on the chance of
being murdered. People who reside in certain foreign
countries and certain cities face much graver dangers
of dying violently than inhabitants of other places. So
“location” is a substantial determinant of differential
risks of becoming a victim of homicide.

Those who lose their lives tend to be perma-
nent residents of a city. Tourists, business travelers,
conventioneers, and other visitors rarely get caught
up in deadly showdowns far from home, according
to a detailed analysis of murders in New York City
(see Karmen, 2006).

The Geographic Distribution of Violent
Deaths in the United States

Now that the murder rates in different countries and
their biggest cities have been analyzed, the next logical
step is to zoom in on the United States. The interna-
tional comparisons in Tables 4.1 and 4.2 highlight the
well-known fact that some parts of the world are much
more violent—or much more peaceful—than others.
But what about the spatial distribution of lethal vio-
lence within the United States? Are there striking dif-
ferences in the murder rate for different parts of the
country, for different cities, and even for various neigh-
borhoods within cities?

The answer, as everyone knows, is of course
“yes!” A number of geographic factors strongly
influence differential risks. As for the four sections
of the country, historically the highest homicide
rates have been recorded in the South (with 5.3
per 100,000 in 2013); the lowest have been in the
Northeast (at 3.5 per 100,000) and the West (at
4.0). The rates in the Midwest generally have fallen
in-between (at 4.5). Residents of metropolitan areas
(urban centers rather than suburbs) face higher risks
of violent death than do inhabitants of rural coun-
ties or of small cities beyond the fringe of metro-
politan areas.

Geography-based risks can even be further
fine-tuned by calculating murder rates for U.S.
cities. A closer look at the FBI’s data from munic-
ipal police departments confirms that some urban
centers were much more dangerous places to
dwell in than others. The map in Figure 4.1
shows vertical bars that depict the number of resi-
dents who were murdered out of every 100,000
inhabitants of that city (taking size into account is
the only sound way to make such comparisons).

The map indicates that among the largest cit-
ies, Detroit had the dubious distinction of being
the homicide capital of the country in 2013.
(When Detroit had to declare fiscal bankruptcy
in 2013, it was a more dangerous place, with a
murder rate of 45 per 100,000 residents, than it
was in 2010, when its murder rate was 34 per
100,000.) The most well-known medium-size
city with some of country’s roughest neighbor-
hoods is New Orleans (which became even more
dangerous after the floods caused by Hurricane
Katrina but then improved substantially, as its
murder rate tumbled from a sky-high level of
95 per 100,000 residents in 2007 down to still
intolerable level of 41 in 2013). In fact, as far as
trends go, outbursts of lethal violence diminished
in nearly all big U.S. cities from the 1990s up to
2013. Despite the nationwide decline in murder
rates, the risks facing residents remain much higher
in Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.,
Atlanta, and Miami than in Denver, San Francisco,
San Jose, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and New
York. The nation’s safest big cities were Seattle
and San Diego (see Figure 4.1).

According to researchers, the disparities are
not simply a function of size but seem to be deter-
mined by conditions such as population density,
the local economy (poverty and unemployment
rates, wage scales, and the gap between rich and
poor), special problems (the easy availability of
illegal handguns, the extent of drug trafficking,
and the ineffectiveness of police strategies), tradi-
tions and customs (including the persistence of a
subculture that condones violence), and demo-
graphic factors (especially divorce rates and the
proportion of the population that is poor, male,

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young, and of a marginalized minority group) (see
Tardiff, Gross, and Messner, 1986; Chilton, 1987;
Land, McCall, and Cohen, 1990; Messner and
Golden, 1992; and Karmen, 2006).

To complicate matters further, murder rates
vary dramatically within the confines of a city’s lim-
its. Upscale urban neighborhoods are rarely crime
scenes while the mean streets on the “wrong side of
the tracks” are virtual battlefields between rival
street gangs, drug dealing crews, or hostile factions
of organized crime. Also, neighborhood homicide
rates can flare up or die down substantially over a
span of just a few years as local conditions deterio-
rate or improve (see Karmen, 2006).

Who Gets Killed by Whom? How, Where,
and Why?

Now that some patterns in the level of lethal vio-
lence have been spotted, it is time to focus more
closely on some common threads that run through
thousands of slayings, and what has been pieced
together about the relationships between victims

and their killers in recent years. Did the victims
know their offenders? How did they perish?
What caused the confrontations that led to their
untimely deaths? To answer these questions, it is
necessary to derive a profile or statistical portrait
of the “typical” murder, victim, and killer.

NCVS interviewers ask no questions about
murders of household members, and coroners’
records only maintain information about the
deceased but not about the killer or the crime, so
the UCR is the only source of detailed data
that links the individual who perished to the mur-
derer. UCR guidelines urge police officials to fill out
a Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR)
about each killing in their jurisdiction. The resulting
SHR database provides information about the age,
sex, and race of the victim and—if detectives solved
the case and made an arrest—the accused person’s
age, sex, race, weapon, possible motive, and his or
her prior relationship–if any–with the slain person.

The first question that can be answered with the
help of data from the SHRs is, “How many murders
involved just a single killer and a lone victim.” Nearly

F I G U R E 4.1 Murder Rates In Major Cities, United States, 2013



100 CH APT ER 4

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one half of all the homicides in which the police
were able to figure out what happened were simply
confrontations between two people. The remainder
were either unknown or involved more than one
attacker and/or more than one person who perished,
according to the 2013 UCR.

Another issue that can be readily addressed is
“How were the victims killed?” For decades, the
majority of killers have dispatched their adversaries
with firearms. Sometimes murderers use rifles and
shotguns, but usually they prefer handguns (revolvers
and pistols account for about two-thirds of all gun
deaths). The proportion of victims who expired
from bullet wounds rose from 64 percent in 1990
to just about 70 percent in 1993, before subsiding
to 65 percent in 1998, lurching back up to 70 percent
in 2004, and staying just about at that level (69 per-
cent) in 2013. Knives and other sharp instruments ran
a distant second as the weapons of choice, accounting
for 12 percent of all deaths. The rest were slain by
blunt instruments; fists and feet; hands (largely via
strangulation and smothering); and by various other
ways (explosions, arson, poisons, by being pushed,
and other less frequent means).

Another issue that can be addressed with data
from the SHRs is, “By whom? Did the victim
know the killer?” Recall that this is the kind of
issue that intrigued the founders of victimology.
They were criminologists who wanted to study
the interaction between victims and offenders.
They were especially interested in uncovering any
prior relationships between the two parties in cases
of lethal interpersonal violence. For example, they
wondered whether the killer and the mortally
wounded person previously had known each
other (as intimates, adversaries, or casual acquain-
tances). To shed light on this pattern within
slayings, victim–offender relationships need to be
broadly categorized. Perhaps the two were com-
plete strangers brought together by fate. Maybe
both were members of the same family (nuclear
or extended). The third possibility is that the killer
and his target were acquaintances, neighbors, or
friends (including girlfriend or boyfriend). Accord-
ing to data in the SHRs derived from police inves-
tigations from the 1990s up to 2013, in the most

common situation (ranging from 29 percent to 38
percent) the offender was a friend or acquaintance.
Killings of one family member by another added
up to an additional 12 percent to 14 percent each
year. Slayings by strangers accounted for about
12 percent to 16 percent of cases for which the
relationship could be surmised by detectives.
Unfortunately for researchers, unsolved homicides
of “unknown relationship” (at the time the SHRs
were submitted) made up the largest category, hov-
ering between 35 and 45 percent in recent decades
(36 percent in 2013) (FBI, 2014).

If detectives could determine the victim–
offender relationship in this residual grouping
(which presumably contains many difficult-to-solve
slayings by complete strangers), the percentages due
to family quarrels and conflicts with friends and
acquaintances probably would be much smaller.
Nevertheless, looking only at solved cases, the old
adage remains true: A person is more likely to be
killed by someone he or she knows than by a com-
plete stranger. In 45 percent of all solved murders in
2013, the killer was an acquaintance or even a
former friend. Family members killed each other in
25 percent of all solved cases. Strangers were deemed
to be the killers in nearly 20 percent of all solved
cases. Because so many slayings remain unsolved, it
is difficult to determine if the proportion of murders
committed by strangers is rising. It remains an
important issue for further research because it is
more difficult to anticipate and guard against attacks
by unknown assailants (see Riedel, 1987). (SHRs are
filled out shortly after killings take place. Police
departments usually do not send updated reports to
the UCR for “cold cases” that they solve months or
years later. Some departments do not submit SHRs
to the UCR for each killing, as they are supposed to
do in this voluntary reporting system.)

A third question that can be answered is,
“Why? What were these sudden violent outbursts
all about?” The reasons for the confrontations that
claimed lives are called the “circumstances” by
police departments and the FBI. The SHRs expose
some widely held myths arising from TV shows and
movies. Of the 6,681 murders committed during
2013 whose circumstances were known, in only

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13 were the deceased categorized as engaged in
prostitution. Gangland killings of mobsters claimed
138 lives (up from 78 in 2007) but amounted to just
2 percent of all murders across the country that
year. Drug dealers’ turf battles (386) and drug-
fueled brawls (59) added up to another 7 percent.
Killings arising from clashes between rival juvenile
street gangs (584) accounted for nearly 9 percent of
all murders in which the motive was known.
Although this nationwide gang death toll dropped
from about 670 in 2010 to nearly 585 in 2013, gang
membership remained a risky activity in many
urban neighborhoods. Robbers stole around 685
lives, about 10 percent of the 2013 body count
(FBI, 2014b).

However, the largest category was “other
arguments—not specified” (more than 25 percent
of all cases solved during 2013). This miscellaneous
grouping of heated disputes includes some that
were trivial or based on misunderstandings and
others that must have seemed to be matters
worth killing for and dying over to the participants
at the time. If this vague grouping is added to
“unknown reasons” surrounding cases the police
couldn’t solve then the motives for around half
of all the 2013 killings remain a mystery and
can’t be meaningfully analyzed. In sum, the avail-
able data does not provide definitive answers to
the key concern, “what brought about their
deadly showdown?”

Who Faces the Gravest Threats of Being

The 2013 U.S. murder rate of 4.5 means that out of
every collection of 100,000 people, nearly 5 people
were killed and 99,995 survived. Who were these
unfortunate few that were marked for death? This
statistic captures the odds of being slain for fictitious
“average” Americans of all backgrounds, which is a
useful social construct for certain purposes (for exam-
ple, as shown above, to compare the perils faced by
U.S. residents to the dangers confronting the average
Canadian or Mexican). But this composite statistic
conceals as much as it reveals. When the SHRs are
used to deconstruct the body count, differential risks

of getting killed become evident. These findings
should be especially alarming for those who fall
into some or all of the high-risk categories and
should be somewhat reassuring for members of
other groups. The odds of suddenly expiring vary
greatly from place to place: by region of the country,
area of residence (urban, suburban, or rural), and
specific location (which city) as was shown above.
Hence, differential risks already have been uncov-
ered in terms of geography: where people reside. It
should come as no surprise that three other impor-
tant factors are sex, age, and race or ethnicity.

SHR statistics indicate that a person’s sex is a
crucial determinant of risks. Men die violently
much more frequently than women. Year after
year, at least three-quarters of the corpses are of
boys and men (almost 78 percent in 2013). This
proportion has remained roughly the same since
the early 1960s. Expressed as rates, boys and men
are killed at least three and during some years four
times as often as girls and women. Also, over recent
decades, about 9 out of 10 of the known offenders
were teenage boys or men (roughly 90 percent of
the arrestees were males in 2013). Therefore, most
murders can be categorized as male-on-male.
When females get killed, the murderers usually
turn out to be males (91 percent of all girls and
women were slain by boys and men in 2013). On
infrequent occasions when females kill, they tend to
slay their own small children or the men in their
lives rather than other women.

As for the race of those whose lives were
snuffed out prematurely, the UCR recognizes
only these categories: white, black, and other
(Asians) plus undetermined or unknown. (Note
that most Hispanics were counted as whites on the
SHRs.) During 2013, roughly half (51 percent) of
all those who perished were black, a little less than
half were white (45 percent), and the small remain-
der (3 percent) were of other races (mostly Asians)
or of unknown origin (1 percent). Because half of
all those who were killed were black, but only
about 13 percent of the population identified them-
selves as people of African descent according to the
U.S. Census Bureau, these UCR calculations con-
firm that black communities across the country

102 C H A P T E R 4

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suffer from disproportionately high rates of lethal
violence. Whites, who comprise 78 percent of the
population but only 45 percent of the departed,
experience disproportionately low risks. Put another
way, the dangers of getting murdered are dispropor-
tionately higher for blacks than for whites or others.
As for ethnicity, the SHRs indicated that 18 percent
of all those who were murdered were Hispanic,
which is in line with the proportion of the population
that was classified as Latino or Hispanic (17 percent)
by the Census Bureau (see Harrell, 2007).

As for victim–offender relationships, most
slayings turn out to be intraracial, not interracial, a
longstanding pattern according to decades of
record-keeping (see Wood, 1990). Focusing solely
upon lone-offender/single-victim killings carried
out during 2013, the UCR’s SHRs documented
that 90 percent of black victims were slain by
black offenders, and 83 percent of white victims
were killed by white perpetrators.

Besides sharp differences in risks by sex and race,
murder rates also have varied dramatically by age, a
pattern that was discerned decades ago (see Akiyama,
1981). Children between 9 and 12 years old are the
least likely age group to be slain. The risks of being
murdered rise during the teenage years and peak
during the early twenties, between ages 20 and 24.
After age 25, the body count drops substantially with
each passing year, indicating an inverse relationship:
As a person grows older, risks decline smoothly. The
typical victims were in their late teens, twenties, and
thirties when they were killed. Almost two-thirds
(62 percent in 2014) of those who died way before
their time were between the ages of 17 and 39. An
even higher proportion of perpetrators fall into this
age range. As a result, most murders can be charac-
terized as young adults slaying other relatively young

So far, this listing of differential risks has been
based on the 2013 UCR. But what about the recent
past? A statistical portrait of all the people who were
slain and all the persons arrested for murder and
manslaughter between the years 1980 and 2008
appears in Box 4.1. The picture that emerged
from this comprehensive analysis of the FBI’s
SHRs shows that the differential risks detected in

2013 are consistent with the patterns that prevailed
over almost three decades.

From this review of the demographic factors
that are correlated with murder rates, a profile can
be drawn indicating which groups of people run the
greatest risks of suddenly dying from an act of vio-
lence. They are Southerners, urban residents, males,
teenagers, and young adults between 18 and 24, and
African-Americans. Those who fall into the opposite
groups face the lowest risks of all: Northeasterners,
residents of small towns in rural areas, females, chil-
dren and the elderly, whites, and Asians.

One additional factor profoundly influences the
dangers of becoming embroiled in lethal showdowns:
financial status. Lower income people fall into the
high-risk group while affluent persons enjoy life in
the low-risk group. But this pattern cannot be
unearthed from the SHRs because police files and
FBI compilations do not collect information about
the social class of the deceased. However, an analysis
of New York City murders determined from death
certificates that the overwhelming majority of the
victims had never been to college and that the zip
code of their last known address often indicated
they had resided in a low-income neighborhood.
Furthermore, of the persons arrested for these homi-
cides, about 85 percent qualified as “indigent” in
court and were provided with an attorney at no cost
by the government. Furthermore, the majority of
crime scenes were located in precincts in poverty-
stricken neighbors. These findings underscore the
connection between violence and economic stand-
ing: Being poor is a major risk factor for getting killed
as well as for committing murder. Many murders can
be characterized as “poor on poor” (Karmen, 2006).

It seems that the attitudes and behaviors of
entire groups—such as males, young adults, low-
income earners, and city dwellers—determine, to
some degree, their fate.

Changes over Time in Near Death Experiences:
Trends in Aggravated Assault Rates

Murder and robbery are the two violent crimes that
are the main focus of this chapter, but at this point a
look at trends in aggravated assaults also would be

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appropriate. Aggravated or felonious assaults are the
most frequent category, outnumbering the other
serious interpersonal crimes of violence (murder,
rape, robbery) monitored by the UCR every year.

By definition, aggravated assaults result in seri-
ous wounds or involve attacks (or threats of harm)
with a deadly weapon. Therefore, some aggravated
assaults are attempted murders in which the injured

B O X 4.1 A Statistical Picture of Murders in the United States, 1980–2008

An analysis of a massive database of hundreds of thousands of SHRs containing details about homicides committed over a
span of 28 years established that the perpetrators and their victims were not a representative cross-section of all Americans.
On the contrary, murderers and the people they killed were more likely to be male, young, and black, in terms of their
demographic characteristics.

