Bonnie S Fisher & Bradford W Reyns. 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: J Mitchell Miller. Sage Publications, 2009.

Victimization is the outcome of deliberate action taken by a person or institution to exploit, oppress, or harm another, or to destroy or illegally obtain another’s property or possessions. The Latin word victima means “sacrificial animal,” but the term victim has evolved to include a variety of targets, including oneself, another individual, a household, a business, the state, or the environment. The act committed by the offender is usually a violation of a criminal or civil statute but does not necessarily have to violate a law. Harm can include psychological/emotional damage, physical or sexual injury, or economic loss.

Victimology is the scientific study of victims. Victimologists focus on a range of victim-related issues, including estimating the extent of different types of victimization, explaining why victimization occurs to whom or what, the effects and consequences of victimization, and examining victims’ rights within the legal system. Different domains of victimization are also of interest. Victimology is characterized as an interdisciplinary field—academics, practitioners, and advocates worldwide from the fields of criminology, economics, forensic sciences, law, political science, public health, psychology, social work, sociology, nursing, and medicine focus on victims’ plight.

Types of Victimization

Personal Victimization

Personal victimization occurs when one party experiences some harm that is a result of interacting with an offending party. Personal victimizations can be lethal (e.g., homicide), nonlethal (e.g., assault), or sexual (e.g., forced rape). These victimizations can be violent (e.g., robbery) or nonviolent (e.g., psychological/emotional abuse). Examples of personal victimization also include domestic violence, stalking, kidnapping, child or elder maltreatment/abuse/neglect, torture, human trafficking, and human rights violations.

Property Victimization

Property victimization involves loss or destruction of private or public possessions. Property victimization can be committed against a person or against a specific place (e.g., residence), object (e.g., car), or institution (e.g., business). Encompassing offenses include burglary, arson, motor vehicle theft, shoplifting, and vandalism. Embezzlement, money laundering, and a variety of computer/Internet offenses (e.g., software piracy) are also property victimizations.

Estimating the Extent of Victimization: National Sources of Victimization Data in the United States

Uniform Crime Reports

One of the primary sources of annual victimization data is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has compiled the UCR since 1930; it is the longest-running systematic data collection effort on crime in the United States. The UCR presents aggregate crime counts for personal and property offenses based on standardized definitions collected from jurisdictions in all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico. Crime counts are reported for the entire country, as well as for regions, states, counties, cities, and towns. Participation in the UCR is voluntary, with more than 17,000 city, county, and state law enforcement agencies participating, representing about 94% of the total U.S. population.

UCR crimes are divided into two categories: Part I and Part II offenses. Part I crimes are referred to as index crimes and include more serious offenses, which are subdivided into violent and property categories. Part I violent offenses are murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Part I property offenses are burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Part II offenses are less serious offenses, including simple assault, drug offenses, and weapon offenses. In 1992, the FBI began reporting information on hate crimes. It also collects the UCR Supplemental Homicide Reports, which are the most reliable, timely data on the extent and nature of homicides.

The usefulness of the UCR as a measure of the “true” amount of victimization is limited, because it overlooks the dark figure of crime; that is, it includes only those crimes reported to and known by law enforcement and reflected in official crime statistics. Agency reporting practices, such as masking problems through manipulating or reporting incomplete crime counts, have also plagued the UCR. Another shortcoming is a lack of information about the victim or the context of the offense.

National Crime Victimization Survey

The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is another source of annual victimization data. Its precursor, the National Crime Survey (NCS), was initiated in 1973 by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Justice Statistics with the goal of surveying a representative sample of members of the nation’s households regarding their victimization. The NCS was renamed in 1992 after an intensive methodological redesign (e.g., question wording changes, addition of new crime types). Further changes in methodology (e.g., a new sample and method of interviewing) in 2006 do not allow its estimates and perhaps subsequent NCVS crime victimization estimates to be compared with previous years’ NCVS estimates.

Housing units are selected through a stratified multistage cluster sampling design. For 3 years and half-years, each household member 12 years and older from selected house units is interviewed. Victimization screen questions are asked and followed by a detailed incident report for each number of times the respondent reports the incident happened over the past 6 months.

