It’s all her fault; look how she dressed. It’s all his fault; listen to how he bullied me. It’s all their fault; they should go back to their own country. Heard these before?
How do we as a society begin to approach criminal victimization? Yes, you can walk on well-lit streets, lock your doors, and check under the bed for boogie men, but victimization is rooted deeper than a few occasionally practiced precautionary measures. As such a root and branch look at the theories of victimology is needed before we draw any conclusions.
Theories of Victimology
Let’s start with the father of victomology, Benjamin Mendelsohm who actually coined the term. He first noticed a direct relationship between victimization and the setting; social and environmental. Next, he began identifying victim precipitation, or the degree to which the victim is to blame for the crime.
From the origins of criminal victimization, we begin with blaming the offended. No wonder the opening phrases still resonate. This is similar to the Theory of Neutralization developed by Sykes and Matza.
Their thoughts were people justified or minimized their own criminal behavior for the purpose of victimizing others. Criminals felt that because they were victims of illegitimate circumstance, it was okay to also become victimizers.
The Theory of Neutralization and Mendelsohm’s precipitation lacks a core tenet of taking personal responsibility. Maybe these two theorist were on to something. Let’s couple their work with Emile Durkheim’s Normality of Crime stating that a certain level of social crime is natural and will always exist.
Next, add a bit of Feldman & Cohen’s Routine Activity Theory showing crime is normal and dependent upon three elements converging in time and space; 1) a motivated offender, 2) suitable victim and 3) absence of capable guardian.
The foundational fathers of crime theory and victimization seem to think she deserves what she got, because after all; look what she was wearing. Of course, I’m only making a point. Unfortunately, there is a depersonalization side of the victimization coin. It’s not as convenient blaming the victimizers because they are deviant malcontents or psychologically ill-adjusted.
Ecology of Victimization
Researchers also blame the ecology of crime. There must be something about “place” for sustaining criminal activity leading to victimization. Shaw and McKay’s Social Disorganization Theory explains that although one type of persons (immigrants for their purpose) move into an area and victimize it, even after they vacating, the next incoming group also victimizes.
Let’s move away from the theoretical side of crime victimization and look at the reality. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) administers the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). This survey began in 1973, and continues providing an annually, reliable insight on the true impact of crime.
While the Department of Justice attempts to collect national crime data using the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), the victimization survey is thought to be a more accurate and comprehensive collection of crime.
It is believed only 41% of all crimes are reported to the police. Some of the reasons provided are that people do not wish to bother the police and the feel their crime is not important for reporting. Some people fear apprehension themselves by calling law enforcement. Most unfortunate, is that some people feel the police just do not care about their victimization, and refuse to report it.
Looking at the NCVS begins to scrape away the theory and demonstrates the personal, individual effects of criminal victimization. Similar to Starks, Shaw & McKay’s ecology of crime; race, gender and age are also major categories for exploring who is being victimized and where.
A brief look at the BJS report for 2011 highlights the violent crime rate was up by 17%, and property crime increased 11% since 2010. Other notable numbers relative to individuals being victimized or victimizing include:
- Domestic violence victimizations increased from 1.1 to 1.4 million
- Violent victimization (not homicides) for whites, Hispanics, younger persons and males account for the majority increase.
- Violent victimizations for ages 12 – 17 rose from 39.9% to 49.0%.
- Total violent victimizations occurred most often in urban areas (27.4 per 1,000) versus suburban areas (20.2 per 1,000.)
For the complete briefing: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=245.
People take various approaches in dealing with fear of victimization and perceptions of crime. For many, perception becomes reality despite the data or efforts of preventative policing. Others try avoiding crime, protecting themselves from victimization and some try preventing victimization by ridding themselves from anything of value. Of course, at what price is human life valued?
Law enforcement attempts reducing the public’s fear of crime and victimization through media outlets, community policing efforts, and programs like Neighborhood Watch. Agencies offer R.A.D. (rape aggression defense) courses, concealed handgun permits, chemical spray training and personal electro muscular disruption devices (Tasers) certifications.
These example empower the individual for reducing chances of victimization by taking personal responsibility for their safety. They may increase their success at risk avoidance by considering environmental precautions including situational awareness, implementing CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) with personal properties, and practicing common sense.
It does not matter how she is dressing, what he is saying, or where they are from. While you cannot control the behaviors of others, you can influence their decision making processes. My final and favorite crime-related theory is the rational choice theory.
Cornish & Clarke claim victimizers are systematic in their actions by reasoning the risk versus the pay-off for committing crime. When you present yourself as a suitable victim, you increase your chances of becoming one. Preparing yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and environmentally projects an aura signaling to the potential offender that the risk of victimizing you is not worth the reward.
Be smart, be strong, be safe.