By Sex:

Males were disproportionately involved as the accused perpetrators (nearly 90 percent of all arrestees) and as their targets
(over 75 percent of the deceased), although males comprise only about 50 percent of the population. Their rate of offending
was about 15 for every 100,000 American boys and men, but for females it was less than 2 arrests per 100,000 girls and
women per year. The victimization rate for males was close to 12 per 100,000, but for females it was much lower, close to
3 per 100,000 per year. Clearly, the typical murder was male-on-male.

Males mostly killed other males, but also killed females. Females rarely killed, and when they did, they usually killed males.

By Age:

Americans 18–24 years old made up nearly 11 percent of the population but accounted for more than one-third (38 percent)
of all the accused killers and about one-quarter (24 percent) of the deceased. Eighteen- to 24-year olds had the highest rates
of offending (29 per 100,000 per year) and of dying violently (17 per 100,000) of any age group. Twenty-five- to 34-
year-olds suffered the second highest rate of involvement as offenders as well as victims. Nearly two-thirds of all victims and
more than three-quarters of all arrestees were under 35 years of age. Therefore, the typical murder involved young adults
killing other young adults.

By Race:

Americans of African descent were overrepresented as both victims and offenders. The victimization rate for blacks was 28
per 100,000 per year while for whites it was less than 5 per 100,000. The offending rate for blacks was over 34 per 100,000
while for whites it was less than 5. People identifying themselves as black comprised about 13 percent of the population
but made up nearly half (47 percent) of all those who died violently and a little more than half (53 percent) who were
arrested for manslaughter and murder. The typical murder was intraracial. Eighty-four percent of whites were slain by whites,
and 93 percent of blacks were killed by blacks.

Victim–offender relationships:

Strangers were responsible for about one-fifth (22 percent) of all homicides in which the police could determine the victim–
offender relationship.

Of the remaining 78 percent of killings carried out by nonstrangers, the victim was a spouse in 10 percent of the cases,
another family member in 12 percent, and a boyfriend or girlfriend in 6 percent. The remaining half (49 percent) involved
other types of acquaintances.


Arguments over all kinds of miscellaneous matters (other than issues surrounding street gangs and drugs, which are separate
categories) made up the largest heading each year.

Homicides involving members of juvenile or adult gangs increased from 220 deaths (about 1 percent of all killings)
in 1980 to 960 (about 6 percent) in 2008.

The majority of drug-related and gang-related killings took place in large cities.

SOURCE: Cooper and Smith, 2011.

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parties barely survived (a bullet missed its mark, a
stabbing was not fatal, and a severe beating almost
claimed a life). To put it differently, homicides are
aggravated assaults in which victims do not recover
from the wounds inflicted by their adversaries. With
some bad luck or poor timing or ineffective medical
care, an aggravated assault easily could wind up as a
murder. Conversely, with good fortune, a tragedy
might be averted by ambulance crews, paramedics,
and hospital emergency room personnel, and a
vicious act of violence that would have added to
the body count remains a near death experience
and is officially recorded as an aggravated assault.

Whether a victim of an aggravated assault lives or
dies depends on several factors, including the weapon
used, the severity of the wound, the injured party’s
preexisting health condition, and the quality of medi-
cal care received. According to a nationwide study that
analyzed the caliber of various trauma care systems in
selected counties across the country, a continuous drop
in the lethality of assaults since 1960 can be primarily
attributed to advances in emergency medicine (Harris,
Thomas, Fischer, and Hirsch, 2002). The policy impli-
cation is that the most important way to drive the
murder rate down is to help critically wounded people
stay alive by having competent ER doctors, nurses,
and EMTs on call, ready to spring into action.

Both the UCR and the NCVS keep records of
the annual number of aggravated assaults. Because
two sources of official data can be tapped, a graph
depicting changes over time in the rates of assaults
with a deadly weapon or serious attacks can have
two trend lines: one according to the UCR and the
other according to the NCVS. The graph shown in
Figure 4.2 displays the estimated rates for aggra-
vated assaults committed across the United States
from 1973 to 2013.

The NCVS trend line shows that close calls and
near death experiences of people shot or stabbed
declined slightly in frequency from the early 1970s
until the early 1990s. Then the NCVS was rede-
signed; the rate of aggravated assaults jumped in
part because of the new measurement methods.
However, by the end of the 1990s and for several
years into the new century, a dramatic improvement
in the level of serious interpersonal violence became

evident from NCVS estimates. Between 1993 (when
the survey was redesigned and the rate hit a peak) and
2009, aggravated assaults disclosed to NCVS inter-
viewers plummeted about 60 percent. By 2013, the
rate had leveled off a bit above its lowest point in 40
years, at a little less than 4 persons per 1,000, way down
from its peak in the early 1990s at 12 per 1,000.

UCR data shows a somewhat different pattern
up to the early 1990s. After years of rising numbers
of reports about serious attacks, complaints to the
police about felonious assaults peaked in 1993 at
about 430 per 100,000 people. From that high
point, the level of violence subsided substantially
during the second half of the 1990s and continued
to diminish gradually through the twenty-first cen-
tury, which is the same downward drift indicated
by the NCVS line on the graph. The UCR rates
combining shootings, stabbings, and other felonious
assaults in 2013 were way down at about 230 per
100,000. But unlike the NCVS data points, they
still had not quite fallen to their lowest levels in
40 years.

But the good news about this very positive
trend must be tempered by a recognition that a
growing number of totally innocent persons are
sustaining aggravated assaults from gun violence
that comes out of the blue.

During 2013, President Obama signed into law
the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act.
It authorized the U.S. Department of Justice to look
into attempted mass killings in places of public use in
order to provide federal, state, and local law enforce-
ment agencies with data that will help them to better
understand how to prepare for, prevent, respond to,
and recover from these violent outbursts. The FBI
began in 2014 to report about the casualties of
“active shooter” incidents, in which an offender
attempts to kill people in a confined and populated
area such as a school, workplace, shopping center,
house of worship, transportation hub, or some
other gathering place like a movie theater. The
monitoring system does not count all mass killings
(of three or more persons) or all mass shootings (for
example, gang fights and turf battles between rival
drug dealing crews are excluded). It focused on 160
active shooter incidents that broke out between

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2000 and 2013. The gunmen collectively inflicted
1,043 casualties on the general public, murdering
486 people and wounding 557. The median number
of people slain per incident was 2, with another 2
injured. During the first seven years from 2000 to
2006, an average of around six incidents broke out
each year. During the next seven-year interval up to
2013, more than 16 outbreaks took place annually;
so the trend, unfortunately, is upward. The gunfire
erupted in 40 of the 50 states, and 60 percent of the
attacks were over before the local police could arrive
to save lives. Most of the shootings lasted five min-
utes or less. Even when the police arrived at the
scene in time to intervene, the victims still had to
make desperate life-and-death decisions. The worst
bloodshed took place at an elementary school, a col-
lege campus, an army base, and a movie theater. The
year with the highest number of casualties (a total of
90 murdered and 118 victims of aggravated assaults)
was 2012; during 2000, only seven people were
killed or injured in these kinds of armed attacks.

Ten percent of the shooters went after women with
whom they had or formerly had a romantic relation-
ship. In 12 of these 16 incidents, these women were
killed; an additional 42 innocent onlookers were
murdered, and another 28 were wounded. In 13 per-
cent of all the incidents (21 of 160), the gunfire
stopped after unarmed bystanders and victims coura-
geously, safely, and successfully restrained the shooter.
The FBI concluded that the study supports the impor-
tance of training ordinary citizens (including members
of the college campus community) as well as law
enforcement officers by holding what-to-do-if exer-
cises (FBI, 2014c).


Robbers are usually complete strangers on the prowl
for suitable prey. Therefore, they are among the most
feared and hated of all street criminals. The offense
combines stealing with extortion or outright violence


F I G U R E 4.2 Trends in Aggravated Assaults, United States, 1973–2013




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(often including the use of weapons), so it carries
some of the stiffest prison sentences permissible
under law. And yet, throughout history, bandits
were considered much more interesting than their
victims, and their exploits were often romanticized.
The highwaymen of Robin Hood’s band, pirates
who plundered ships laden with treasure, frontier out-
laws who ambushed stagecoaches and trains, and
gangsters who held up banks during the Great
Depression—all were the subjects of stories and
songs sympathetic to, or at least understanding of,
the impulses that drove their dramatic deeds. But the
glitter has largely faded and in its place is the image
of the mugger or gunman as a vicious thug, a cruel
predator, and an exploiter of weakness—one whose
random violence casts a shadow over everyday life.
This reversal in the imagery of robbers has sparked
renewed concern for their victims.

Robbers and the People They Prey Upon

Completed robberies are face-to-face confrontations
in which perpetrators take something of value directly
from victims against their will, either by force or
by threats of violence. Whether the holdup is
completed or just attempted, the law considers
armed robberies more serious than unarmed ones
(strong-arm robberies, muggings, or yokings).

Robberies: Who, How Often, How,
Where, When

Because nearly all robbery victims live to tell
about their experiences, more details can be gath-
ered about them than about people who were
murdered. Some limited information about rob-
beries that were reported to and solved by local
police departments appears annually in the FBI’s
UCR.The data indicates the number of incidents
and describe the people who were arrested—but
not the people who were accosted. The NCVS—
not the UCR—is the source to tap to find out
“how often, who, how, where, when,” plus
information concerning losses, injuries, stolen
property recovery rates, and reactions during the
confrontations (Harlow, 1987).

Respondents in the sample who confided that
they had been robbed within the past six months
provided NCVS interviewers with a wealth of data.
They described the assailants who robbed them and
the weapons used against them, and they disclosed
whether the robbers got what they were after,
where and when the crimes took place, if they
resisted, whether they got hurt, and if so, how
seriously. The answers from these unfortunate indivi-
duals in the sample were used to derive projections
about the experiences of all Americans over the age
of 11 who were robbed. To simplify matters, only
single-victim/single-offender incidents will be
analyzed (Harrell, 2005; 2007).

Nearly 370,000 people were robbed during
2013, according to projections derived from the
NCVS sample. That translated to a rate of a little
more than 2 per 1,000 persons over the age of 11.
In a little more than half of the face-to-face confron-
tations, the robbers were unarmed, but in 17 percent
they brandished a firearm (almost always a handgun)
and in 14 percent they pulled out a knife. Almost 45
percent of the victims (but especially the males) said
the offenders were complete strangers, but a surpris-
ing proportion, 17 percent (almost exclusively
the female victims), characterized the robber as an
“intimate” and another 11 percent recognized the
offender as a relative. Most of the rest (22 percent)
were described as acquaintances, either casual or
even well-known. Over 67 percent of the indivi-
duals who were robbed that year informed the police
about their harrowing experiences, according to the
BJS analysis tool customized report (BJS, 2014).

The primary motive behind robbery is theft.
But offenders did not always get what they wanted.
About one-quarter (27 percent) of robberies ended
up as unsuccessful attempts to steal cash and valu-
ables. The typical victim lost about $150. Most
often, they were relieved of personal effects such
as portable electronic or photographic gear, and
jewelry, followed by purses and wallets containing
credit cards and cash. Most robbery victims never
recovered any of these valuables on their own or
after an investigation by the police in 2008, the last
year that such detailed analyses were available
(NCVS, 2011).

A C L O S E R L O O K A T T H E V I C T I M S O F I N T E R P E R S O N A L C R I M E S O F V I O L E N C E A N D T H E F T 107

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Robbers, armed or not, hurt their victims for
a number of reasons. They may do so initially to
intimidate the target into submission. They may
become violent during the holdup in reaction to
resistance, lack of cooperation, or stalling. Offen-
ders may relish taking advantage of a helpless per-
son or may seize the opportunity to show off to
accomplices. Injuring their targets may be a sign of
panic, disappointment in the haul, anger, scorn,
contempt, sadism, or loss of self-control. Unleash-
ing violence may also be instrumental: Wounding
individuals can render them incapable of later
identifying the robbers, pursuing them, or even
calling for help. Explosive outbursts at the end
of the transaction may be intended to shock,
stun, or preoccupy victims, their associates, and
any bystanders so that they will hesitate to sum-
mon the police.

Despite all these possible motives for inflict-
ing injuries, most robbers didn’t wound their
victims. Only a little more than one-third (37
percent) of those who suffered either completed
or attempted robberies were wounded. How-
ever, some who escaped injuries were grabbed,
shoved, and otherwise roughed up. Among the
wounded, most victims experienced minor inju-
ries, such as cuts, scratches, bruises, and swel-
lings. A small proportion suffered serious
injuries, such as broken bones, lost teeth, loss
of consciousness, or gunshot wounds that
required medical care in a hospital emergency
room. About 8 percent of robbery victims in
2008 incurred medical expenses, usually from
visiting a hospital emergency room (BJS,
2011). Similarly, in 2013 about 40 percent of
the people who were accosted told interviewers
they were injured in the incident, but most of
them (62 percent) did not need any medical
treatment for their wounds, according to the
customized table generated by the BJS analysis

Changes over Time in Robbery Rates

Robbery is often cited as the offense most people
worry about when they express their fears about

street crime. Robbery is a confrontational crime
in which force is used, or violence is threatened
(…“or else”). Figure 4.3 displays the trends in rob-
bery rates according to UCR and NCVS data. The
UCR trend line shows that robberies soared after
1977, peaked in 1981, plunged until 1985, and
then shot up again to record levels in the early
1990s. After that, reports of muggings and holdups
plummeted impressively until 2001. Known cases
of robberies largely continued to drift downward
during the first decade of the twenty-first century
(bottoming out in 2010), and then ending up in
2013 a little above their lowest level in 40 years
(FBI, 2014b).

The NCVS trend line tells a very similar, but
not identical, story. It indicates that the robbery rate
fell between 1974 and 1978, rebounded until 1981
when it hit an all-time high, dropped sharply dur-
ing the early 1980s, but then climbed back up from
1985 until 1994. The robbery rate then tumbled an
impressive 65 percent between 1993 and 2002
before creeping back up a little. By 2013, disclo-
sures to interviewers about robberies had reached
their lowest levels since the NCVS surveys began
40 years earlier.

Checking Out Whether More Robberies
Are Turning into Murders

One bit of good news about robbery is often over-
looked: Most victims are not injured, and of those
who are, most don’t need medical attention in an
emergency room. And yet, because robbery is
such a potentially devastating crime, a troubling
question ought to arise: How often do robberies
escalate into murders? In other words, what are the
chances of being killed by a robber? Robbers may
wound their victims (and perhaps inadvertently
kill them) to quell resistance or to prevent them
from calling for help and reporting the crime or to
intimidate them from pressing charges and testify-
ing in court.

On occasion, claims are made that robbers
these days are more viciously violent than ever
before. The impression that robbers kill more
readily “these days” than in the past is part of a

108 C H A P T E R 4

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gloomy larger perception that American society is
falling apart, that civilization is collapsing, and that
predators today are more depraved than ever
before. In the aftermath of a particularly gruesome
slaying, journalists sometimes play up this theme.
But this is nothing new.

For example, during the “good old days” of the
1940s and 1950s, when street crime was not a major
issue in electoral campaigns because it wasn’t per-
ceived to be a pressing problem, some people feared
robbers would kill them even if they surrendered
without a fight and cooperated. A reporter at the
time (Whitman, 1951, p. 5) wrote: “The hoodlum
will bash in your head with a brick for a dollar and
ninety-eight cents. The police records of our cities
are spotted with cases of ‘murder for peanuts’ in
which the victims, both men and women, have
been slugged, stabbed, hit with iron pipes, hammers,
or axes, and in a few cases kicked to death—the loot
being no more than the carfare a woman carried in
her purse or the small change in a man’s pocket.”

Several decades later, a newsmagazine’s cover
story (Press et al., 1981, p. 48) titled “The Plague of
Violent Crime” observed: “Another frightening
difference in the crime picture is that life is now
pitifully cheap. Law enforcement officials think they
have witnessed a shift toward gratuitous slaughter. ‘It
used to be Your money or your life,’says a Bronx
assistant district attorney.… ‘Now it’s Your money and
your life.’”

So a journalist had the impression at the start
of the 1950s that robbers were becoming more
vicious. The same assertion was made by a
journalist at the start of the 1980s. Were these fright-
ening media images based on facts? Is it true, as some
people fear, that more and more robberies are esca-
lating into murders (see Cook, 1985, 1987)?
Researchers must undertake a fine grained analysis.
Victimologists can combine UCR statistics on mur-
ders and NCVS findings about robberies to shed
some light on this grisly question (see the data assem-
bled in Table 4.3 inside Box 4.2).


F I G U R E 4.3 Trends in Robberies, United States, 1973–2013





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Differential Risks: Which Groups Get
Robbed the Most and the Least Often?