Personal crimes include completed and attempted/threatened rape, sexual assault, robbery, simple and aggravated assault, and larceny with and without contract (e.g., pocket picking, purse snatching). Property crimes comprise household burglary, motor vehicle theft, and theft. Because it is a self-report survey, the NCVS does not collect information about homicides.

Among the strengths of the NCVS is the incident-level information that is used to assess the frequency, victim (e.g., sex, race) and incident characteristics (e.g., weapon use, victim-offender relationship, place of occurrence), and consequences of the victimization (e.g., injury, reporting behavior, economic loss). The NCVS collects information about incidents reported and not reported to law enforcement.

Topical supplements are periodically fielded and have included school crime (1989, 1995), workplace victimization (2002), stalking (2006), and identity theft (2008). Like all surveys, memory decay, forward and backward telescoping (i.e., the ability to remember things from the past [backward] or predict the future [forward]), and exaggeration by respondents are possible threats to the validity of the victimization estimates. Frequently victimized individuals, such as the homeless or those institutionalized, are not included in the NCVS.

National Incident-Based Reporting System

Another source of national victimization data is the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). NIBRS is an incident-based reporting system of a wide variety of crimes known to law enforcement. The FBI created NIBRS in 1988 with the purpose of enhancing and improving the UCR to meet law enforcement needs in the 21st century. Like the UCR, participation in NIBRS is voluntary on the part of law enforcement agencies and is not based on a representative sample of crime in the United States.

NIBRS collects information about the nature of the offenses in the incident, characteristics of the victim and offender, types and value of property stolen and recovered, and characteristics of persons arrested in connection with a crime incident. NIBRS has a number of improvements over the UCR. Additional crimes, such as drug offenses, fraud, kidnapping, and prostitution offenses, are included in NIBRS. NIBRS also collects data on the context of the incident, such as information on the relationship between the victim and the offender. NIBRS overcomes the UCR’s limitation of recording only the most serious offense with an incident; NIBRS records each offense within an incident. The complicated nature of the incident report, coupled with the strict guidelines and voluntary participation, has resulted in less than ideal levels of participation from law enforcement agencies.

Patterns and Trends in Victimization Rates

Consistent trends over time are evident from the UCR and NCVS. First, both sources have consistently reported that the annual property crime rate is larger than the violent crime rate. For example, the 2006 UCR reports that there were 3,334.5 property victimizations per 100,000 inhabitants of the United States, compared with 473.5 violent victimizations per 100,000. Second, both sources reported that crime rates have been declining over time. Figure 20.1 shows that the NCVS property crime rates have been steadily declining since 1973. Figure 20.2 shows that, since 1994, violent crime rates have declined, reaching the lowest level ever in 2005. The UCR reported that from 1996 to 2005, the violent crime rate decreased 26.3% and the property crime rate fell 22.9%.

Personal Victimization

The NCVS has consistently reported that assault is the most frequently occurring personal victimization. Of the two types of assault, victims experience approximately three times more simple assaults than aggravated assaults. To illustrate, the 2005 NCVS estimated 13.5 simple assaults per 1,000 persons age 12 and older compared with 4.3 aggravated assaults per 1,000 persons age 12 and older. Robbery was the next most frequent, with 2.6 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older; rape was next at 0.03 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older. Murder was the least frequently occurring crime—an estimated rate of 5.7 per 100,000 inhabitants as reported by the UCR.

Demographic differences in personal victimization rates have also consistently been reported in the NCVS. In 2005, for example, persons of two or more races had the highest rates of violent victimization (83.6 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), followed by blacks (27 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), Hispanics (25 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), whites (20.1 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), and all other races (Native Americans, Native Alaskans, etc.; 13.9 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older).

Males had higher violent victimization rates than females. Males were almost 4 times more likely than females to be murdered in 2005. Males’ violent crime rate was 25.5, compared with females’ rate of 17.1 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older.

Victims of violence tend to be young and less likely to experience a violent victimization as they age. The age group most at risk was the 20-24 age group (46.9 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), followed by the 16-19 group (44.2 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), the 12-15 group (44 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), the 25-34 group (23.6 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), the 35-49 group (17.5 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older), the 50-64 group (11.4 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older) and, finally, the 65-and-older age group (2.4 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older). Interestingly, the relationship between age and victimization is very similar to the relationship between age and crime.

