Crime victimization theories abound given that crime, victimization and the motivation for criminal activity are complex and often poorly understood, despite ongoing research by mental health, sociological and criminal justice professionals. Research has brought some of the factors into focus, but has failed as of yet, to determine what causes one person to cross over into criminal activity and why a particular person is chosen as a victim over another.
Understanding the complex factors in perceived social status as it relates to victimization has yet to be thoroughly researched and due to challenges in crime reporting, variations in categorizing criminal activity consistently, as well as bias in conducting research, much more needs to be done to address these issues.
Crime Victimization Theories Abound
Challenges to Understanding Victimization
Part of the issue of research bias involves focusing on a particular characteristic, such as race, socioeconomic status or of a particular type of weapon, while excluding behavioral, lifestyle or other factors that influence criminal activity and likelihood of victimization. Political, racial or other bias negatively impacts a researcher’s ability to fully appreciate the entire spectrum of factors that influence crime and victimization. A great example is focusing on the comparison of crimes against white victims versus black victims, without considering lifestyle differences, familial structure and psychological or cultural differences.
Another common bias is focusing on firearms, rather than the factors that led to the choice to victimize others, a desire to commit mass murder can just as easily be committed with a vehicle, explosives or arson. Rather than looking at lifestyle choices, socioeconomic and educational factors, the emphasis is placed on narrow parameters that exclude additional critical influences in victimization.
Another factor in understanding victimization is obtaining accurate, complete data with regards to both victimization and the underlying factors leading up to, during and after the criminal incident. In an effort to improve data gathering, the federal government has improved, though not perfected standardization of crime categorizing, criminal and victim demographics within the law enforcement community.
The increase in the criminal activity on college campuses, along with incidents ofintentional suppression of reporting, criminal activity to protect a particular college reputation, a key person or program valued by the college has led the federal government to increase penalties against colleges for failing to fully record and report incidents of criminal activity in relation to the populations they are responsible for. Simply recording the type of crime, minimal external data on victim and perpetrator and the location is insufficient to fully understand crime and victimization.
Additional Factors to Consider in Victimization
When assessing a person’s likelihood of being victimized, factors that should be considered include situational awareness, decision making skills, self-image, views of human nature and society as a whole, previous victimization and social interaction skills. In considering these factors, attention should be given to risk oriented versus safety oriented lifestyles, a person’s social support network or isolation and proximity to socially deviant behaviors or groups.
Drug, alcohol and sexual activity further influence and are related to a person’s ability to cope with stress, manage situational awareness and develop or maintain a healthy mental state. This in turn influences whether a person will submit to abuse, advocate for themselves and respond to attempts to victimize them. Perhaps most importantly, a person’s ability to perceive a potential threat before victimization occurs will provide important information on a person’s likelihood of being selected for victimization. A recent study of elderly victims of con artists suggested that changes in aging brains reduce the capacity to recognize suspicious behavior. This may turn out to be an important factor in selection for victimization.
My Field Experience
In my experience as a patrol deputy, I have observed that some victims are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and could have done nothing to change the outcome. An example of this is getting caught in the crossfire of a drive by shooting, mass murders at gun free zones, such as malls or schools when the victim has no prior contact with the murderer and similar incidents of crimes of opportunity in which the victim could not have observed threat indicators in time to escape victimization.
In most instances, however, I have observed that many crime victims are unaware of their surroundings, great examples being absorbed in cell phone conversations and texting, wearing headphones or simply being lost in thought. Some victims engage in risky behavior, including drinking, drug abuse, “hooking up” with strangers or giving complete trust in people without verifying their trustworthiness. Sadly, some victims, particularly domestic violence or child abuse victims frequently display such low self-esteem and respect for themselves that victimization to them seems a normal, foregone conclusion to their daily existence. Some victims engage in criminal activity themselves and are targeted as a result.
Additionally, I have observed that some people are capable of learning from simply hearing of the experiences of people they’ve never met and tend to implement those lessons into their daily lives and behaviors. Others will learn from the experiences of someone they know that was victimized, which seems to bring home the possibility that they could be victimized.
Then there are others who seem to be incapable of comprehending a threat to themselves until they are actually victimized, at which time they often fail to understand the process of their victimization, i.e. blaming the weapon, instead of the fact that an incident was due to mental illness, their own behavioral or lifestyle choices or the choices made by the perpetrator.
In narrowing the view on victimization to socioeconomic factors, the type of crime committed influences victim selection and a multitude of factors unrelated to status affects actual selection as a victim. A wealthy, high status individual will be targeted by a different type of criminal than will a poor or otherwise socially disadvantaged individual. To compare, a higher status individual may be targeted for the higher monetary payoff, fears over damage to status or reputation, whereas a criminal targeting lower socioeconomic groups may count on fears of reporting crimes to police, for example, a person that is fearful of police due to previous crimes or illegal entrance into the country.
From my observations, socioeconomic background, in and of itself, did not lead to victimization, rather inattention or appearances of carelessness, such as lifestyle choices involving potential risk or neglecting general security awareness, such as unlocked doors or windows or alarms not set, were a greater factor in being chosen as a victim.
Recommendations for Campus Security
While research is far from complete in understanding the dynamics of victimization and criminal behavior, there are things that can be done to minimize and mitigate the risk to becoming a victim. Organizations like the NRA, who have developed the program “Refuse to be a Victim” are a great resource to tap into to help educate students on situational awareness and other crime prevention tactics.
In observing the student population, campus security should watch for students at risk for both criminal activity, as well as victimization. Often, those behaviors intersect, such as social awkwardness, withdrawal, high risk behavior such as binge drinking, travelling alone especially after dark, social support systems or lack and general adjustment issues frequently faced by college students. Coordinating with mental health personnel, as well as teaching professionals to identify student risk in both victimization and criminal issues can provide opportunities for a more proactive approach in preventing both victimization and criminal activity.Finally, gathering as much data as possible on victims and perpetrators in compliance with federal crime information and research will assist in identifying in the future, additional factors that may help further reduce potential victimization on college campuses.
Does socioeconomic status contribute to victimization or do other factors have a greater influence? What do you see as the most important factor in being targeted for criminal activity? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.