To discover patterns in robberies, researchers must
sort through data collected each year about various
groupings of people and households that participated
in the NCVS survey. According to the NCVS for
2013, the robbery rate was 2.4 per 1,000. That
means just about 2 individuals out of every 1,000
residents over the age of 11 got robbed that year.
But, just as with murder rates, sharp differences in
robbery risks become evident when the odds facing

the average American are disaggregated or decon-
structed. Breaking down the NCVS sample into
subcategories, certain demographic groupings were
robbed much more often than others. Patterns that
prevailed when robbery was a huge problem in 1993
and patterns that still persisted when the robbery rate
was dramatically lower in 2013 can be discerned
from the data assembled in Table 4.4.

To put the issue bluntly, although everyone
might be apprehensive about being robbed at a cer-
tain time and place, particular groups of people
have a lot more to fear on a regular basis than

B O X 4.2 “Your Money or Your Life!”

Using both the UCR and the NCVS, it is possible to derive
rough estimates of how many robbery victims get killed each
year, and whether that percentage is growing or shrinking.

The number of robberies committed annually can be
estimated from NCVS figures. However, the NCVS excludes
robberies of establishments like convenience stores and
banks and thereby unavoidably undercounts commercial
robberies where some employee or bystander might get slain.
UCR figures are always smaller because they represent only
the robberies known to the police. The SHRs’ annual number
of slayings that were felony murders starting out as robberies
is surely an undercount because homicide detectives are
unable to determine the motive and solve the crime in
around one-third of all cases. Also, in certain murders, the
killer might have robbed the deceased person’s corpse as an
afterthought, according to a study of robbery-related homi-
cides in Baltimore during 1983 (see Loftin, 1986).

Acknowledging these methodological caveats, rough
calculations can be performed to derive ballpark estimates of
how often targeted individuals—whether they are cooperat-
ing or resisting—are murdered by robbers. (See the data
assembled in Table 4.3.)

Several tentative conclusions can be reached from
this statistical evidence drawn from official sources: The
nationwide annual death toll is disturbing but at least it is
diminishing. Nearly 2,500 people died at the hands of rob-
bers in 1980, and about 685 perished in 2013. But, thank-
fully, slayings committed during the course of holdups are
rare, considering the huge numbers of confrontations (well
over a million in 1980, nearly 370,000 in 2013) in which a
life could have been taken along with money or possessions.
In 2013, the proportion of robbery victims who were slain—
less than two-tenths of 1 percent, was within the same
range as during the past 33 years. So predators these days
are not more inclined to snuff out the lives of their prey
while trying to relieve them of their valuables before
making their escape.

And yet, this advice remains sound: When accosted
by an armed offender who growls, “Your money or your
life!” statistics confirm that the correct response is to
hand over the money and hang on to your life, according
to a detailed study of more than 100 solved homicides
that occurred in Chicago during 1983 (Zimring and
Zuehl, 1986).

T A B L E 4.3 Yearly Estimates of Murders Committed During Robberies

1980 1990 2000 2010 2013

Number of persons murdered (from the UCR) 23,040 23,438 15,586 14,748 12,253
Number of persons murdered during a robbery
(from the UCR)

2,488 2,156 1,077 780 686

Total number of robbery victims (from the NCVS) 1,179,000 1,150,000 732,000 480,750 369,000
Murdered victims as a percentage of all robbery victims 0.21% 0.19% 0.14% 0.16% 0.19%

SOURCE: FBI’s UCR, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2013; BJS’s NCVS, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2013.

110 C H A P T E R 4

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others. The differential risks vary dramatically by
demographic characteristics.

Starting with sex, the first pattern that stands
out is that males are singled out more often than
females. The rate for males was 11 per 1,000 in

1993, compared to 6 for females. By 2013, boys
and men were getting robbed a lot less frequently
than in 1993 (down sharply to just 3 per 1,000) but
they still tangled more often with robbers than girls
and women (down substantially to just 2 per 1,000).

With regard to race and ethnicity, in 1993
blacks and Hispanics were accosted several times
as often as whites and others (mostly Americans
of Asian ancestry). By 2013, the rates for all
four racial and ethnic groups had tumbled and
the differences had nearly disappeared, although
whites still enjoyed lower risks than blacks,
Hispanics, and others.

As for age, the analysis of the survey’s findings
for 1993 revealed that younger people (between
the ages of 15 and 34) were confronted much
more often than older people. Individuals in their
late teens faced the gravest risks of all. After those
peak years, risks decline steadily with advancing
age. In other words, an inverse relationship prevails:
As age increases, the dangers of being robbed
decrease. In 2013, the differences in victimization
rates had narrowed dramatically but the overall
pattern persisted: People younger than 35 were
targeted more often than those who were older.
Contrary to the impression that robbers prefer to
prey upon the elderly and frail, the statistics dem-
onstrate that senior citizens are singled out the least
often of any age group.

Family income also appeared to be negatively
correlated with robbery rates. As income
increased, the chances of being robbed generally
decreased, with just one exception. In 1993, the
differences between the lowest and highest
income groups were dramatic. Twenty years
later, the gap had narrowed considerably, but the
pattern persisted: The desperately poor were
robbed of their meager possessions much more
often than others with higher household incomes.
Clearly, robbers are no Robin Hoods.

Robbery is thought to be a big-city problem,
and that perception is supported by the data.

In 1993, residents of urban areas were targeted
much more often than suburbanites, while inhabi-
tants of small towns and rural areas led safer lives.
Inhabitants of the largest cities with populations of

T A B L E 4.4 Robbery Rates for Various Groups,
1993 and 2013

Victim Characteristics 1993 Rate 2013 Rate

Overall rate 8 per 1,000 2 per 1,000

Male 11 3
Female 6 2

Race and Ethnicity
White 7 2
Black 21 3
Other 9 4*
Hispanic 14 3

15–17 13 3*
18–20 16 3*
21–24 11 4
25–34 11 4
35–49 6 2
50–64 2 2
65 and older 2 0.4*

Family income**
Less than $7,500 15 10
$7,500–$14,999 12 8
$15,000–$24,999 10 5
$25,000–$34,999 6 2
$35,000–$49,999 6 3
$50,000–$74,999 7 1
$75,000 or more 5 0.6
Location of the Incident

Urban 15 3
Cities with more than
1 million residents

34** 4

Suburban 7 2
Rural 4 2*

Marital status**
Married 3 0.8
Widowed 2 3*
Divorced 12 4
Separated 19 9*
Never married 17 4

NOTES: Rates are per 1,000 people with these characteristics per year.
All rates are rounded off to the nearest whole number, except for
those smaller than 1.0.
*Estimate is based on very few cases and could be unreliable.
**Figure is for 1995, not 1993.

SOURCE: BJS’s Victimization Analysis Tool, 2014.

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over 1,000,000 suffered a shockingly high victimi-
zation rate of 33 per 100,000. Two decades later,
city people still faced higher risks and country peo-
ple still enjoyed lower odds, but the dangers of get-
ting robbed in all areas had tumbled, especially in
the nation’s largest cities.

In addition to sex, age, race and ethnicity,
income, and area of residence, marital status made
a big difference: In 1993, individuals who had never
been married or who were separated or divorced
endured much higher robbery rates than either
married or widowed people (who generally were
older and tended to be female). By 2013, risks
were lower for all groups (except for the widowed,
but that statistic was based on very few cases), but
the pattern persisted: Those who were not married
were more likely to find themselves in trouble.
Chances are that most robbers don’t check for wed-
ding rings before striking; lifestyle choices may
explain the disparate rates. This pattern provides
an important clue that will be cited later to explain
differential risks.

To sum up the patterns gleaned from Table 4.5,
in both the early 1990s and on the safer streets dur-
ing 2013, higher robbery risks were faced by men
rather than women; minorities than whites; younger
people than middle-aged or elderly people; single
individuals than married couples; poor people than
those who are better off financially; and city residents
than those living in suburbs or small towns. Com-
bining these factors, the profile of the person facing
the gravest dangers of all is an impoverished, young,
black or Hispanic man living in an inner-city neigh-
borhood. Affluent, elderly white ladies living in rural
areas lead the safest lives.

Unfortunately, the NCVS does not calculate a
victimization rate for comparison purposes for an
individual who falls into all of the high-risk or all
of the low-risk subcategories. However, the sur-
vey findings cited in Table 4.4 indicated that black
teenage boys living in low-income families and
residing in the biggest cities (thereby falling into
all five of the high-risk categories) must have suf-
fered a robbery victimization rate in the “bad old
days” of the early 1990s that was off the charts
compared with persons from other backgrounds.

However, two decades later, people falling into
this highest risk grouping faced dramatically
improved odds of avoiding a sharply reduced
number of robbers on the prowl.

One additional variable is worthy of
consideration—occupation. Robbery rates differ
substantially depending on the nature of a person’s
work. Statistics from the NCVS indicated that peo-
ple holding the following (generally less desirable)
jobs were much more likely to be robbed: taxi dri-
vers, gardeners, busboys, dishwashers, carnival and
amusement park workers, car wash attendants, mes-
sengers, newspaper carriers, peddlers, and certain
construction workers. However, musicians and
composers, painters and sculptors, and photogra-
phers also were victimized at above-average rates.
Least likely to be accosted were inspectors, line
workers, bank tellers, opticians, farmers, profes-
sional athletes, elementary school teachers, engi-
neers, and psychologists (Block, Felson, and
Block, 1985). Another study determined that retail
sales workers, especially clerks at convenience stores
and liquor stores, were robbed the most, along with
cab drivers. College professors faced the lowest risks
of being accosted (Warchol, 1998).

Differential risks also show up clearly when a
particular kind of robbery—carjacking—is the focus
of attention. Some people are more likely than
others to have their vehicles taken from them by
robbers, as the information assembled from official
sources in Box 4.3 indicates.

In general, it appears that the daily activities of
individuals as well as the behavior patterns of entire
groups—such as poor young men living in cities—
determine, to some degree, whether or not robbers
will single them out as possible prey.

The takeaway message in the graphs depicted
in Figures 4.2 and 4.3 confirm that the rates of these
three violent crimes have fallen dramatically, even
crashed, from their historically high levels that were
socially as well as politically intolerable. In general,
Americans have been getting along much better
with each other since the early 1990s, even during
the hard times of the Great Recession that devel-
oped during 2008 and persisted for several years.
The dramatic downward trends in murders,

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aggravated assaults, and robberies (see above)
through 2013 indicate that even the nation’s mean-
est streets have become substantially safer. But to
conclude from these very positive developments
that began during the early 1990s that the “worst
is over” might be overly optimistic. No criminolo-
gist or victimologist knows for sure why crime rates
rise and fall, or what the future holds. Predictions
about upcoming crime waves or crashes must be
based on projected changes in a number of

underlying variables. Developments in some of
these root causes are very hard to anticipate.
Another crime wave could break out, or the unan-
ticipated but much welcomed improvement in
America’s crime problem might continue for an
additional number of years. But it is safe to con-
clude that the ranks of victims were not growing
during the twenty-first century as rapidly as they
were during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s,
when pessimists made dire predictions that violence

B O X 4.3 Carjacked Drivers

In the movies, as well as in real life, motorists are yanked
out of their cars and trucks by highwaymen who hop in
behind the wheel and make a quick getaway. In the early
1990s, the catchy term carjacking was coined to describe
the robbery of a motor vehicle directly from a driver, as
distinct from the theft of a parked car. Once the crime had a
name, the news media started to report the most outrageous
cases (such as the death of a woman who, while trying to
rescue her toddler from the back seat of her commandeered
BMW, became entangled in her seat belt and was dragged
more than a mile).

Police departments began to keep track of carjacking
incidents separately from the general category of “robberies
of all types,” and state legislatures began to impose stiffer
penalties for the crime. In 1993, Congress passed the Anti-Car
Theft Act, which made robberies of motorists carried out with
a firearm a federal offense, under the legal rationale that
vehicles and guns are involved in interstate commerce (see
Gibbs, 1993a). The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law
Enforcement Act made killings arising from carjackings
punishable by death.

Although the probability of being robbed of an auto-
mobile, SUV, or truck is low, the potential for disastrous
consequences is high. With luck, occupants are forced out of
their vehicles and left standing at the roadside, shaken but
uninjured. However, this frightening type of confrontational
crime can easily escalate from a robbery into an aggravated
assault, abduction, rape, and even murder.

Because this combination of circumstances is relatively
uncommon, researchers had to merge the findings from a
number of years of NCVS surveys to assemble a sufficient
number of cases to analyze. During each of the 10 years
from 1993 to 2002, the NCVS projected that roughly 38,000
carjackings took place nationwide. That worked out to about
0.17 incidents (some involved more than one person)

per 1,000 people, or 17 per 100,000—making this kind of
robbery about three times more common than murder.
Almost 25 percent of these motorists were hurt; of these
casualties, about 9 percent suffered gunshot or knife wounds,
broken bones, or internal injuries.

Each year, up to 15 motorists were killed during car-
jackings, according to the FBI’s SHRs. As for trends, this kind
of holdup, like other varieties of robberies, tapered off after
the mid-1990s (Klaus, 2004).

Many of the differential risks surrounding carjackings
paralleled the patterns for other robberies. Male motorists
faced greater risks of being accosted than females. Cars
driven by people from households with incomes less than
$50,000 were seized more frequently than vehicles owned by
more affluent families (which probably also means that rob-
bers took less expensive cars more often than high-end
vehicles). Higher risks were faced by black and Hispanic
motorists, drivers between the ages of 25 and 49, people who
were not married, and city residents (Klaus, 1999a, 2004).

In the vast majority of the incidents, the driver was
alone; in almost half of all confrontations, the robber acted
alone. Males committed more than 90 percent of these
crimes and were armed in about 75 percent of the incidents
(45 percent wielded a gun).

Two-thirds of the drivers put up resistance. About one-
quarter used confrontational tactics, such as fighting back
against the assailant, trying to capture him, chasing him, or
threatening him. About one-third tried nonconfrontational
tactics like bolting out of the car and/or screaming for help.
Nearly all motorists (98 percent) reported their losses to the
police if the robber drove away with their vehicle, but only
58 percent of attempts were brought to the attention of law
enforcement agencies. About one-quarter of the owners
never recovered their vehicles, but about half suffered some
financial losses (Klaus, 1999a, 2004).

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by superpredators soon would be getting out of
hand and spiraling out of control.


Burglaries are the most common of all serious
crimes tracked by the FBI. Larcenies, which are
thefts of all kinds, are more numerous, but more
than half were just petty larcenies resulting in
minor losses. Burglaries of residences resulted in
substantial losses, averaging over $2,100 in 2013,
according to the UCR (FBI, 2014a). Residential
burglaries are particularly upsetting because the
intruder violates one’s private and personal space,
and fears about the threat of a surprise return visit
can linger for a long time.

Single-family homes are more attractive to bur-
glars than apartments, condominiums, and other
multifamily residences because private houses have
more access points and are more difficult to secure,
and often contain greater rewards. However, pri-
vate homeowners can take their own initiatives to
protect their possessions and usually have both the
incentive and the resources to do so. Intrusions are
much more likely to occur during the day and on
weekdays when the premises are unoccupied than
on weekends and at night. Besides preferring to
strike when no one is at home, it appears that bur-
glars select targets that are familiar to them and
convenient (often close to their own homes), acces-
sible, easy to watch, and vulnerable (lacking security
devices). Specifically, the most likely targets are
located near potential offenders (in high-crime
urban neighborhoods or in the vicinity of transit
hubs, shopping centers, sports arenas, and places
where young men and drug abusers congregate),
either near busy thoroughfares or on the quiet
outskirts of neighborhoods. Houses vacant for
extended periods, homes without barking dogs,
and those on corners or bordering on alleys or in
secluded locations shrouded by shrubbery, walls, or
fences attract prowlers. Ironically, mansions with
expensive cars parked outside actually dampen
interest because they are more likely to remain
occupied or to be protected by sophisticated

security systems. Houses that were struck once are
more likely to be struck again because the features
that determine their attractiveness are difficult to
change, because the burglar returns to remove addi-
tional goods left behind during the first invasion, or
because the burglar has told others about the vul-
nerability of this target. Simple tools like screwdri-
vers and crowbars typically are used to pry open
locks, windows, and doors (Weisel, 2002).

Trends and Patterns in Burglaries

The changes in the burglary rate over a 30-year
span appear in Figure 4.4.

Residents of nearly 2.5 million households
told NCVS interviewers in 2013 that someone
had tried or had succeeded in entering their
home to steal things. This translates to a rate of
26 for every 1,000 households, or more than 2 per-
cent. That same year, over 1.9 million burglaries
were reported to police departments across the
nation, according to the UCR. (Roughly 25 per-
cent of those break-ins were of commercial
establishments and government agencies, not resi-
dences; on the other hand, many completed as
well as attempted residential burglaries were not
brought to the attention of the police.) Burglars
carted off an estimated $4.6 billion in stolen
goods, yielding an average loss of over $2,000
per incident in 2013 (FBI, 2014b).