Property Victimization

Theft was the most frequent property victimization to occur in 2005, with 116.2 victimizations per 1,000 households; followed by household burglary, with 29.5 victimizations per 1,000 households; and motor vehicle theft, with 8.4 victimizations per 1,000 households. The overall property victimization rate was 154 per 1,000 households. The NCVS presents victimization information for a number of victim characteristics. As an example, the nature of one’s housing (rent or own) shows that people who rent were victimized more than those who own (192.3 compared with 136.5 victimizations per 1,000 households). The location of the residence is also presented in the NCVS. People living in urban locations experience the most property victimizations (200 per 1,000 households), followed by suburban residents (141.4 per 1,000 households), and then rural residents (125.1 per 1,000 households).

Theories of Victimization

Relative to the field of criminology, which originated around the mid-18th century, victimology is a young field with roots in the late 1940s. Since that time, several generations of scholars have advanced its theoretical beginnings and promoted the reemergence of interest in the victim through a wide range of research questions and methods.

First Generation: Early Victimologists

First-generation scholarly work in victimology proposed victim typologies based on the offender-victim dyad in a criminal act. Common to the ideas of these early victimologists was that each classified victims in regard to the degree to which they had caused their own victimization. These early theoretical reflections pushed the budding field of victimology in a direction that eventually led to a reformulation of the definition of victimization.

Hans Von Hentig

German criminologist Hans Von Hentig (1948) developed a typology of victims based on the degree to which victims contributed to causing the criminal act. Examining the psychological, social, and biological dynamics of the situation, he classified victims into 13 categories depending on their propensity or risk for victimization. His typology included the young, female, old, immigrants, depressed, wanton, tormentor, blocked, exempted, or fighting. His notion that victims contributed to their victimization through their actions and behaviors led to the development of the concept of “victim-blaming” and is seen by many victim advocates as an attempt to assign equal culpability to the victim.

Benjamin Mendelsohn

Benjamin Mendelsohn (1976), an attorney, has often been referred to as the “father” of victimology. Intrigued by the dynamics that take place between victims and offenders, he surveyed both parties during the course of preparing a case for trial. Using these data, he developed a six-category typology of victims based on legal considerations of the degree of a victim’s culpability. This classification ranged from the completely innocent victim (e.g., a child or a completely unconscious person) to the imaginary victim (e.g., persons suffering from mental disorders who believe they are victims).

Marvin E. Wolfgang

The first empirical evidence to support the notion that victims are to some degree responsible for their own victimization was presented by Marvin E. Wolfgang (1958), who analyzed Philadelphia’s police homicide records from 1948 through 1952. He reported that 26% of homicides resulted from victim precipitation. Wolfgang identified three factors common to victim-precipitated homicides: (1) The victim and offender had some prior interpersonal relationship, (2) there was a series of escalating disagreements between the parties, and (3) the victim had consumed alcohol.

Stephen Schafer

Moving from classifying victims on the basis of propensity or risk and yet still focused on the victim – offender relationship, Stephen Schafer’s (1968) typology classifies victims on the basis of their “functional responsibility.” Victims’ dual role was to function so that they did not provoke others to harm them while also preventing such acts. Schafer’s seven-category functional responsibility typology ranged from no victim responsibility (e.g., unrelated victims, those who are biologically weak), to some degree of victim responsibility (e.g., precipitative victims), to total victim responsibility (e.g., self-victimizing).

Menachem Amir

Several years later, Menachem Amir (1971) undertook one of the first studies of rape. On the basis of the details in the Philadelphia police rape records, Amir reported that 19% of all forcible rapes were victim precipitated by such factors as the use of alcohol by both parties; seductive actions by the victim; and the victim’s wearing of revealing clothing, which could tantalize the offender to the point of misreading the victim’s behavior. His work was criticized by the victim’s movement and the feminist movement as blaming the victim.

Second Generation: Theories of Victimization

The second generation of theorists shifted attention from the role of the victim toward an emphasis on a situational approach that focuses on explaining and testing how lifestyles and routine activities of everyday life create opportunities for victimization. The emergence of these two theoretical perspectives is one of the most significant developments in the field of victimology.

Lifestyle Exposure Theory

Using data from the 1972-1974 NCS, Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo (1978) noticed that certain groups of people, namely, young people and males, were more likely to be criminally victimized. They theorized that an individual’s demographics (e.g., age, sex) tended to influence one’s lifestyle, which in turn increased his or her exposure to risk of personal and property victimization. For instance, according to Hindelang et al., one’s sex carries with it certain role expectations and societal constraints; it is how the individual reacts to these influences that determines one’s lifestyle. If females spend more time at home, they would be exposed to fewer risky situations involving strangers and hence experience fewer stranger-committed victimizations.

Using the principle of homogamy, Hindelang et al. (1978) also argued that lifestyles that expose people to a large share of would-be offenders increase one’s risk of being victimized. Homogamy would explain why young persons are more likely to be victimized than older people, because the young are more likely to hang out with other youth, who commit a disproportionate amount of violent and property crimes.

Routine Activities Theory

Cohen and Felson (1979) formulated routine activities theory to explain changes in aggregate direct-contact predatory (e.g., murder, forcible rape, burglary) crime rates in the United States from 1947 through 1974. Routine activities theory posits that the convergence in time and space of a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian provide an opportunity for crimes to occur. The absence of any one of these conditions is sufficient to drastically reduce the risk of criminal opportunity, if not prevent it altogether.

Routine activities theory does not attempt to explain participation in crime but instead focuses on how opportunities for crimes are related to the nature of patterns of routine social interaction, including one’s work, family, and leisure activities. So, for example, if someone spends time in public places such as bars or hanging out on the streets, he or she increases the likelihood of coming into contact with a motivated offender in the absence of a capable guardian. The supply of motivated offenders is taken as a given. What varies is the supply of suitable targets (e.g., lightweight, easy-to-conceal property, such as cell phones and DVD players, or drunk individuals) and capable guardians (e.g., neighbors, police, burglar alarms).

Empirical Support

Researchers commonly have used lifestyle exposure and routine activity theories to test hypotheses about how individuals’ daily routines expose them to victimization risk. These theories have been applied principally to examine opportunities for different types of personal and property victimizations using diverse samples that range from school-age children, to college students, to adults in the general population across the United States and abroad. The data are generally supportive of the theories, although not all studies fully support the theories.

Third Generation: Refinement and Empirical Tests of Opportunity Theories of Victimization_
Researchers’ continued testing of lifestyle exposure and routine activity theories has generated supportive findings and critical thinking that has led to a refining and extension of them. Miethe and Meier (1994) developed an integrated theory of victimization, called structural-choice theory, which attempts to explain both offender motivation and the opportunities for victimization. This further refinement of opportunity theories of victimization was an important contribution to the victimology literature.

One of the first studies of opportunity theories for predatory crimes was conducted by Sampson and Wooldredge (1987), who used data from the 1982 British Crime Survey (BCS). Their findings showed that individual and household characteristics were significant predictors of victimization, as were neighborhood-level characteristics. For example, although age of the head of the household was an important indicator of burglary, the percentage of unemployed persons in the area also predicted burglary. Sampson and Wooldredge’s multilevel opportunity model was among the first to test lifestyle and routine activity theories. Multilevel modeling of lifestyle exposure and routine activity theories continues to draw the attention of scholars seeking to test how both individual characteristics and macrolevel ones—for example, neighborhood characteristics—frame victimization opportunities (see Wilcox, Land, & Hunt, 2003).

Victimization theories have been expanded to examine nonpredatory crimes and “victimless” crimes, such as gambling and prostitution (Felson, 1998), and deviant behavior such as heavy alcohol use and dangerous drinking in young adults (Osgood, Wilson, O’Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996). The theories have also been applied to a wide range of crimes in different social contexts, such as school-based victimization in secondary schools (Augustine, Wilcox, Ousey, & Clayton, 2002), stalking among college students (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000), and even explanations of the link between victimization and offending (Sampson & Lauritsen, 1990). Other scholars have examined how opportunity for victimization is linked to social contexts and different types of locations, such as the workplace (Lynch, 1987), neighborhoods (Lynch & Cantor, 1992), and college campuses (Fisher, Sloan, Cullen, & Lu, 1998).