NCVS findings can be used to reveal differen-
tial risks. Burglars, just like robbers, are the oppo-
site of Robin Hoods. They steal from the poor
much more than the rich. The dwellings of the
most poverty-stricken families in the NCVS,
those with an income of under $7,500, suffered
at a much higher rate (55 per 1,000 households,
which is over 5 percent) than any other financial
bracket on the survey in 2013. As for race and
ethnicity, white households experienced nearly
23 intrusions or attempted break-ins per 1,000
while black families suffered about 35, and
Hispanic families endured just about the same
rate, at 34 per 1,000. Family size seems to count.
Households of six or more people were burglar-
ized at a rate of 53 per 1,000, while individuals

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living alone came home to ransacked dwellings
much less often, at 30 per 1,000. As for where
the targeted home was located, a surprising change
has taken place over the years. Burglary used to be
a much bigger problem in large cities. In 1996, the
burglary rate for urban dwellers in cities with a
population of 1 million or more was a shocking
62 per 1,000 households. By 2013, that figure had
drifted downward to just 22 per 1,000. The 2013
burglary rate for suburban families also was 22,
while it was substantially higher in rural areas, at
30 per 1,000, according to the BJS’s Victimization
Analysis Tool. Hence, burglary had shifted from a
big city problem to a headache of country living.

It appears that a family’s financial status, deci-
sions about where to live, and everyday behaviors
determine, to some degree, whether a burglar
invades their personal space.

Stealing Cars for Fun and Profit

About 556,000 households suffered a vehicle theft
(or an attempted vehicle theft) during 2013, a
slight bump up from previous years, according to
the NCVS. That volume of incidents translated to
a rate of a little more than five vehicle thefts for
every 1,000 households. The UCR for 2013 indi-
cated that police departments across the country
received almost 700,000 complaints about com-
pleted or attempted thefts of cars, vans, trucks,
buses, motorcycles, and ATVs from households
(and also from businesses and agencies, which
explains why this figure is larger than the number
of vehicle thefts estimated by the NCVS), yielding
a rate of a bit over 220 thefts for every 100,000
inhabitants. Therefore, both official sources confirm



F I G U R E 4.4 Trends in Burglaries, United States, 1973–2013
NOTE: UCR figures include commercial and office burglaries.
SOURCES: FBI’s UCRs 1973–2013; BJS’s NCVSs 1973–2013.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

that vehicle theft takes place much less often than
larceny or burglary but is much more common
than any of the serious violent crimes in the FBI’s
crime index.

Surprisingly, some commentators mistakenly
portrayed auto theft as the “happy crime” in
which no one loses and everyone gains (see Plate,
1975). Their argument proposes that the thief
makes money and that the owner is reimbursed
by the insurance company and then enjoys the
pleasure of shopping for a new car. Meanwhile,
the manufacturer gains a customer who wasn’t
due back in the showroom for another couple of
years, and the insurance company gets a chance to
raise comprehensive fire and theft loss premiums
and invest that money in profitable ventures.

But in actuality, most victims of auto theft are
quite upset for a number of reasons. Many motor-
ists devote a great deal of time, effort, and loving
care to keeping their vehicles in good shape. Sec-
ond, the shock of discovering that the vehicle van-
ished touches off a sense of violation and insecurity
that lingers for a long time. Third, not all owners
purchase theft coverage, usually because they can-
not afford it. Even those who are insured almost
always must suffer a hefty deductible out of their
own pockets, and they might owe more on the car
loan than the vehicle is worth, so the insurance
payoff does not cover the outstanding balance
they must repay. Personal items left in the vehicle
are gone, as are any expensive add-ons. The loss is
always unanticipated, necessitating time-wasting
emergency measures such as filing a complaint at
a police station, taking cabs, renting a car, and
canceling important appointments. Many end up
buying a more expensive replacement. Finally,
motorists who collect insurance reimbursement
might find that either their premiums are raised
or their policies cannot be renewed.

Collectively, vehicle thefts cost owners nearly
$4.1 billion, with losses averaging nearly $6,000
per stolen vehicle in 2013, the UCR reported
(FBI, 2014). Insurance coverage for comprehen-
sive fire and theft damages and losses cost the
average policyholder about $140 per year (III,

Victims of grand theft auto (also termed grand
larceny auto, or GLA) ought to notify the police
immediately, since the authorities will assume that
the owner was behind the wheel if that stolen
vehicle is involved in a crime, such as a hit-
and-run, or is used as a getaway car in a bank rob-
bery. Also, there is a chance of recovering it if the
police locate the vehicle after it is pulled over for a
traffic violation, parked, or abandoned. If it is
insured for comprehensive fire and theft damage
and loss, a case number from a law enforcement
agency will be necessary in order to receive

Trends in Motor Vehicle Theft

Changes in motor vehicle theft rates over the past
few decades are shown in Figure 4.5. One trend
line, based on NCVS findings, portrays yearly rates
of thefts of noncommercial vehicles disclosed to
survey interviewers, whether successful comple-
tions or failed attempts, for every 1,000 house-
holds. The other trend line, from the UCR,
depicts yearly rates of completed or attempted
thefts of all motorized vehicles, per 100,000 peo-
ple, reported to police departments across the
country. Both of these sets of statistics indicate
that rates of auto theft rose during the late 1980s,
reached an all-time high at the start of the 1990s,
subsided as the twentieth century drew to a close,
and then dropped further during the first 13 years
of the twenty-first century (tumbling an impres-
sive 40 percent just from 2001 to 2010, according
to the UCR).

By contrast, however, thefts were climbing
after the late 1990s for one type of vehicle: motor-
cycles. In 1998, about 27,000 were stolen. That
number doubled to more than 55,000 by 2003,
then soared to around 71,000 in 2004 before drop-
ping back down to 56,000 in 2009 and 46,000 in
2012. As more motorcycles filled the roads and as
they became more expensive, their attractiveness to
thieves rose. Motorcyclists lavish great attention on
their cherished possessions by installing high-
performance engines and exhaust systems, chromed
parts, and specialized frames. The most often stolen

116 C H A P T E R 4

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brands were Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and
Kawasaki. Harley-Davidson, despite being the
most popular bike, ranked in fifth place, comprising
just 8 percent of all missing motorcycles. The high-
est theft rates burdened owners in California,
Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana. The
cities where a lot of the stealing took place were
New York, Las Vegas, San Diego, Indianapolis, and
Miami. Just like riding, stealing shows seasonal
variations: More thefts are carried out in the
summer than in the winter (Scafidi, 2013).

Which Motorists Should Be Most Concerned
When Parking?

A truck is stolen from the parking lot of a hotel.
Inside it are three presidential seals, three lecterns,
and $200,000 worth of electronic equipment,

including a teleprompter. The truck is recovered a
few hours later—it was abandoned in the parking
lot of another hotel and looted of a high-end
audio system. The Department of Defense investi-
gates the theft of the unguarded truck from the lot,
which was monitored by closed circuit TV, but is
unable to determine if this was just a crime
of opportunity or whether the equipment used by
President Obama to deliver speeches was specifically
targeted. (Geller, 2011).

The theft of a truck from the president’s entou-
rage is surely a rare occurrence, but it underscores
the fact that determined thieves can steal almost any

To begin an investigation into differential risks,
it is necessary to ask, “Which cars do thieves find
most attractive?” The chances of losing a vehicle



F I G U R E 4.5 Trends in Motor Vehicle Thefts, United States, 1973–2013
NOTE: UCR figures include thefts of taxis, buses, trucks, and other commercial vehicles.
SOURCES: FBI’s UCRs 1973–2013; BJS’s NCVSs 1973–2013.


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

depend upon its make, model, and year. A prime
consideration centers on the appeal or black market
value of the various cars, SUVs, vans, and pickup
trucks to those who make a living by repeatedly
fencing stolen parts. Professional thieves prowl the
streets looking for specific makes and models on
their shopping lists. Which parked cars do they
enter and drive away most often?

The answer, in the form of a ranking of vehi-
cles, should be fairly straightforward. Consumers
need to know this information when shopping
for used cars (brand new models do not yet have
track records) if they are concerned about the
chances of their vehicles spirited away or about
the costs of insuring them—premiums to cover
comprehensive theft and fire damage (coverage
for collisions and personal injuries is more impor-
tant and more expensive). In other words, crime-
conscious motorists ought to be aware of how
desirable or undesirable their prized possessions
are to thieves cruising around. But each year, the
answer to the question, “Which cars are stolen the
most” depends upon which organization is asked
and which criteria were used to compile the rank-
ing (see Gibson, 2004). Three distinct listings that
bear little resemblance to each other appear in
Table 4.5.

For vehicles stolen during 2013, the list in the
second column in Table 4.5 presents the ranking
derived by the National Insurance Crime Bureau
(NICB). The NICB analyzes police car theft reports
assembled in the database maintained by the FBI’s
National Crime Information Center (NCIC) each
year. During 2013, about half of all stolen vehicles
were made by domestic automakers and half were
produced by foreign manufacturers. What the rank-
ing does not show is that a high proportion of the
vehicles stolen during 2013 were very old. For
example, most of the nearly 54,000 Honda Accords
that were stolen across the nation during 2013 first
hit the road during the 1990s; relatively few
Accords manufactured after 1997 were taken from
their rightful owners (not shown in Table 4.5). This
pattern is surprising at first until it is realized that the
older cars are stolen to be stripped of their sheet
metal parts, which are then used to repair crash-
damaged newer cars—unless the manufacturer
changes the dimensions of the later models (Scafidi,

But what about the theft of brand new cars? If
only 2013 makes and models that were stolen
somewhere within the United States during 2013
are the focus of attention, then an entirely different
list emerges. This ranking appears in the third

T A B L E 4.5 Which Vehicle Owners Suffered the Most Thefts?

All Vehicles Stolen During
2013 Make/Model NICB

Only New 2013 Models
Stolen During 2013 NICB

Theft Rate of 2011 Models
Stolen During 2011 NHTSA Rate per 1,000

1 Honda/Accord Nissan/Altima Dodge/Charger 5
2 Honda/Civic Ford/Fusion Mitsubishi/Galant 4
3 Chevrolet/Pickup Trucks Ford/Full Size Pickup Cadillac/STS 4
4 Ford/Pickup Trucks Toyota/Corolla Lamborghini/Gallardo 4
5 Toyota/Camry Chevrolet/Impala Hyundai/Accent 4
6 Dodge/Pickup Trucks Hyundai/Elantra Chevrolet/HHR 3
7 Dodge/Caravan Dodge/Charger Chevrolet/Aveo 3
8 Jeep/Cherokee Chevrolet/Malibu Chevrolet/Impala 3
9 Toyota/Corolla Chevrolet/Cruze Nissan/Infinity FX35 3
10 Nissan/Altima Ford/Focus Nissan/GT-R 1 3

NOTES: Column 1: NICB rankings are based on a grand total of the number of thefts of a particular make and model manufactured in previous years
that were stolen during 2013, according to the FBI’s NCIC database.
Column 2: NICB rankings are based on the number of thefts of a particular make and model manufactured in 2012–2013 that were stolen during
2013, according to the FBI’s NCIC database.
Column 3: NHTSA rankings also are drawn from the FBI’s NCIC as well as manufacturers’ production totals. Theft rate is per 1,000 vehicles
manufactured and sold to the U.S. public during 2011 and is rounded off to the nearest integer.

SOURCE: First list from NICB (Scafidi, 2014b), second list from NICB (Stewart, 2014), third list from NHTSA (2014).

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column. It also was compiled by the NICB and is
derived from the FBI’s NCIC database.

A completely different ranking appears in the
fourth column. This list is based on a theft rate for
each vehicle that is calculated by taking into
account not only the number of cars of a given
make and model that are reported stolen to the
police (in 2011, the latest year available) but also
the number of these cars (not SUVs or trucks)
that were produced and sold during 2011. In
other words, this third and final ranking uses
“number owned by motorists” as its denominator.
The resulting rate is the number reported stolen
(during 2011) for every 1,000 cars of this type on
the road (during 2011). This list from the National
Highway Transportation and Safety Administration
(NHTSA) also is calculated from stolen car reports
in the FBI’s NCIC database. (No ranking system
uses insurance company files about vehicles reported
by their owners as stolen.) This ranking appears in
the fourth column of Table 4.5.

Obviously, Table 4.5 demonstrates that there
are no simple and direct answers to the crucial ques-
tions, “Which cars are most attractive to thieves?”
and “Which drivers should be most cautious about
where they park their cherished possession?” The
key risk factors appear to be the make, model, and
year of the car; its resale value; the demand for it by
chop shops that fence stolen parts; and how easy or
difficult it is to break into, start up, and drive away.
Insurance records confirm a counterintuitive pat-
tern: For several reasons, as cars age, they are
more likely to be targeted. If the model lines are
not substantially redesigned, then stolen sheet metal
crash parts from the older cars can be used by illicit
collision body shops to repair damaged newer ones.
Also, older cars are less likely to be equipped with
the latest state-of-the-art antitheft devices that
thieves have not yet learned how to defeat.
Another reason is that as cars wear out and depre-
ciate, their owners have less incentive to maintain
security devices in good working order and to vigi-
lantly observe precautions about where they park
their less valuable vehicles. Because most cars have
a life expectancy of 7–10 years, security experts
warn owners never to let their guard down (see

Clark and Harris, 1992; NICB Study, 1993; and
Krauss, 1994).

Finally, to make matters more complex, the
desirability of particular vehicles on the black
market varies around the country. For example,
thieves concentrated on Japanese models in Los
Angeles, pickup trucks in Dallas, and American
sedans in Chicago, reflecting the preferences of
consumers in those metropolitan areas (Sparkman,
2003). The insurance industry generates detailed
lists annually of the most frequently targeted cars
that are tailored for every state and even each large
city so that companies can maximize their profits
by fine-tuning premiums to reflect payouts to
their local customers for theft losses.

Differential risks are determined by a number
of factors besides the attractiveness of the target in
the stolen car market. Another set of determinants
of risk must be the number of professional thieves
and chop shops operating in a given area, as well as
the effectiveness of the efforts by local police
departments to put them out of business.

As for geography, where a vehicle is parked is a
key variable. Owners in the South and West suf-
fered substantially higher theft rates than in the
North and Midwest. Residents of urban areas
reported their cars stolen more often than suburba-
nites and people living in rural areas. The significance
of the geographic factor is illustrated in Table 4.6,
which demonstrates how important the location
where the car is parked is when it comes to vehicle
theft. This listing of vehicle theft rates for many of
the nation’s metropolitan areas is based on data from
police reports collected by the FBI and analyzed by
the NICB (Toups, 2014; and Scafidi, 2014a).

From a motorist’s point of view, this ranking
indicates that the meanest streets to park a car are in
California’s metropolitan areas. In general, drivers in
Western states have the most to worry about in terms
of their vehicles vanishing. Those who find parking
spaces in downtown areas of a metropolitan area usu-
ally have even more to fear than those who park in
that city’s nearby suburbs. Some cities that have a
reputation for being safe in terms of violence, such
as San Jose and San Diego, are not so safe for parked
cars; conversely, some places like New Orleans and

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St. Louis that are known to be dangerous in terms of
being murdered are not so risky when it comes to
leaving vehicles unattended (refer back to Figure
4.1). Drivers who walk away from their cars in the
university towns of Madison, Wisconsin; Bingham-
ton, New York; and State College, Pennsylvania, can
rest assured (statistically speaking) that their vehicles
will still be there when they return.

Combining the findings displayed in Tables 4.7
and 4.8, it can be concluded that motorists who
drive vehicles that are on thieves’ hottest cars list
and who park them on the meanest streets of cer-
tain hot spot metropolitan areas face unusually high
odds of discovering that their prized possession has

Besides vehicle attractiveness and geographic
location, two other factors surely influence the
vulnerability of a parked car: the effectiveness of
factory-installed and after-market add-on antitheft
devices, and the immediate microenvironment—
such as traffic patterns, the presence or absence of
pedestrians, and the intensity of lighting at night in
the vicinity of the street, driveway, or lot where the
vehicle sits unguarded. These two factors are under
the control of individuals to some degree, except that
many motorists cannot afford secure but expensive
parking arrangements and costly antitheft hardware.