Fourth Generation: Moving beyond Opportunity Theories

Work by Schreck and his colleagues suggests that antecedents to opportunity, such as low self-control, social bonds, and peer influences, have also been found to be important predictors of violent and property victimization (Schreck, 1999; Schreck & Fisher, 2004; Schreck, Stewart, & Fisher, 2006). Schreck, Wright, and Miller (2002) examined the effects of individual factors (e.g., low self-control, weak social ties to family and school), and situational risk factors (e.g., having delinquent peers, having a lot of unstructured social time) on the risk of victimization.

Recurring Victimization

Distinguishing between Repeat and Multiple Victims

People who experience two or more victimizations have been referred to as recurring victims. A repeat victim is one who experiences the same type of victimization two or more times in a given time frame. For example, if a house is burglarized, and burgled a second time later in the same month, the owner would be considered a repeat victim. A multiple crime type victim, or multiple victim, is one who is victimized by more than one type of offense over a period of time. for example, if someone experienced a personal victimization and a property victimization.

Characteristics of Recurring Victimizations

Studies on the topic of repeat victimization have confirmed that victimization tends to cluster. A growing body of research shows that repeat targets also experience a disproportionate amount of all crime victimizations. Studies that have used samples from the general population, college populations, and youth have reported that a small proportion of property or personal victims—individuals or households—experience a large proportion of all victimization incidents.

Two distinct patterns have emerged from study of the time course of repeat property and personal victimization research. First, if a second incident is going to occur, it is likely to occur relatively quickly after the first incident. Second, there is a period of heightened risk immediately following the occurrence of the prior incident that decreases over time. Studies of burglary, domestic violence, racial attacks, simple assaults, and sexual victimizations have reported these two patterns.

Recurring Victim Typologies and Theories

Much of the early work on recurring victims focused on victim typologies that sought to explain recurring victimization in terms of victim proneness. Similar to the early victimologists, Sparks (1981) developed a typology of repeat victimization that included the following elements: precipitation, facilitation, vulnerability, opportunity, attractiveness, and impunity.

Moving beyond typologies, Farrell, Phillips, and Pease (1995) examined the reasons for why repeat victimization occurs within the context of the offender’s rational choices and routine activities, as well as their decisions to revisit the same targets more than once. In addition to detailing repeat victimization scenarios across a variety of crimes, these authors advanced two important concepts to explain why offenders might be more likely to offend against already victimized targets: (1) risk heterogeneity and (2) state dependence. The idea behind risk heterogeneity is that a victim possesses characteristics that make his or her subsequent victimization more likely—for instance, a house that is continually left unguarded and possesses no preventive devices, such as an alarm. State dependence refers to conditions created by a first victimization that allow for subsequent victimization—for example, the vandalism of a building with graffiti, whereby after the first tagging the target is made more attractive for subsequent taggers.

Lauritsen and Davis Quinet (1995) found support for both the state dependence and heterogeneity arguments in their study of young adults. The heterogeneity argument proposed is one in which persistent characteristics, such as temperament, stay with young people throughout their lives. The state dependence hypothesis, which asserts that a victimization incident changes something about the victim in some way that alters future risks, also was supported.

Hope and colleagues (Hope, Bryan, Trickett, & Osborn, 2001) focused on multiple victimization and reported a link between the risk of becoming a victim of a property crime and the risk of becoming a victim of a personal crime. Outlaw, Ruback, and Britt (2002) determined that individual and contextual factors were important predictors of repeat property, repeat violent, and multiple-type victimizations. Multiple victimizations were driven more by individual characteristics, whereas the repeat property and repeat violent victimizations were predicted by both individual characteristics and neighborhood settings. Perhaps one of the more valuable contributions of this study is the idea that repeat and multiple victimizations are affected by unique processes.

Effects and Consequences of Victimization

Physical Consequences

The physical consequences of victimization are often visible and range in seriousness from bruises and scrapes, to broken bones, to fatal injuries. Other, less foreseeable injuries, such as the threat of sexually transmitted diseases, can also be the result of a victimization incident. Forensic evidence collection can detect physical injury and other useful evidence to support the claim of a crime. For example, a specially trained medical nurse can perform sexual assault forensic examination and document vaginal-anal and oral injury from an alleged rape victim.