Once again, various categories of people face
either higher or lower levels of danger from
criminals. In terms of differential risks, those who

T A B L E 4.6 Vehicle Theft Rates in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, 2013

Metropolitan Area Rank

Vehicle Theft Rates
per 100,000
Residents Metropolitan Area Rank

Vehicle Theft Rates
per 100,000

Bakersfield, CA 1 725 Las Vegas, NV 27 395
Fresno, CA 2 710 Omaha, NE 28 390
Modesto, CA 3 680 Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA 29 385
San Francisco/Oakland, CA 4 650 Little Rock, AK 30 385
Stockton, CA 5 635 Houston, TX 35 365
Redding, CA 6 625 Atlanta, GA 48 315
Spokane, WA 7 600 Denver–Mesa, CO 50 310
Vallejo/Fairfield, CA 8 600 New Orleans, LA 51 305
San Jose/Santa Clara, CA 9 570 Cleveland, OH 52 300
Yuba City, CA 10 550 Portland, OR 54 300
Riverside/San Bernardino, CA 11 525 Milwaukee, WI 59 295
Odessa, TX 12 510 Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL 65 280
Seattle/Tacoma, WA 13 500 Tucson, AZ 68 275
Merced, CA 14 495 Honolulu, HI 69 275
Visalia/Porterville, CA 15 490 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 70 270
Salinas, CA 16 490 Chicago, IL, 82 255
Salt Lake City, UT 17 470 St. Louis, MO 93 235
Chico, CA 18 470 Minneapolis, MN–St. Paul, WI 131 185
Yakima, WA 19 465 Philadelphia, PA 138 180
Albuquerque, NM 20 445 Boston–Cambridge, MA 235 125
Grants Pass, OR 21 440 New York City, NY–Newark, NJ 242 120
Oklahoma City, OK 22 440 Pittsburgh, PA 310 80
Detroit/Dearborn, MI 23 430 Madison, WI 320 75
Sacramento, CA 24 410 Binghamton, NY 365 45
Wichita, KS 25 405 State College, PA 379 25
San Diego, CA 26 400

NOTES: The boundaries of metropolitan statistical areas are defined by the U.S. Census and often include nearby counties and suburban towns.
Rankings were calculated by the NICB based on UCR rates.
Rates are rounded to the nearest 5.

SOURCE: NICB, 2014b.

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faced the greatest odds of losing their cars were
apartment dwellers, residents of inner-city neighbor-
hoods, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans,
low-income families, and households headed by
people under the age of 25. Those whose cars
were least likely to be stolen were residents of rural
areas, homeowners, and people over age 55, accord-
ing to an analysis of a database of more than 12
million attempted and completed vehicle thefts dis-
closed to NCVS interviewers between 1973 and
1985 (Harlow, 1988).

Decades later, the pattern was similar. Motorists
in big cities with a population of a million or more
lost their cars to thieves at a rate of 10 per 1,000
households per year. In rural areas, the theft rate
was only 3 per 1,000. White families living in the
suburbs experienced a vehicle theft rate of 2, while
black families living in cities suffered much more,
nearly 9 thefts per 1,000 households. Cars owned
by people between 20 and 34 years old disappeared
at a rate of 9 per 1,000 households, compared to
just 2 for motorists over 65, according to the BJS’s
Victimization Analysis Tool of NCVS 2013 data.

It seems that drivers’ decisions about where to
reside, spending priorities, and parking habits—in
other words, their attitudes and behaviors—
determine, to some degree, the fate of their vehicles.


The crime of identity theft undermines the basic trust
on which our economy depends. When a person takes
out an insurance policy, or makes an online purchase
or opens a savings account, he or she must have
confidence that personal financial information will be
protected and treated with care. Identity theft harms
not only its direct victims, but also many businesses
and customers whose confidence is shaken. Like other
forms of stealing, identity theft leaves the victim poor
and feeling terribly violated.



The Nature of the Problem and How Many
People Experience Its Aggravations

Throughout history, people seeking to evade cap-
ture have used disguises, false papers, and aliases to
pass themselves off as someone else. Spies, sabo-
teurs, infiltrators, terrorists, and fugitives from jus-
tice used fictitious histories, documents, and
résumés to fool authorities. But now computer
databases and high-tech devices provide incen-
tives for impersonators for a different reason:
monetary gain.

The relatively new, increasingly sophisticated,
and surprisingly common white-collar crime of
identity theft arises from the illegal appropriation
of someone’s personal information—such as the
individual’s name, address, date of birth, Social
Security number, and mother’s maiden name.
Identity fraud is defined as the unauthorized use
of another individual’s personal information to
try to achieve illicit financial gain. Identity thefts
are measured as attempted as well as successful
misuses of these personal identifiers to loot an
existing account (for example, a bank savings or
checking account) or to open a new account (for
instance, with a telephone or credit card com-
pany), plus impersonations for other fraudulent
purposes (such as to collect undeserved govern-
ment benefits like someone else’s income tax
refund) (Javelin Strategy and Research, 2011; and
Langton and Planty, 2011).

Even though identity theft is a relatively new
type of offense, it draws upon traditional interper-
sonal crimes such as pickpocketing, thievery, rob-
bery, and burglary of wallets as well as established
white-collar crimes like forgery, counterfeiting,
fraud, and impersonation. For example, those who
steal cars might be able to parlay a vehicle theft into
an identity theft if the driver left a copy of the
license or registration in the glove compartment
and a laptop, smartphone, briefcase, or wallet in
the trunk (ITRC, 2014a). Cutting-edge criminals
increasingly commit their offenses online by
compromising other people’s existing Internet
accounts (such as Amazon, eBay, and PayPal).
These high-tech fraudsters also engage in account

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Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

takeovers in which they add new properties to
somebody else’s existing utility account (such as
for a smartphone) and run up huge unauthorized
charges for premium services (Javelin, 2014).

No one is immune from being preyed upon,
not even the most wealthy and privileged, as the
following example shows.

A purse, containing a checkbook and a Social
Security card, is swiped from the wife of the
chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank while
she is sitting in a coffee shop. Months later, a
woman is arrested who uses wigs to impersonate
her victims when cashing bad checks and
draining their accounts. It turns out that she is
part of a sophisticated ring that defrauded more
than $2 million from hundreds of people who
banked at 10 financial institutions. (Lucas and
Melago, 2009)

Victims of identity theft were discovered dur-
ing the 1990s when nearly all state legislatures
criminalized the unlawful possession of personal
identification information for the purposes of
committing fraud. Hearings held by congressional
committees during the 1990s revealed that police
departments usually did not view individuals
whose identities were appropriated by fraudsters
as actual victims, since the immediate monetary
losses usually were incurred by credit card compa-
nies, not account holders. In 1998, Congress
passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deter-
rence Act. The legislation made it a federal crime
to knowingly transfer and use any name or num-
ber without lawful authority in order to commit
or aid and abet any illegal activity. The law not
only imposed stiff sentences and fines on those
who committed this new federal offense but also
stipulated that the impersonated individual was a
crime victim deserving of financial protection and
entitled to reimbursement via court-ordered resti-
tution obligations imposed on convicted thieves.
However, a persistent problem is that this crime
often goes unreported, uninvestigated, and/or
unsolved. In 2000, the International Association
of Chiefs of Police (IACP) urged police depart-
ments that were reluctant to accept complaints to

revise their policies and provide incident reports
and other forms of assistance to impersonated
individuals (Newman, 2004). A provision of the
Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of
2003 enabled customers to get one free credit
report each year (from www.annualcreditreport
.com) so they can check for any suspicious activity
in their accounts at the three major companies.
Congress authorized the Department of Home-
land Security to get involved when it passed the
REAL ID act in 2005 (NCJRS, 2005; Kelleher,
2006; and President’s Task Force, 2007). State
laws require companies and agencies to notify
their customers and clients so that they can be
vigilant whenever the personal information in
their records is stolen by hackers.

Reports of ID thefts do not wind up in the
tallies of incidents known to the police in any
category of Part 1 of the FBI’s UCR. Although
the huge grouping entitled “larceny-theft”
includes all kinds of acts of stealing, whether
petty or grand larcenies, it specifically excludes
aspects of identity thefts that appear in Part 2
(but only if there is an arrest), such as embezzle-
ments, forgeries, check frauds, and confidence
games and other scams (Velasquez, 2013). In
other words, because of outdated definitions,
acts of stealing carried out by breaking a window
or snatching an unguarded purse are counted,
while incidents of stealing perpetrated by using a
skimmer, a keyboard, or a spyware program are
not counted as larceny-thefts.

Several problems continue to undermine the
effectiveness of efforts by law enforcement agencies
to come to the aid of identity theft victims. First,
many officers lack necessary training, and their
departments lack the needed resources to provide
an adequate response. Second, multijurisdictional
complications undercut an agency’s commitment
to follow through on a complaint. When a victim
in one city reports to a local police department that
a thief has stolen personal information and is carry-
ing out fraudulent financial transactions in another
city, state, or country, which law enforcement
agency bears primary responsibility for seeing the
investigation through to completion?

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If the authorities seem unsympathetic, betray
skepticism, and appear reluctant to officially file
their complaints and take action, victims under-
standably get upset. They sense that they are
being suspected of wrongdoing as they fill out
forms that must be notarized, telephone merchants
who are demanding payment, fend off collection
agencies, and write lengthy explanations to credit
rating bureaus. They bear the burden of proof and
are held financially responsible unless and until they
can establish their innocence and clear their names.

Because law enforcement countermeasures are
not yet effective, identity snatchers know that the
risks of apprehension, conviction, and punishment
are relatively low, while the returns are potentially
high. These crimes are difficult, time-consuming,
and expensive to investigate, especially when mul-
tiple jurisdictions are involved. In fact, offenders
exploit these problems by misusing the stolen infor-
mation far from the original crime scene, preferably
in another county, state, or country (Collins and
Hoffman, 2004).

Losses and Suffering

This potentially serious type of larceny can damage
a person’s finances, reputation, and credit history, as
well as cause great emotional distress that can trig-
ger relationship problems. A targeted individual
must undertake tasks that are confusing and infuri-
ating because the burden of proving innocence falls
to the victim.

Identity theft can be viewed as going through a
series of stages. People discover they have been
preyed upon when they get a call from a credit
card fraud division or when a purchase is declined
at the point of sale because a card’s limit has been
exceeded. Others find out when they are harassed
by a bill collector demanding payment on a delin-
quent account or when a monthly statement
marked “overdue” arrives in the mail. Others
notice unauthorized charges on credit card state-
ments, peculiar and costly long-distance calls on
phone bills, cashed or bounced checks they never
wrote, or suspicious withdrawals from their bank
accounts. In extreme cases, they discover they

have been targeted when the police take them
into custody as a fugitive on an outstanding war-
rant, and then it becomes clear that a lawbreaker
was released after showing false documents and
posting bail. It can take weeks, months, maybe
even years before individuals become aware that
they have been targeted because the crooks want
to get away with the charade for as long as possible.
Some don’t discover the extent of the damage until
they are denied new credit cards, turned down for
student loans, disconnected from utilities, or
charged extra high interest rates for mortgages and
car loans. Out-of-pocket expenses and time spent
on paperwork depend on how long it takes to dis-
cover the fraud (Collins and Hoffman, 2004). It
takes lower income and less educated people longer
to discover the impersonation and consequently
they suffer more, in terms of problems with their
accounts, harassment by debt collectors, and utility
cutoffs (Newman, 2004).

ID theft poses a special problem for military per-
sonnel, civilians working for defense contractors, and
employees of the criminal justice system who need
security clearances. A person who was defrauded
might be considered a security risk and could be
denied a clearance or might have the privilege of
access to classified information revoked if a back-
ground check turns up evidence of a maxed out
credit card, bounced checks, or an arrest that really
was the fault of an impersonator (Velasquez, 2014).

ID scams and swindles exact a serious toll on
society as a whole, adding up to billions of dollars in
losses annually. New account fraud is more costly
but less frequent. Depletion of existing accounts is
less common but more expensive to recover from.
Businesses sustain most of the financial losses
because individuals usually are not held responsible
for charges that turn out to be fraudulent. But indi-
viduals collectively spend billions in their efforts to
repair their credit worthiness. Individuals also suffer
indirect costs in the form of businesses’ expenses for
fraud prevention and lost revenue that are passed on
to them as higher fees; for legal bills to pay for civil
litigation initiated by creditors over disputed pur-
chases; and for time lost and aggravation they
endure while undoing the damage inflicted by the

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impostor (President’s Task Force, 2007, p. 11).
Adding business losses to consumer expenses, each
incident might cost from $2,800 to $5,100 (Piquero,
Cohen, and Piquero, 2011).

Just as the different databases yield inconsistent
projections about general prevalence, yearly inci-
dence, and twenty-first-century trends, so too are
there varying estimates of the actual collective costs
of this white-collar crime, and whether overall
losses are increasing or decreasing.

Over $13 billion was lost due to identity thefts
that took place during 2010, and that figure nearly
doubled to $25 billion during 2012, according to
the NCVS self-report survey (Harrell and Langton,
2013). However, the impression that losses are
being brought under control emerges from the
findings of a financial services company’s annual
self-report survey that uses a broader definition
but a smaller sample. Identity frauds of all kinds
cost Americans $48 billion in 2008, rose to $56
billion in 2009, and then plunged to $37 billion
in 2010, further tumbled to $21 billion in 2012,
and added up to a mere $18 billion in 2013 (Javelin,
2011, 2014).

The next question to be answered is, “In what
ways can impersonators hurt their victims?”
Unscrupulous impostors can use identifiers to max
out existing charge accounts and obtain new credit
cards in their target’s name and then run up huge
bills that are ignored. ID thieves empty people’s
savings accounts and pass bad checks (another type
of account takeovers). They secure car loans that
will never be repaid based on another person’s
credit history and enjoy using gas heat, electricity,
cell phones, and landlines while disregarding the
costs and consequences of overdue bills. They
drive around and get tickets with a license that
has their picture but someone else’s name, apply
for government benefits and tax refunds they
didn’t earn, get hired for jobs by pretending to be
an applicant with better credentials, and may even
get arrested under an assumed name before jumping
bail and disappearing.

One peculiar aspect of identity theft is its para-
sitical nature: the offender, unless detected and put
out of action, often repeatedly feeds off the same

person in a variety of ways over a prolonged period
of time, by maxing out credit cards, emptying bank
accounts, and taking out loans that will never be

Now that the range of possible swindles and
scams has been outlined, the question arises,
“How did impersonators actually harm their vic-
tims?” Table 4.7 shows the relative frequency of
each of these forms of fiscal exploitation as the per-
centage of all complainants to the FTC’s clearing-
house. Credit card fraud was the most common
category, afflicting about one-quarter of all victims;
loan fraud was the least likely swindle exposed dur-
ing 2006. As Table 4.7 reveals, by 2010, credit card
fraud, bank account fraud, loan fraud, employment
fraud, and cell phone/telephone fraud had dimin-
ished, while government benefits fraud (filing a false
tax return for a refund) plus assorted other scams
had intensified. By 2013, fraud related to govern-
ment documents and benefits, especially where
thieves collected their victims’ income tax refunds,
had grown substantially to become the biggest cat-
egory. Other scams, especially credit card fraud,
loan fraud, and utilities fraud had declined over
the years since 2006, as a comparison of the per-
centage of complaints to the FTC in columns 2, 3,
and 4 in Table 4.7 reveals.

Findings from the NCVS show a slightly dif-
ferent ranking. The 2012 NCVS projected that
unauthorized use of an existing credit card was
the most widespread problem, more common
than draining an existing savings or checking
account or using personal information to open a
new credit card account or to secure a loan
(Baum, 2007). In 2010, the most prevalent type
of scam continued to be the unauthorized use or
attempted use of a credit card, experienced by 3.8
percent of all respondents, which projected to 4.6
million persons across the country. The second
most common type of theft was from a bank’s
debit, checking, or savings account. Perhaps as
many as 1.8 percent of all households, adding up
to as many as 2.2 million people experienced this
intrusion in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, there
was a decline in the number of households that
suffered because some impostor used fraudulent

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documents, such as to obtain undeserved medical
treatment charged to someone else’s health insur-
ance policy, or to pretend to be the victim when
stopped by the police for a traffic violation or a
more serious offense (Langton, 2011).

However, estimates and projections about the
actual amount of suffering varied dramatically
according to different sources. For example, only
1 percent told NCVS interviewers in 2012 that
the impersonation caused significant problems at
work or school. And merely 4 percent said they
experienced significant relationship problems with
their families and friends because of the theft. Only
14 percent of those who discovered that their iden-
tity had been appropriated by an impostor experi-
enced any out-of-pocket expenses. Of these
unfortunate persons, about half lost less than $100.
As for aggravation, over half of all victims were able

to resolve any problems in just one hour up to one
day. However, nearly 30 percent spent a month or
more straightening out the mess in which their
good names were used for fraudulent purposes. As
for their personal reactions, 10 percent told inter-
viewers that the theft caused severe emotional dis-
tress, and about 25 percent reported moderate levels
of distress. When crooks opened brand new
accounts and ran up big bills, their victims experi-
enced greater financial, credit, and relationship pro-
blems and more intense emotional distress. (Harrell
and Langton, 2013).

However, according to a different survey, the
average fraud loss per incident cost victims about
$630 in out-of-pocket expenses in 2010, a substan-
tial increase from the 2009 estimate of about $390
per incident. The amount of time it took consu-
mers to undo the damage from an identity theft

T A B L E 4.7 How Victims of Identity Theft Were Harmed, Nationwide, 2006, 2010, 2013

Total Number of
Complaints 2006


Total Number of
Complaints 2010


Total Number of
Complaints 2013


Nature of the Crime
Percentage of All

Percentage of All

Percentage of All

Credit Card Fraud
Charging items to existing accounts 11 7 6
Opening new accounts in their names 15 9 11

Bank Frauds
Draining existing accounts 6 3 2
Receiving electronic fund transfers 8 5 4
Opening new accounts in their names 3 3 2

Utilities Fraud
Getting a new cell phone in their names 7 4 4
Getting a new telephone in their names 4 2 1
Getting gas or electric service in their names 6 9 9

Loan Fraud
Taking out business/personal/student loans in their names 3 2 2
Taking out auto loans/leases in their names 2 1 1
Taking out mortgages in their names 1 1 1

Employment-Related Fraud
Working under their victims’ names 14 11 6

Government Document Frauds
Filing false tax returns for refunds in their names and wage fraud 6 16 30
Obtaining driver’s licenses in their names 1 1 1

All Other Purposes and Ways, including attempts 24 29 31

NOTES: Complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from individuals and participating agencies were rounded off to the nearest
1,000 for the calendar year. Percentages exceed 100 percent due to rounding and because some victims were harmed in more than one way.

SOURCE: Federal Federal Trade Commission Sentinel Network (FTC, 2011, 2014).

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jumped to 33 hours from 21 hours in 2009 (Javelin,

In sum, reactions can range from a minor
annoyance and maybe even mild amusement (in
terms of what the thieves purchased using credit
cards) to fury about a complicated and costly
mess. As a result, a cottage industry has sprung up
over the past decade to address the public’s fears and
genuine concerns about preventing identity theft
and recovering from it. Companies sell protection
policies that pledge they will monitor their custo-
mers’ financial records for suspicious activities and
intercede to repair the damage if successful imper-
sonations take place. Whether the fees these com-
panies charge and the actual services they deliver are
really a wise investment and worth the expenses
have not yet been evaluated by victimologists.

The emotional toll of trying to restore their
financial reputation can cause some victims to
become highly suspicious of other people’s motives
and profoundly distrustful of officials and agencies
they had counted upon to help them. A wide range
of responses are possible, from denial to humiliation
to outrage. The level of distress is compounded if
the crime is never solved and the real name of the
thief never becomes known. Some feel over-
whelmed and powerless, as well as ashamed and
embarrassed for appearing to be spendthrifts and
deadbeats. Others join self-help groups that have
websites to share advice and facilitate mutual sup-
port with those who know firsthand what it is like
to repair a lifetime record of credit worthiness
(Busch-White, 2002; and Savage, 2003).

Is the Problem Growing or Subsiding?

How many people know what it is like to be
impersonated? How rapidly are their ranks increas-
ing? To address these concerns, it is necessary to ask
“What are the yearly incidence and longer term
prevalence rates?” A wide range of estimates can
be found because of variations in the definitions
used (what is included and excluded) and the meth-
ods of collecting data (complaints filed vs. survey
findings and subsequent projections to the entire
population). Inconsistencies about definitions of

the crime and its victims persist. Three databases
estimate the size of the problem and indicate how
its dimensions are changing over time. But the find-
ings of these three monitoring efforts do not always
match or coincide. The oft-repeated warning that
identity theft is America’s fastest growing crime
implies a steady upward trend that is difficult to
verify. Different impressions can be derived from
the data assembled in Table 4.8.

The NCVS is a valuable source of estimates
about the prevalence and incidence of identity
theft. Questions about identity theft were added
to the NCVS in 2004. The percentage of victim-
ized households rose between 2005 and 2009 from
5.5 to 7.3 percent but then declined a bit in 2010 to
7 percent. Figures for 2011 are not available, but in
2012 the proportion remained constant at 7 percent
of that year’s sample. Therefore, the proportion of
the sample that has experienced identity theft had
leveled out. In terms of sheer numbers, an esti-
mated 16.6 million persons experienced one or
more successful deceptions or attempts at imperson-
ation in 2012. Over 34 million people over the age
of 16 had experienced one or more incidents of
attempted or completed identity theft at some
point in their lives as of 2012, according to the
NCVS (Harrell and Langton, 2013) (see the third
column in Table 4.8).

The FTC operates an identity theft data
clearinghouse called the Consumer Sentinel
Network. It receives information from about 150
law enforcement agencies and collects details from
online complaint forms and calls to its hotline (877-
IDTHEFT). The FTC bases its estimates about
how many people have had their identities stolen
on unverified incident reports that have been pour-
ing in to this monitoring system since it was set up
in 1997 (FTC, 2011). From these complaints, the
FTC projected that as many as 8 million Americans
suffered from a brush with identify theft during
2008. That figure rose to an estimated 9 million
during 2010. As for the actual number of com-
plaints, they peaked in 2008 and then declined,
but bounced back to an all-time high in 2012
before slipping a bit in 2013 (FTC, 2014) (see the
second column in Table 4.8).

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But the number of identity theft victims
reached new heights in 2009 before dropping
back in 2010. The number of victims then rose
substantially for the next three years and in 2013
was not far below its all-time high, according to
an annual self-report survey sponsored by a financial
services company (Javelin, 2014) (see the last col-
umn in Table 4.8).

In sum, as of 2013, the problem of identity
theft had stabilized at an intolerably high level
that was bothersome to millions of people each
year, according to the Justice department’s self-
report survey, a private company’s annual survey,
and the federal government’s repository for con-
sumer complaints. Regardless of which of these
three sources of data is cited, two conclusions
must be drawn from Table 4.8. First, in terms of
trends, the problem of identity theft is no longer
steadily getting worse with each passing year. Sec-
ond, in terms of relative frequencies, the projected
estimates of many millions of individuals and
households afflicted by identity theft are much
greater each year than the total number suffering
from serious property crimes, as recorded by the

UCR as well as the NCVS. The ranks of those
who were impersonated by an impostor far out-
number the sum total of people whose homes
were burglarized and whose motor vehicles were

As with other categories of interpersonal crime,
underreporting undercuts the accuracy of these
official and unofficial statistics. Some persons who
detect telltale signs of identity theft do not bring
their monetary troubles to the attention of law
enforcement agencies, and some who do seek assis-
tance are rebuffed. In both 2010 and 2013, most
persons (a little over 60 percent) who contacted
the FTC to file a complaint that their identities
were stolen also notified a law enforcement agency
about their situation. However, 7 percent said that
the police would not take their report (FTC, 2011;
2014). Reporting rates to the police actually might
be much lower and declining when measured by a
different method. Of all those who told inter-
viewers that their identities had been stolen, only
about 17 percent filed complaints with their local
law enforcement agency in 2007, according to the
NCVS (Langton and Planty, 2010). By 2012, the

T A B L E 4.8 Estimates About the Number of Identity Theft Victims per Year, 2001–2013

Source of Estimate
and Year

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Complaints and Projections

National Crime Victimization
Survey (NCVS) Households

Javelin Strategy and
Research Survey

2001 86,000 not available not available
2002 162,000 not available not available
2003 215,000 15 Million 5% not available not available
2004 247,000 3.6 M 3.1% not available
2005 256,000 8.3 M 3.7% 6.4 M 5.5% not available
2006 246,000 7.9 M 6.7 % 10.6 M
2007 259,000 7.9 M 6.6% 10.2 M
2008 315,000 not available 12.5 M
2009 278,000 8.9 M 7.3% 13.9 M
2010 251,000 9 M 8.6 M 7.0% 10.2 M
2011 279,000 not available 11.6 M
2012 369,000 17 M 7.0% 12.6 M
2013 290,000 not available 13.1 M 6.5%

NOTES: Figures for certain years are not available.
For the FTC, figures are for the number of complaints filed with the ID Theft Clearinghouse, rounded to the nearest 1,000.
For the NCVS, the number refers to households with victimized persons over the age of 16. The percentage refers to a projection
of all U.S. households.
For the Javelin survey, the numbers and percentages refer to all adult U.S. residents.

SOURCES: FTC Sentinel annual reports, 2002–2013; BJS NCVS Baum, 2006, 2007; Baum and Langton, 2010; Langton, 2011 Langton and Planty,
2011; Javelin, 2011; 2014).

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reporting rate to the police had slipped to a mere
9 percent (although nearly 90 percent reported the
misuse to a credit card company or bank, 9 percent
contacted a credit bureau, and 6 percent contacted
one of the credit monitoring services [Harrell and
Langton, 2013]).

Who Faces the Greatest Risks?

Several obstacles hamper attempts to derive accu-
rate estimates of the frequency of these thefts and
the profile of those who are targeted most often.
First, some people do not yet know that impostors
have assumed their identities. Second, some victims
are not aware that the FTC has been designated as
the national clearinghouse for complaints. Third,
certain individuals and businesses are unwilling to
report their personal financial problems to law
enforcement agencies and government hotlines for
an assortment of reasons. For example, businesses
might fear that disclosures will harm their reputa-
tions, while individuals might decide that the time
it will take will not be worth their trouble.

One of the earlier attempts to derive a profile
of the average victim determined that the typical

age was 42, the place of residence was a large
metropolitan area, and the amount of time it took
the person to detect the fraud was 14 months.
Seniors were targeted less frequently, and African-
Americans tended to suffer more than other groups
from check fraud and from theft of utility and
telephone services (see Newman, 2004).

But more recent studies cast doubt on the con-
tinuing accuracy of this preliminary statistical portrait.
The NCVS provides more details about differential
risks. As for age, the two intervals that experienced
lower rates were those between 18 and 24, and also
those over 65. People between the ages of 35 and 49
suffered the most (8 percent per year in 2012). As for
race and ethnicity, whites experienced higher rates
and blacks and Hispanics lower rates. As for sex,
males and females were victimized at roughly the
same rate. When it comes to social class, the survey
found that families earning $75,000 or more were
targeted more often than those in lower income
brackets (Harrell and Langton, 2013).

As with other types of crimes, where people
live plays a major role in shaping differential risks.
Table 4.9 presents a ranking of the five worst states
and the five safest states in 2013. Many more reports

T A B L E 4.9 States Where Residents Faced the Highest and Lowest Risks of Identity Theft, 2013

Rank 2013 State
Victimization Rate per 100,000

Inhabitants 2010
Victimization Rate per 100,000

Inhabitants 2013

1 Florida 115 193
2 Georgia 97 134
3 California 102 105
4 Michigan 70 97
5 Nevada 96 97
6 Maryland 83 96
7 Arizona 103 91
8 Texas 96 88
9 New York 85 87
10 Illinois Lowest risks 81 86
46 Iowa 38 40
47 Maine 32 39
48 Hawaii 43 38
49 South Dakota 25 33
50 North Dakota 30 32

NOTES: Based on complaints received by the FTC from individuals and participating law enforcement agencies during 2010 and 2013.
Many incidents were not reported; complaints were not checked for credibility.

SOURCE: Federal Trade Commission Sentinel Network (FTC, 2011, 2014).

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of being impersonated came from Florida, Georgia,
and California (over 100 per 100,000 residents)
than from other states. Risks were much lower,
about about 40 per 100,00 or even less than that,
in Iowa, Maine, Hawaii, and South and North
Dakota, according to the Sentinel Network admin-
istered by the FTC (2014).

The geographic factor can be fine-tuned further
by focusing on specific cities. The 10 metropolitan
areas where residents filed the most complaints and
therefore presumably faced the greatest dangers of
being impersonated were Miami–Fort Lauderdale–
West Palm Beach, Florida (with a sky-high rate of
more than 340 victims per 100,000 inhabitants);
Columbus, Georgia; Naples-Marcos Island,
Florida; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Tallahassee, Florida;
Cape Coral–Fort Myers, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia;
Port Saint Lucie, Florida; Beckley, West Virginia;
and Tampa–St. Petersburg, Florida. As for entire
regions, people living in the South and West
needed to be more vigilant than those residing
in the Northeast and Midwest, according to
the FTC’s (2014) state and city rankings, which
are volatile and can vary substantially from year
to year.

It appears that spending habits, lifestyle choices,
and decisions about where to reside—in other
words, attitudes and behaviors—determine, to
some degree, whether an individual’s identity will
be misappropriated by some thief or hacker.


Yearly victimization rates might lull some people
into a false sense of security. Annual rates give the
impression that crime is a rare event. Only a hand-
ful of people out of every thousand fall prey to
offenders; most people get through a year
unscathed. But fears about victimization do not
conform to a January-to-December cycle. People
worry that they might be robbed, raped, or mur-
dered at some point during their lives. As the years

go by, the small annual rates can add up to a formi-
dable level for individuals who fall into several
high-risk categories.

Lifetime likelihoods are estimates of the
cumulative risks of victimization, viewed over a
span of 60 or more years (from age 12 into the
70s, the average life expectancy in the United States
today). These projections yield a very different pic-
ture of the seriousness of the contemporary crime
problem. What appears to be a rare event in any
given year looms as a real possibility over the course
of an entire lifetime (Koppel, 1987), according to
the gloomy projections in Table 4.10.

(Note the difference between lifetime likeli-
hoods and prevalence rates. A prevalence rate refers
to the proportion of the population that has already
experienced victimization. It adds together the cur-
rent year’s casualties to those who suffered during
previous years. Expressed as a fraction, the numera-
tor would be this year’s new cases plus a larger
number of old or preexisting cases from previous
years; the denominator would be the size of the
population. Lifetime likelihoods are estimates
about what the grand total might be in the years
ahead, calculated by projecting current rates into
the future.)

Over a span of about 60 years, nearly every-
body will experience at least one theft, and most
people may eventually suffer three or more thefts,
according to the projections made on the basis of
the relatively high rates of reported crimes that pre-
vailed during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Although the chance that a girl or woman will be
forcibly raped in a given year is minuscule, it rises to
a lifetime threat of 80 per 1,000, or 8 percent
(about 1 female in every 12). For black females,
the risk is somewhat greater (at 11 percent, or
nearly one in nine) over a lifetime. (Note that
these projections don’t differentiate between date
rape, acquaintance rape, and attacks by strangers—
see Chapter 10.) Robbery is a more common
crime, so the projection is that about 30 percent
of the population will be robbed at least once
over a 60-year period. Of this group, 5 percent
will be robbed twice, and 1 percent will be robbed
three or more times.

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Taking differential risks by sex and race into
account, males are more likely to be robbed at least
once in their lives (37 percent) than females (22 per-
cent), and blacks are more likely to be robbed one
or more times than whites (51 percent compared to
27 percent). When it comes to assault, the terms like-
lihood and probability take on their everyday meanings
as well as their special statistical connotations. Being
assaulted at least once in a lifetime is probable for
most people—roughly three out of every four per-
sons. (However, this alarming prediction includes
failed attempts to inflict physical injury, threats of
bodily harm that were not carried out, minor scuffles,
and intrafamily violence.) Males face a greater likeli-
hood of becoming embroiled in a fight someday than
females (82 percent compared to 62 percent).

Similarly, the projected cumulative risks are
unnerving for property crimes committed against
households (not individuals) over a time span of
20 years (not a lifetime of over 60 years starting at
age 12). Based on the relatively high rates of bur-
glary that prevailed in the late 1970s and early
1980s, the prediction was that over 70 percent
of all families would experience a burglary or an
attempted break-in over the next 20 years, and
nearly one quarter would suffer twice, and about
one in seven would be targeted three times or
more. On the other hand, only a little less than
20 percent would lose a car to thieves over a 20-
year span (see the rows in Table 4.10).

However, the mathematical and sociological
assumptions underlying these unnerving projections

T A B L E 4.10 Chances of Becoming a Victim over a Lifetime

Type of Victimization and
Person’s Race, Sex, and Age

Percentage of Persons Who Will Be Victimized Someday
over the Next 60 years

Once or more Once Twice
Three times

or more

All females, over a lifetime beginning at age 12 8 8 — —
Whites 8* 7 — —
Blacks 11 10 1 __

All persons, over a lifetime beginning at age 12 30* 25 5 1

Males 37 29 7 —
Females 22* 19 2 —
Whites 27 23 4 4
Blacks 51 35 12 —

All persons, over a lifetime beginning at age 12 74 35 24 15

Males 82 31 26 25
Females 62 37 18 7
Whites 74* 35 24 16
Blacks 73* 35 25 12

All households, over a span of 20 years 72 36 23 14
Motor Vehicle Theft
All households, over a span of 20 years 19 17 2 __

NOTES: *Figures do not add up to total shown in “once or more column” because of rounding.
Estimates include attempts.
Projections are based on average victimization rates calculated by the National Crime Survey (earlier name for the NCVS) for the years 1975–1984;
for rape, 1973–1982.
___ indicates that the lifetime likelihood is miniscule, less than 0.5 percent.
For burglary and motor vehicle theft, the unit of analysis is households, not individuals; and the time span is only 20 years, not 60 years or more.