Psychological/Emotional and Mental Consequences

Emotional, psychological, and mental consequences of victimization may be less externally obvious but are just as serious as physical injury. Stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders are but a few that crime victims experience. There are distinct mental stages that follow a victimization incident: At first, victims feel shock and fear, and perhaps retreat from society; after this initial feeling of shock begins to subside, victims experience a range of emotions as they begin to readapt to their lives; finally, but with the consequences that victimization carries, victims attempt to reconcile and find a balance to allow them to pick up with their lives and routines where they left off. Persistent mental consequences such as acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance dependency, can occur.

Financial Consequences

The monetary costs of victimization to the victim are at times easy to calculate and at other times impossible to measure. Medical expenses, property losses, lost wages and legal costs are financial consequences that victims and their families must bear. Losses to the victim that are not as easy to estimate a dollar value for, but are nevertheless salient, are pain and suffering, and fear, among others. There are also financial consequences of victimization that society must bear: victim services, witness assistance programs, costs to the criminal justice system, and negative public opinion. In 1996, personal crime was estimated to cost $105 billion annually in medical costs, lost earnings, and public program costs related to victim assistance. The estimated cost jumped to $450 billion annually when the pain, suffering, and reduced quality of life that increased the cost of crime to victims were included (Miller, Cohen, & Wiersema, 1996).

The Victim-Offender Relationship

Victimization by Intimate Partners

The National Violence Against Women Survey comprises two national surveys administered in 1998 and 2000 to measure physical and sexual victimization and stalking in a sample of men and women in the United States. The survey reported that women experience more partner violence than men: 25% of women, compared with 8% of men, reported rape or physical assault in their lifetime. The majority of violence against women is committed by a spouse, former spouse, or other intimate partner: 76% of women who had been raped or assaulted since age 18 had been victimized by an intimate partner, compared with 18% of men. Women, regardless of victimization type, were also more likely than men to be injured during an assault: 32% of women compared with 16% of men. Victims of stalking are most often female, and most of these stalking victims (59%) are stalked by intimate partners, whereas male victims of stalking are most often stalked by strangers or acquaintances (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998).

Victimization by Acquaintances

The NCVS presents data on the victim-offender relationship for certain crimes. A few examples from the NCVS demonstrate the prevalence of victimization by friends or acquaintances. According to 2005 NCVS estimates, male victims of violence were victimized by friends or acquaintances 36% of the time. Similarly, 39% of female victims of violence were victimized by friends or acquaintances. For rape and sexual assault, 38% of female respondents were victimized by friends or acquaintances; there were no recorded incidents of rape or sexual assaults of males by friends or acquaintances. Last, 18% of male and 39% of female victims had experienced robbery by friends or acquaintances.

Victimization by Strangers

The NCVS also provides information on victimization by strangers. As an example, the 2005 NCVS reported that 54% of male victims of violent crimes were victimized by strangers, compared with 34% of female victims. Sampson (1987) studied personal violence and theft by strangers to test an opportunity theory model of predatory victimization by examining how individual and community characteristics affect victimization risk. Violent victimization by strangers was experienced by 3.6% of the sample’s males and 1.1% of the sample’s females; 1% of the females experienced personal theft victimization by strangers, compared with 0.6% of the males. The most significant predictor of stranger victimization was alcohol use by the offender. Both individual and structural variables proved important in studying victimization by strangers, but thus far little research has been devoted to the topic.

Domains of Victimization

Victimization occurs in a variety of domains that modify the risks by altering criminal opportunity structures. Any setting can provide opportunities for different types of victimization.


Characteristics of specific workplaces structure worker routine activities and opportunity structures differently, and some increase employee risk of victimization more so than others. Lynch (1987) analyzed the relationship between worker routine activities and victimization at work. He reported that a person’s routine activities at work, as well as the proximity of the workplace to potential offenders, significantly influenced the risks of worker victimization.


Schools are domains where young people congregate and, as such, provide unique circumstances as an environment for victimization to occur. The 1995 supplement to the NCVS that focused on school victimization reported that 4.2% of the sample reported experiencing a violent victimization at school, and 11.6% had experienced property victimization. Because young people disproportionately represent both victims and/or offenders, routine activities theory would suggest that schools are places where victimization is likely to occur when guardianship is low. Astor, Meyer, and Behre (1999) found this to be the case—school areas such as parking lots, dining areas, and hallways were considered “unowned” by teachers and staff and were the locations where violence was most likely to occur.

College and University Campuses

College campuses are not ivory towers where students are insulated from risks of victimization but instead are another domain for victimization (Fisher et al., 1998). Although on-campus victimization of students is far from commonplace, for some types of crimes, such as property theft, college students are more at risk of victimization on campus than they would be off campus. Consistent with routine activities theory, Fisher et al. (2000) found that exposure to risky situations, in conjunction with a lack of guardianship and proximity to motivated offenders, placed college women at higher risk of being a victim of stalking. Women who lived alone had significantly higher odds of being stalked than women who did not live alone.

Places of Leisure

Places of leisure—bars and taverns, football stadiums, movie theaters, beaches, and many other places where strangers congregate that have domain-specific characteristics that dictate routine activities and behavior within that setting—are often domains of victimization. Roncek and Maier (1991) concluded that the number of bars and taverns had a significant positive impact on area crime. For example, assaults and robberies are almost 20% more likely to occur on blocks with bars or taverns than on those without such establishments. Patrons of these businesses may be more susceptible to having their property stolen if they are impaired by alcohol, may be more likely to get into a barroom brawl, or may be more vulnerable to hustlers.

Victims’ Rights

Over the last two decades, the victim has begun to take a much more prominent role in the criminal justice process. One achievement is the victim impact statement (VIS), which is a way for the victim to communicate to the court what impact the victimization has had upon his or her life. The VIS is an opportunity for victims to describe emotional and financial costs they have incurred and voice their opinion as to what the appropriate punishment should be. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court first addressed the issue of the VIS in capital cases. In the case of Booth v. Maryland, the court ruled that a VIS could not be shown to a jury in a capital case; in 1991, in the case of Payne v. Tennessee, the court reversed this decision to allow jurors to consider the VIS in its decision making.

There have been unsuccessful attempts to add a Victims’ Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to guarantee victims certain rights as victims participate in the criminal justice system. Amendments to state constitutions to include Victims’ Rights Amendments have, however, been successful, with 33 states having such amendments. There has also been victims’ rights legislation passed at federal and state levels since 1974, such as the 1996 Community Notification Act, also known as Megan’s Law, requiring sex offender registration and community notification; the 2003 launch of the Amber Alert system; and the 2004 Justice for All Act, which grants rights to crime victims.

Victim Assistance

Victim assistance takes a wide variety of forms, from large federal government programs to smaller, grassroots efforts. Crime victim compensation programs exist in every state. The eligibility requirement varies across states, but examples of covered costs include medical and mental health expenses; lost wages; and in homicide cases, funeral expenses and loss of support for families. The enactment of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984 established the Crime Victims Fund, which allows state compensation programs to receive federal funding. Passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 secured federal monies for criminal and civil remedies for domestic violence.

The civil courts are an arena in which victims can take action against offenders in an effort to recover damages for their losses. One type of victim assistance mandated by the courts is restitution: the process by which offenders pay back damages to the victim for the injuries received as a result of their victimization. A counterpart to restitution is victim compensation, in which case the state rather than the offender pays the victim for their losses.

Another avenue of assistance available to victims involves emergency aid, such as medical resources and treatment, a national telephone 24-hour crisis hotline where crime victims can obtain advice from trained specialists, and emergency protection or restraining orders. Counseling and advocacy, both shortand long term, and self-help groups are also available to victims.

Throughout the criminal justice process, there are many opportunities for victim assistance. During a criminal investigation, court advocates support victim’s rights, and notification of pretrial release of the accused or input into the bond release decisions can be among the services offered to victims. During prosecution, orientation to the criminal justice system can be offered to the victim, as can consultation in plea bargains, accompaniment to court, and employer intervention services. At sentencing, victims can be notified as to their right to submit a VIS. Postdisposition, the victim can be notified of the court’s decision, submit a VIS for parole hearings, and receive notification of the status of the convicted person.

Peacemaking circles, whereby victim, offender, and their respective support systems and families meet to discuss what happened and how to restore the victim to his or her previctimization position, also have been used.

Comparative and International Victimology

Comparative Victimology

The study of victimology in the United States is generally considered to be narrower in scope compared with the broader nature of victimizations on which many scholars in the international community focus. Around the globe, there are serious forms of personal victimization on which researchers, policymakers, and advocates focus, including terrorism, war crimes, genocide, and femicide (the systematic killing of women). Other international offenses, such as cybercrime and human trafficking, frequently cross the borders of different countries.