SOURCE: Adapted from Koppel, 1987.

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are very complex and subject to challenge. The
calculations were based on estimates derived by
averaging victimization rates for the years 1975 to
1984, and then extrapolating these numbers into
the future (Koppel, 1987). If crime rates drop sub-
stantially over the next 40 years or so, as they
already have during the 1990s and 2000s, these pro-
jections will turn out to be overly pessimistic. Con-
versely, if the crime problem intensifies during the
next few decades of the twenty-first century, the
real odds will be much greater than the percentages
in Table 4.10.

Lifetime likelihoods of being murdered also
have been computed. Unlike the projections
above, which are based on NCVS findings, mur-
der risk estimates are derived from UCR data. Dif-
ferential cumulative risks can be presented as
ratios, such as “1 out of every x people will be
murdered.” All the remaining individuals (x 1)
within this category are expected to die from
diseases and other natural causes, accidents, or
suicides. A small x indicates a grave danger. Over-
all, roughly 1 American out of every 200 will die a
violent death (based on the homicide levels of the
late 1990s). But the risks vary tremendously,
depending on personal attributes, especially sex
and race. In general, males are more likely to be
slain than females, and blacks are more likely than
whites. But when data for both sex and race is
included, black females turn out to be in greater

danger of being murdered (1 out of every 171)
than white males (1 out of every 241). White
females have the least to fear, relatively speaking,
of the four groupings (1 will be killed out of every
684). But the prospects facing black males are
frightening. If the rates of the late 1990s continue
over the decades, 1 out of every 35 black males
(about 3 percent) eventually will become a victim
of homicide (FBI, 1999). In the early 1980s, the
crime problem was more severe so the projected
threat was even greater: the prediction was that 1
out of every 21 black males (nearly 5 percent)
would die violently (Langan, 1985).

The recognition of differential risks touches off
another round of questions for victimologists to
grapple with as they analyze UCR and NCVS
data. Why does the burden of victimization fall so
heavily on some groups of people and not others?
Did crime victims do something “wrong” to jeop-
ardize their well-being, or were their misfortunes
basically due to bad luck or fate? What can each
person—who by definition is a potential target—
do to minimize risks? Are there policies the govern-
ment or society can implement to help all of its
members lead safer lives? To what degree is an indi-
vidual responsible for his or her own future, and to
what extent do forces beyond any individual’s abil-
ity to control determine the risks of becoming a
crime victim? These controversial issues are care-
fully investigated in the next chapter.


This chapter focused on the people harmed by inter-
personal crimes, especially acts of violence by mur-
derers, assailants, and robbers; but also by stealing,
like burglary, motor vehicle theft, and identity theft.

Various groupings of people face different risks of
being harmed by criminals. International comparisons
demonstrate that societal conditions and traditions
greatly affect a country’s murder rates: The United
States stands out as suffering higher rates of violence
than similar advanced industrialized societies. Where
a person lives and interacts with others is a major
determinant of differential risks.

Trends capture changes in victimization rates
over time, while patterns indicate connections
between the attributes of victims and the frequency
with which they are targeted. Data from the UCR
and the NCVS indicates that many types of victi-
mizations are taking place far less frequently in
recent years than during their peak period of the
late 1980s and early 1990s.

Murders and serious assaults are down sharply
since the early 1990s. The gravest risks still are
faced by poor young men in urban settings.
Robberies take place much less frequently as

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well, but the same categories of people—poor
young men in big cities—still are the most likely

The differential risks of experiencing a property
crime—burglary, motor vehicle theft, and a stolen
identity—vary substantially by location more so than
by the characteristics of the persons who are directly
affected. Whereas burglaries and vehicle thefts have
dropped sharply over the decades, identity theft has
mushroomed into a common aggravation—and for

some, a huge source of distress—during the twenty-
first century.

Cumulative risks indicate the odds of being vic-
timized over the course of a lifetime: suffering an
assault someday is a danger most people will endure;
and experiencing a burglary over a 20-year span is
likely for most households Studying the reasons for
differential risks yields theories that explain why cer-
tain groups are more vulnerable to attack than others.
This will be the focus of the next chapter.


carjacking, 113

Consumer Sentinel
Network, 126

cumulative risks, 94

differential risks, 94

identity theft, 121

incidence rates, 94

muggings, 107

prevalence rates, 94

profile, 100

statistical portrait, 100

strong-arm robberies,

Homicide Report, 100

trend analysis, 94

yokings, 107


1. Describe some trends in interpersonal crimes of
violence and theft that became evident during
the 1990s. Which of these trends has continued
right up to the present?

2. Discuss the contention that property crime
really hasn’t subsided so much—it has just
shifted toward identity theft.


1. Try to explain why violent and property crime
rates are surprisingly stable and predictable from
one year to the next. Speculate as to why last
year’s rate for the entire United States was so
close to this year’s rate.

2. All the graphs presented in this chapter show
that victimization rates have dropped since the

early 1990s. Identify the factors that might
explain this much welcomed but largely
unexpected improvement in public safety
for the following crimes: murder, robbery,
burglary, and vehicle theft.

1. Make a list of some of the most dangerous

countries and cities in the world, based on their
murder rates. Ask some people you know if

they have ever visited these places and whether
they were aware of the statistically high rates of
violence while they were there.

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2. Monitor this year’s murders in your hometown
by carefully searching through local newspapers
for articles that provide the necessary details.
Assemble a database that includes profiles of the
victims and the offenders, breakdowns of the
victim–offender relationship, weapons used,
and circumstances categorizing of the killings.
How do these slayings compare statistically to
the national averages presented in this chapter?

3. Develop a table that lists the same cities from
the map in Figure 4.1. But instead of murder
rates, assemble robbery rates from the FBI’s

UCR. Does the ranking of these large U.S.
cities by robbery rates come out the same as for
murder rates?

4. Find out from insurance companies’ websites
the makes, models, and years of vehicles
stolen most often in your state and, if possi-
ble, in your nearest metropolitan area. See if
your vehicle is on the list of those most
wanted by thieves.

5. Find out from the FTC website the seriousness
of identity theft in your state and in the
metropolitan area nearest to where you live.

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The Ongoing Controversy over
Shared Responsibility

How Some Victims Contribute to the Crime Problem

Repeat and Chronic Victims: Learning from Past

The Entire Spectrum of Possibilities: Recognizing
Complete Innocence and Full Responsibility

Who or What Is to Blame for Specific Incidents?

What Is Victim Blaming?
What Is Victim Defending?
What Is System Blaming?

Mistakes Individuals Make: Facilitation

How Many Burglaries Were Victim-Facilitated?
How Many Vehicle Thefts Were Victim-Facilitated?
How Many Identity Thefts Were Victim-Facilitated?

Victim Precipitation and Provocation

How Many Violent Crimes Were Precipitated or

Transcending Victim Blaming and Victim Defending:
System Blaming

The Importance of Determining Responsibility in the
Criminal Justice Process

Applying Deterrence Theory to Victims

Theorizing About Risk Factors: Figuring Out Why
Certain Groups Suffer More Often Than Others

Why Various Groups Experience Differential Risks:
Routine Activities and Specific Lifestyles

Some Victims Were Criminals: The Equivalent Group

What’s the Difference Between Crime Prevention and
Victimization Prevention?

Reducing Risks: How Safe Is Safe Enough?
Ambivalence About Risk Taking


Key Terms Defined in the Glossary

Questions for Discussion and Debate

Critical Thinking Questions

Suggested Research Projects

To realize why the concept of shared responsibility is

so controversial.

To recognize victim-blaming, victim-defending, and
system-blaming arguments.


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The first few criminologists drawn to the study of
victims were enthusiastic about the concept of
shared responsibility as a possible explanation
for why a particular person was harmed by a certain
offender. By raising questions previous researchers
had overlooked about victim proneness, individual
vulnerability, and personal accountability for one’s
misfortunes, they believed they were developing a
more complete explanation about why laws are
broken and people get hurt. But they also touched
off a controversy within victimology as well as in
the arena of public opinion that still rages today.

Consider these situations:

A motorist shows no concern about where he
parks his car, even though he knows that it

ranks high on the list of most frequently stolen
vehicles. Sure enough, after he leaves it
unlocked on a dark quiet street, it is gone when
he comes back the next morning.

A college student tosses out bank statements
and credit card bills without worrying whether
personal information in them will end up in
the wrong hands. Her carelessly discarded
paperwork enables an identity thief to open up
a credit card account and run up a large balance
in her name.

A man gets drunk at a bar, even though he is
among complete strangers, and recklessly
begins to stare at a woman who is sitting next
to her formidable-looking boyfriend. They
exchange insults, and the jealous boyfriend
beats him up.

Until victimology emerged, mainstream crimi-
nology had consistently ignored the role that
injured parties might play in setting the stage for
lawless behavior. Victimologists have pledged to
correct this imbalance by objectively examining all
kinds of situations to determine whether people
who were harmed might have played a part in
their own downfall.

Thus, victimologists have gone beyond
offender-oriented explanations that attribute law-
breaking solely to the exercise of free will by the
wrongdoer. Victimologists suggest that certain
criminal incidents be viewed as the outgrowths of
a process of interaction between two parties. What
has emerged is a dynamic model that takes into
account initiatives and responses, actions and reac-
tions, and each participant’s motives and intentions.

Several expressions coined by the pioneers of
victimology capture their enthusiasm for examining
interactions: the “duet frame of reference” (Von
Hentig, 1941), the “penal couple” (Mendelsohn,
1956), and the “doer–sufferer relationship” (Ellenber-
ger, 1955). Reconstructing the situation preceding
the incident can provide a more balanced and com-
plete picture of what happened, who did what to
whom and why, and thereby represents an
improvement over earlier one-sided, static,
perpetrator-centered accounts (Fattah, 1979).


To understand the distinctions between victim facilita-
tion, precipitation, and provocation.

To be able to apply the concepts of victim facilitation,
victim blaming, and victim defending to burglary,
automobile theft, and identity theft.

To be able to apply the concepts of victim precipitation,
victim provocation, victim blaming, victim defending,
and system blaming to murder and robbery.

To realize what is at stake in the debate between victim
blamers and victim defenders.

To be able to recognize the institutional roots of crime,
which overshadow the victim’s role.

To become familiar with the competing theories that
attempt to explain why some groups suffer higher
victimization rates than others.

To recognize how the issue of shared responsibility
impacts the operations of the criminal justice system.

To debate the appropriate role of risk management and
risk reduction strategies in everyday life.

To appreciate the difference between crime prevention
and victimization prevention.

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A well-known line of inquiry (albeit a controver-
sial one) within criminology centers on the differences,
if any, between lawbreakers and law-abiding people.
Criminologists ask, “What is ‘wrong’ with them? Are
there physical, mental, or cultural differences that dis-
tinguish offenders from the rest of us?” In a similar vein,
victimologists ask, “What distinguishes victims from
nonvictims? Do individuals who get targeted think or
act differently from those who don’t?”

Just posing these questions immediately raises
the possibility of shared responsibility. Victimologists
have borrowed the terminology of the legal system,
traditionally used to describe criminal behavior, to
describe the motives and actions of the injured parties
as well. The words responsibility, culpability, guilt, and
blame crop up routinely in discussions based on
dynamic, situational accounts of the interactions
between two people. In the broadest sense, the con-
cept of shared responsibility implies that certain
persons—not just their offenders—did something
“wrong.” Adopting this framework leads to the prop-
osition that some—but certainly not all—of the indi-
viduals who were hurt or experienced losses did not
do all they could have done to limit their exposure to
dangerous people or threatening circumstances, or to
abort confrontations that were escalating.


One day in October, a woman hears someone
banging on her front door. She opens it and sees her
neighbor, a 21-year-old man, lying on his back.
He pleads, “Call 911, I’m dying.” The ambulance
rushes the man to a nearby hospital, but he is dead on
arrival. Detectives discover that he had been shot at
on two different occasions a few days apart back in
July, and briefly hospitalized from the second attack.
However, the alleged assassin in those two prior armed
assaults was still in jail awaiting trial at the time of
the third shooting. (Koehler, 2011)

Researchers looking for clear-cut cases of
shared responsibility often focus on individuals
who have suffered a series of thefts or attacks.

Offenders seem to set their sights on certain indi-
viduals and households more than once during a
given period of time. “Repeat victims” are bur-
dened twice. Suffering three or more times during
a relatively short time span qualifies a person for
the dubious distinction of being a “chronic
victim.” Having been hurt in the past turns out
to be the single best predictor of becoming
harmed again in that very same way—or by
some other perpetrator or from some other type
of offense. Furthermore, the greater the number of
prior victimizations, the higher the likelihood will
be of trouble in the near future. Revictimization
often takes place soon after the initial incident, and
then the risks begin to decline as time passes. All
these incidents are most likely to break out in very
localized high-crime areas, dubbed hot spots. Just
as a great many crimes can be traced back to just a
few perpetrators, a relatively small number of
individuals—termed “hot dots”—often sustain a
large proportion of these attacks. If the police
can recognize these recurring patterns by applying
their knowledge about the suspected offenders,
the likely scenes of the crimes, and the probable
targets, then they can become effective guardians
to head off further trouble (Pease and Laycock,

Such “series incidents” accounted for about
1 percent of all victimizations and 4 percent of all
episodes of violence disclosed to NCVS inter-
viewers in 2013 (Truman and Langton, 2014).

Just as criminals have careers in which they
offend in various ways over the years, those on
the receiving end might also be said to endure “vic-
tim careers” over the course of their lifetimes.
The career consists of the frequency, duration,
and seriousness of the hurtful experiences suffered
by a person from childhood until death. The total
number of incidents, the date of their onset, their
timing (bunching up or spreading out), and the
nature of the injuries and losses sustained as they
grow older might be gained by interviewing people
and asking them to try to recall all their misfortunes
retrospectively. Another approach would involve
periodically reinterviewing them or an entire birth
cohort every few years as part of an ongoing

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longitudinal study. The goal would be to empower
these individuals to reduce their risks of future tur-
moil, to improve social support programs and
police interventions intended to help them, and
to further the development of victim-centered the-
ories that explain the disproportionate burdens cer-
tain persons endure (Farrell et al., 2001).

One implication of this focus on revictimiza-
tion and victim careers is that particular individuals
might be making the same mistakes over and
over again. Maybe they periodically permit their
judgment to become clouded by drinking too
much, by failing to safeguard their personal
property, by allowing themselves to become
isolated from bystanders who could intervene in
their behalf, or by hanging out with persons
known to be armed and dangerous. The most
well-documented examples include bank branches
suffering holdups frequently, residences being bur-
glarized a number of times, cars getting broken into
on a regular basis, battered wives getting struck
repeatedly, and bullied children being picked on
by a series of tormentors. Yet their unfortunate
track records may not be entirely their fault,
according to crime analysts working on behalf of
police departments who look for patterns that
may indicate where offenders will strike next and
precisely whom they might target. These analysts
have come up with two primary reasons to account
for repeat victimizations: a boost explanation that
focuses on the offender’s abilities, and a flag expla-
nation that emphasizes target vulnerability (see
Weisel, 2005).

Boost explanations of repeat victimizations
point out that career criminals gain important
information about the people and places they
repeatedly attack based on firsthand knowledge
from the successful perpetration of their initial
illegal act. They use this inside information to
plan their next attack against the same target.
Examples of boost explanations would be that
burglars learn when a particular home is unoccu-
pied or how to circumvent a certain warehouse’s
alarm system. Car thieves figure out how to open
the door of a specific make and model of car with-
out a key. Robbers discover where a storekeeper

hides his cash right before closing time. In con-
trast, flag explanations of repeat victimizations are
victim-centered. They point out that unusually
vulnerable or attractive targets might suffer the
depredations of a number of different offenders
as opposed to the same criminal over and over.
For example, apartments with sliding glass doors
are easily broken into, convenience stores that are
open around the clock are always accessible to
desperate shoplifters and robbers, and taxi drivers
and pizza deliverers are particularly easy to rob of
the cash they are carrying (Weisel, 2005).


A typology is a classification system that aids in the
understanding of what a group has in common and
how it differs from others. Over the decades, victi-
mologists have devised many typologies to try to
illustrate the degree of shared responsibility, if any,
that injured parties might bear in particular incidents.
Some of the categories of people identified in typol-
ogies include those who are “ideal” (above criticism),
“culturally legitimate and appropriate” (seen as fair
game, outcasts), “deserving” (asking for trouble),
“consenting” (willing), and “recidivist” (chronic)
(see Fattah, 1991; also Mendelsohn, 1956; Fattah,
1967; Lamborn, 1968; Schafer, 1977; Sheley, 1979).

Up to this point, the degree of responsibility a
victim might share with an offender has ranged
from “some” to a “great deal.” But the spectrum
of possibilities extends further in each direction.
A typology of shared responsibility must include
at least two more categories in order to be exhaus-
tive. At one extreme is “no shared responsibility at
all” or complete innocence. The other endpoint
can be labeled as full responsibility.

Several teenagers have a beef with some boys across
the street. They go up to the roof of a nearby building
and start shooting at the rival group using an auto-
matic pistol. A 34-year-old mother, who is waiting to

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pick up her children from school, hears the sounds of
gunfire and tries to shield several nearby youngsters
by throwing herself on top of them. She is fatally
struck in the chest, and two other bystanders are
wounded by the stray bullets. (Baker and Maag,
Completely innocent individuals, such as the

mother killed in the tragedy described above, can-
not be faulted for what happened to them. In some
cases, they were targeted at random and suffered
simply because they were at the wrong place at
the wrong time. Others were crime-conscious peo-
ple who tried to avoid trouble. They did what they
reasonably could to reduce the risks they faced. To
avoid violence, they did nothing to attract the
attention of predators and nothing to incite other-
wise law-abiding people to attack them. Blameless
targets of property crimes took proactive steps to
safeguard their possessions in anticipation of the
possibility of arson, vandalism, burglary, larceny,
or vehicle theft. They did all they could to hinder
rather than help any would-be thieves hungry for
their possessions.

If taking precautions, keeping a low profile,
and minding one’s own business qualify as the
basis for blamelessness and complete innocence,
then at the other extreme, total complicity becomes
the defining characteristic for full responsibility.
Logically, a victim can bear sole responsibility
only when there is no offender at all. Individuals
who are totally responsible for what happened
are, by definition, really not victims at all. They
suffered no harm from lawbreakers and actually
are offenders posing as victims for some ulterior
motive. Phony complainants usually seek either
reimbursement from private insurance policies or
government aid for imaginary losses. They file
false claims and thereby commit fraud. For instance,
someone who falls down a flight of steps might
insist he was pushed by a robber. Fake victims
may have motives other than financial gain. Some
people may pretend to have been harmed in order
to cover up what really occurred. For example, a
husband who gambled away his paycheck might
tell his wife and detectives that he was held up on
the way home.


Since the 1970s, the notion of shared responsibility
has become a subject of intense and sometimes bit-
ter debate. Some criminologists and victimologists
have expressed concern over the implications of
studies into mutual interactions and reciprocal
influences between the two parties. Those who
raised doubts and voiced dissent might be seen as
loosely constituting a different school of thought.
Just as criminology (with a much longer, richer,
and stormier history than victimology) has recog-
nizable orientations and ideological camps within it
(for example, adherents of conflict models vs. socio-
biological explanations for violent behavior), so too
does victimology have its rifts and factions. To put
it bluntly, a victim-blaming tendency clashes
repeatedly with a victim-defending tendency over
many specific issues.

Arguments that specific victims bear some
responsibility along with their offenders for what hap-
pened have been characterized as victim blaming.
Countering this approach by challenging whether it is
accurate and fair to hold the targeted individual
accountable for injuries and losses that a wrongdoer
inflicted can be termed victim defending.

Two opposing ideologies might imply that
there are two distinct camps, victim blamers and
victim defenders. However, victimologists cannot
simply be classified as victim blamers and victim
defenders. The situation is complex, and people
may change sides, depending on the crime or the
persons involved. In fact, most individuals are
inconsistent when they respond to criminal cases.
They criticize specific individuals but defend others,
or they find fault with certain groups (for example,
viciously abusive husbands who eventually are
killed by their battered wives) but not other groups
(such as inebriated women who are sexually
assaulted by their predatory dates).

What Is Victim Blaming?

Victim blaming assumes that the offender and the
victim are somehow partners in crime, and that a

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degree of mutuality, symbiosis, or reciprocity may
exist between them (see Von Hentig, 1948). To
identify such cases, both parties’ possible motives,
reputations, actions, and records of past arrests and
convictions must be investigated (Schultz, 1968).

The quest for evidence of shared responsibility
captivated the first criminologists who became
interested in the behavior of victims before, dur-
ing, and after the incident. Leading figures encour-
aged their colleagues to focus upon the possibility
of shared responsibility in their research and theo-
rizing. Some of their statements, excerpted from
studies that appeared decades ago, are assembled
in Box 5.1.

Victimology, despite its aspirations toward
objectivity, may harbor an unavoidable tendency
toward victim blaming. It is inevitable that a careful
reconstruction of the behavior of a victim before,
during, and after a crime will unearth rash decisions,
foolish mistakes, errors in judgment, and acts of care-
lessness that, with 20–20 hindsight, can be pointed to
as having brought about the unfortunate outcome.
Step-by-step analyses of actions and reactions are
sure to reveal evidence of what injured parties did
or failed to do that contributed to their suffering.

Victim blaming follows a three-stage thought
process (see Ryan, 1971). First, the assumption is
made that there is something wrong with these
individuals. They are said to differ significantly
from the unaffected majority in their attitudes,
their behaviors, or both. Second, these presumed
differences are thought to be the source of their
plight. If they were like everyone else, the reason-
ing goes, they would not have been targeted for
attack. And third, victims are warned that if they
want to avoid trouble in the future, they must
change how they think and act. They must aban-
don the careless, rash, or provocative patterns of
behaviors that brought about their downfall.

Victim blaming is a widely held view for sev-
eral reasons. It provides specific and straightfor-
ward answers to troubling questions such as,
“Why did it happen?” and “Why him and not
me?” Victim blaming also has psychological appeal
because it draws upon deep philosophical and even
theological beliefs. Fervent believers in a just

world outlook—people get what they deserve
before their lives end—find victim blaming a com-
forting notion. Bad things happen only to evil
characters; good souls are rewarded for following
the rules. The alternative—imagining a world
governed by random events where senseless and
brutal acts might afflict anyone at any time, and
where wrongdoers get away unpunished—is
unnerving. The belief that victims must have
done something neglectful, foolish, or provocative
that led to their misfortunes dispels feelings of vul-
nerability and powerlessness, and gives the blamer
peace of mind about the existence of an orderly
and just world (Lerner, 1965; Symonds, 1975;
Lambert and Raichle, 2000 and Stromwall,
Alfredsson, and Landstrom, 2013).

The doctrine of personal accountability that
underlies the legal system also encourages victim-
blaming explanations. Just as criminals are con-
demned and punished for their wrongdoing, so,
too, must victims answer for their behavior before,
during, and after an incident. They can and should
be faulted for errors in judgment that only made
things worse. Such assessments of blame are
grounded in the belief that individuals exercise a
substantial degree of control over events in their
everyday lives. They may not be totally in com-
mand, but they are not powerless or helpless
pawns and should not be resigned to their fate,
waiting passively to become a statistic. Just as cau-
tious motorists should implement defensive driving
techniques to minimize car accidents, crime-
conscious individuals are obliged to review their
ways of relating to people and how they behave
in stressful situations in order to enhance their per-
sonal safety. By following the advice of security
experts about how to keep out of trouble, cautious
and concerned individuals can find personal solu-
tions to the social problem of street crime.

Victim blaming also sounds familiar because it
is the view of offenders. According to the crimi-
nological theory known as “techniques of neu-
tralization,” delinquents frequently disparage
their intended targets as having negative traits
(“He was asking for it,” or “They are a bunch of
crooks themselves”). In extreme cases, youthful

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offenders believe the suffering they inflict is retal-
iatory justice that merits praise (“We deserve a
medal for doing that”). Their consciences would
burden them with pangs of guilt if they saw these
same incidents in a more conventional way (see
Sykes and Matza, 1957; and also Schwendinger
and Schwendinger, 1967). Those offenders who
are devoid of empathy and pity are so desensitized
that they do not feel the guilt, shame, remorse, or
moral inhibitions that otherwise would constrain
their behavior. By derogating and denigrating the
victim, juvenile delinquents or adult criminals can

validate their hurtful acts as justifiable. Outbursts
of stark cruelty and savagery become possible
when the injured party is viewed as worthless,
less than human, an appropriate object for venting
hostility and aggression, or an outcast deserving
mistreatment (Fattah, 1976, 1979).

Defense attorneys may persuasively articulate
the victim-blaming views of their clients, espe-
cially in high-profile murder cases. A “trash-
the-reputation” (demonization of the deceased)
approach, coupled with a “sympathy” (for the
accused) defense, might succeed in swaying a

B O X 5.1 Early Expressions of Support for Inquiries into the Victim’s Role

A real mutuality frequently can be observed in the
connection between the perpetrator and the victim, the
killer and the killed, the duper and the duped. The vic-
tim in many instances leads the evildoer into tempta-
tion. The predator is, by varying means, prevailed upon
to advance against the prey. (Von Hentig, 1941, p. 303)

In a sense, the victim shapes and molds the criminal.
Although the final outcome may appear to be one-sided,
the victim and criminal profoundly work upon each
other, right up until the last moment in the drama.
Ultimately, the victim can assume the role of determi-
nant in the event. (Von Hentig, 1948, p. 384)

Criminologists should give as much attention to “victi-
mogenesis” as to “criminogenesis.” Every person should
know exactly to what dangers he is exposed because of
his occupation, social class, and psychological consti-
tution. (Ellenberger, 1955, p. 258)

The distinction between criminal and victim, which used
to be considered as clear-cut as black and white, can
become vague and blurred in individual cases. The lon-
ger and the more deeply the actions of the persons
involved are scrutinized, the more difficult it occasion-
ally will be to decide who is to blame for the tragic
outcome. (Mannheim, 1965, p. 672)

In some cases, the victim initiates the interaction, and
sends out signals that the receiver (doer) decodes,
triggering or generating criminal behavior in the doer.
(Reckless, 1967, p. 142)

Probation and parole officers must understand victim–
offender relationships. The personality of the victim, as
a cause of the offense, is oftentimes more pertinent
than that of the offender. (Schultz, 1968, p. 135)

Responsibility for one’s conduct is a changing concept,
and its interpretation is a true mirror of the social,
cultural, and political conditions of a given era …
Notions of criminal responsibility most often indicate
the nature of societal interrelationships and the ideol-
ogy of the ruling group in the power structure. Many
crimes don’t just happen to be committed—the victim’s
negligence, precipitative actions, or provocations can
contribute to the genesis of crime.… The victim’s
functional responsibility is to do nothing that will pro-
voke others to injure him, and to actively seek to
prevent criminals from harming him. (Schafer, 1968,
pp. 4, 144, 152)

Scholars have begun to see the victim not just as a
passive object, as the innocent point of impact of crime
on society, but as sometimes playing an active role and
possibly contributing to some degree to his own vic-
timization. During the last 30 years, there has been
considerable debate, speculation, and research into the
victim’s role, the criminal–victim relationship, the con-
cept of responsibility, and behaviors that could be con-
sidered provocative. Thus, the study of crime has taken
on a more realistic and more complete outlook. (Viano,
1976, p. 1)

There is much to be learned about victimization patterns
and the factors that influence them. Associated with the
question of relative risk is the more specific question
(of considerable importance) of victim participation,
since crime is an interactional process. (Parsonage, 1979,
p. 10)

Victimology also postulates that the roles of victim and
victimizer are neither fixed nor assigned, but are

140 C H A P T E R 5

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jury and securing an acquittal or in convincing a
judge to hand down a lesser sentence. For example,
in cases where children slay their parents, the dead
fathers and mothers may be pictured as callous abu-
sers and perverse molesters, while their offspring are
portrayed as defenseless objects of adult cruelty (see
Estrich, 1993b; Hoffman, 1994).

What Is Victim Defending?

Victim defending rejects the premise that those
who suffer are partly at fault and challenges the

recommendation that people who were targeted
must change their ways to avoid future incidents.
First of all, victim blaming is criticized for overstat-
ing the extent to which careless habits, foolhardy
actions, attention-grabbing behavior, and verbal
instigation explains the genesis of an illegal act.
Motivated offenders would have struck their cho-
sen targets even if the victims had not made their
tasks easier, called attention to themselves, or
aroused angry reactions. Second, victim blaming is
condemned for confusing the exception with the
rule and overestimating the actual proportion of

mutable and interchangeable, with continuous move-
ment between the two roles…. This position, under-
standably, will not be welcomed by those who, for a
variety of practical or utilitarian reasons, continue to
promote the popular stereotypes of victims and victi-
mizers, according to which the two populations are as
different as black and white, night and day, wolves and
lambs. (Fattah, 1991, p. xiv)

Calls for Research into the Victim’s Role in Specific Crimes

Murder: In many crimes, especially criminal homicide,
which usually involves intense personal interaction,
the victim is often a major contributor to the lawless
act.… Except in cases in which the victim is an inno-
cent bystander and is killed in lieu of an intended
victim, or in cases in which a pure accident is involved,
the victim may be one of the major precipitating
causes of his own demise. (Wolfgang, 1958, pp. 245,

Rape: The offender should not be viewed as the sole
“cause” and reason for the offense, and the “virtuous”
rape victim is not always the innocent and passive
party. The role played by the victim and its contribution
to the perpetration of the offense becomes one of the
main interests of the emerging discipline of victimol-
ogy. Furthermore, if penal justice is to be fair it must be
attentive to these problems of degrees of victim
responsibility for her own victimization. (Amir, 1971,
pp. 275–76)

Theft: Careless people set up temptation–opportunity
situations when they carry their money or leave their
valuables in a manner which virtually invites theft by

pickpocketing, burglary, or robbery. Carelessness in
handling cash is so persistently a part of everyday living
that it must be deemed almost a national habit….
Because victim behavior today is conducive to crimi-
nality, it will be necessary to develop mass educational
programs aimed at changing that behavior. (Fooner,
1971, pp. 313, 315)
Victims cause crime in the sense that they set up the
opportunity for the crime to be committed. By changing
the behavior of the victim and potential victim, the
crime rate can be reduced. Holders of fire insurance
policies must meet fire safety standards, so why not
require holders of theft insurance to meet security
standards? (Jeffrey, 1971, pp. 208–209)
Burglary: In the same way that criminologists compare
offenders with nonoffenders to understand why a per-
son commits a crime, we examined how the burglary
victim and nonvictim differ in an attempt to under-
stand the extent to which a victim vicariously contri-
butes to or precipitates a break-in. (Waller and Okihiro,
1978, p. 5)
Auto theft: Unlike most personal property, which is
preserved behind fences and walls, cars are constantly
moved from one exposed location to another; and
since autos contain their own means of locomotion,
potential victims are particularly responsible for
varying the degree of theft risk by where they park
and by the occasions they provide for starting the
engine. The role of the victim is especially conse-
quential for this crime; many cases of auto theft
appear to be essentially a matter of opportunity.
They are victim-facilitated. (McCaghy, Giordano, and
Henson, 1977, p. 369)

T H E O N G O I N G C O N T R O V E R S Y O V E R S H A R E D R E S P O N S I B I L I T Y 141

Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

cases in which blameworthy conduct took place.
Shared responsibility is said to be unusual, not com-
mon. A few people’s mistakes don’t justify placing
most victims’ attitudes and behaviors under a
microscope, or under a cloud of suspicion. Third,
exhorting people to be more cautious and vigilant is
not an adequate solution. This advice is unrealistic
because it overlooks the cultural imperatives and
social conditions that largely shape the attitudes
and behaviors of both parties in a conflict.

Over the past several decades, many victimolo-
gists have embraced the tenets of victim defending,
and have sharply denounced crude expressions of
victim blaming as examples of muddled thinking
and confused reasoning about the issue of shared
responsibility. Excerpts of the earliest victim defend-
ing arguments condemning victim blaming views
appear in Box 5.2.

Victim defending is clear about what it opposes,
but it is vague about what it supports. Two tendencies
within victim defending can be distinguished concern-
ing who or what is to be faulted. The first can be called
offender blaming. Offender blaming removes the
burden of responsibility from the backs of victims and
restores it entirely onto the shoulders of lawbreakers,

“where it belongs.” Victim defending coupled with
offender blaming leads to traditional criminological
thinking, characterized earlier as “offenderology.”
The question once again becomes, “What is ‘wrong’
with the offender? How does he differ from the law-
abiding majority?” If the answer is that the offender has
physical defects or even genetic predispositions to act
violently, then the sociobiological theories of crimi-
nology become the focus of attention. If the offender
is believed to suffer from mental illness, personality
disorders, or other emotional problems, then the the-
ories of forensic psychology are relevant. If the
offender is said to have knowingly and intentionally
chosen to prey upon others, then the explanations
center on the classical/rational choice/free-will and
deterrence theories about pleasure and pain, benefits
and costs, and conclude with the necessity of punishing
those who decide to steal and rob.

What Is System Blaming?

The second tendency is to link victim defending with
system blaming, wherein neither the offender nor
the victim is the real culpr

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