International Sources of Victimization Data

Many countries across the globe measure victimization within their borders. Organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization contribute to our understanding of victims and their plight. Two sources of international victimization data—the BCS and the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS)—are among the most widely known.

British Crime Survey

The BCS is a nationally representative survey of residents of England and Wales that measures victimization, levels of crime, public fear of crime, and other criminal justice issues from year to year. Begun in 1982, the BCS is conducted by the British Market Research Bureau Limited on behalf of the Home Office. The survey was first administered in 1982 and included Scotland, which has since adopted its own crime survey, the Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey. The BCS was also administered in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, and has since been conducted every year.

One household resident age 16 or older from selection households is interviewed about victimizations he or she has experienced in the year prior, as well as detailed information about each incident (e.g., victim-offender relationship). Topics within the BCS include fear of crime, workplace victimization, and illegal drug use. Trends in the BCS indicate that overall victimization in England and Wales peaked in 1995 and has since declined to BCS launch levels (1982; Jansson, 2008).

International Crime Victims Survey

The ICVS is designed to measure victimization experiences and other crime-related subjects across the globe, with 30 countries participating in the latest wave and a total of 78 countries participating across the life of the survey. The ICVS was first administered in 1989 and was subsequently administered in 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2005; it is scheduled again for 2009.

One of the goals of the ICVS is to allow for international comparisons of crime and victimization across countries. Official statistics cannot be easily used, because legal definitions of crimes vary across countries and because so much crime is never known to authorities. The ICVS collects information on a variety of crimes, including theft of cars, theft from cars, motorcycle theft, bicycle theft, burglary, personal larceny, robbery, sexual offenses, assaults and threats, consumer fraud, corruption, hate crimes, and drug-related crimes. Overall victimization trends indicate a peak in victimizations in the mid-1990s and a decline since (Van Dijk, 2008).

International Violence Against Women Survey

The International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS) was developed to research the victimization of women around the world, in particular in developing countries. The IVAWS generates estimates of violence perpetrated by men against women, including physical assault; sexual assault; psychological/emotional abuse; and other crimes, such as human trafficking, femicide, and female infanticide. The IVAWS also measures the impact of violence on women and the steps taken after victimization to seek help. The survey methodology was developed on the basis of the one used by the ICVS with the goal of making international comparisons of the prevalence and risk factors of violence against women. Methodological issues include cultural differences between countries, translation issues, interviewing methods, and subjectivity (e.g., what is a sexual assault in one country may not be considered as such in another country). Data were collected from 2003 through 2004 in 11 countries, including Australia, Costa Rica, Italy, the Philippines, and Poland (Johnson, Ollus, & Nevala, 2007).

World Crime

Risks of violent victimization around the world are clustered among countries within certain regions of the globe. Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and eastern Europe have the highest homicide rates in the world. On the basis of information from 110 countries, the countries in which one is most at risk for homicide are Swaziland, Colombia, and South Africa, with the lowest risks being enjoyed by Myanmar, Cyprus, Morocco, and Israel (Van Dijk, 2008). Compared with other countries, the United States is in the middle range for homicide risks, but if only developed nations are examined, it quickly rises to the top of the list.

For the crime of assault, the most dangerous region is Africa, with North America and Oceania (Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia) as distant contenders. The most risky countries for assault are South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland, with Mexico, the Philippines, and Turkey being the least risky. Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Nigeria, and India are ranked the most risky countries for women to be sexually assaulted, whereas Azerbaijan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines are the least risky. Violence against women by intimate partners is estimated to be the most prevalent in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia (Van Dijk, 2008).

For property crimes, the places in the world that are most at risk are not generally the same as for violent victimization. Car theft occurs most often in England and Wales, New Zealand, and Portugal, with residents of Austria, Japan, and Germany experiencing it the least. Risks of motorcycle theft are highest in Italy, England and Wales, and Japan, and lowest in Mexico, Luxembourg, and Bulgaria. Risks for having one’s bicycle stolen are greatest in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland. Burglary risks are highest in England and Wales, New Zealand, and Mexico and lowest in Sweden, Spain, and Finland. The risk of being a pickpocketing victim is highest in Greece, Estonia, and Ireland and lowest in Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand (Van Dijk, 2008).