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Theories of Victimization

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The greatest predictor of becoming a victim in the future is if a person was a victim in the past. For example, if a person was sexually molested as a child, it’s likely that person will become a victim of rape as an adult. David Finkelhor and Nancy Asigian suggest three types of characteristics increase a person’s potential for victimization: Target Vulnerability, Target Gratifiability, and Target Antagonism. Target Vulnerability says someone with a physical disability or psychological distress would make that person incapable of resisting or deterring crime, which makes the victim an easy target. Target Gratifiability explains having attractive possessions, such as a certain quality, skill, or attribute that an offender wants, makes them vulnerable to predatory crime. Target Antagonism describes some characteristics, such as being gay, argumentative, or an alcoholic, may increase the risk of victimization because they “…arouse anger, jealousy, or destructive impulses in some offenders.” (Siegel, pg.89)

Furthermore, some important characteristics that distinguish victims are gender, age, social status, and race. For example, males are more likely than females to suffer from violent crimes, except for rape and sexual assault. In addition, men were two times more likely than women to experience aggravated assault and robbery, while women were six times more likely than men to experience rape and sexual assault. (Siegel, pg.86) Moreover, younger people face a greater risk of victimization than the elderly. Victimization declines rapidly after the age of twenty-five. In addition, the least affluent (poor) are more likely to be victims of violent crimes and the most affluent (wealthy) are more likely to be targets of personal theft.

Moreover, “…although crime – especially violent crime – is a serious problem in the poorest inner-city neighborhoods, most of these crimes are committed by a few hard-core offenders; the majority of the people who live in poor communities have no criminal records at all.” (Macionis, pg.209) Also, blacks are five times more likely than whites to be victims of violent crimes. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that blacks represent 12.3 percent of the United States population but 31.0 percent of arrests for property crimes and 37.8 percent of arrests for violent crimes.

There are four major theories of victimization. These theories discuss how victims and victimization are key focuses in the study of crime. They all share many of the same assumptions and strengths dealing with crime and its victims. The four theories are victim precipitation, lifestyle, deviant place, and routine activities.

Victim precipitation theory assumes victims trigger criminal acts by their provocative behavior. This theory states that the victim initiates the confrontation, which eventually leads to a crime. Victim precipitation can be either passive or active. Active precipitation occurs when the victim is the first to attack or encourages the criminal by their actions. Passive precipitation can occur due to personal conflict or when the victim unknowingly threatens or provokes the attacker. A strength for this particular theory is it explains multiple victimizations. Furthermore, “if people precipitate crime, it follows that they will become repeat victims if their behavior persists over time.” (Seigel, pg.100)

Lifestyle theory argues certain life-styles increase one’s exposure to criminal offenses and increases the risk of victimization. For example, increased risk of victimization would include: a person who is single, associated with younger men, living in an urban area, and going to public places late at night. In addition, victimization risk is increased when people have a high-risk lifestyle, such as drinking, taking drugs, or getting involved in criminal activities. Furthermore, “night time activities in particular can bring the individual into contact with crime, or may merely increase the risk of crime that victims experience.” (Mesch, pg.50) This theory explains victimization patterns in the social structure. For example, “males, young people, and the poor have high victimization rates because they have a higher-risk lifestyle than females, the elderly, and the affluent.” (Siegel, pg.100) Lifestyle theory assumes these high-risk activities make people suitable targets for crime.

Deviant place theory discusses the fact that crime flourishes in certain places and the odds of victimization increase when people live in the high-crime areas. The homeless, retarded, and the elderly poor are easy targets for crime. Furthermore, the victim’s behavior and lifestyle have little effect on the criminal act. Larry Siegel describes a deviant place as, “poor, densely populated, highly transient neighborhoods in which commercial and residential property exist side by side.” (pg.92).

Routine activities theory reflects on three different variables: the availability of suitable targets, the absence of guardians, and the presence of motivated offenders. Routine activities theory explains that there is a pool of motivated offenders and these offenders will take advantage of unguarded, suitable targets. Due to routine activities, the victim is making one’s self-available for the criminal act. A strength to this theory is it “can explain crime rates and trends” and it “shows how victim behavior can influence criminal opportunity.” (Siegel, pg.100)

These theories all confer that the victims place themselves in the life of crime. Whether it is the place they live; the activities they partake in; or the peers they associate with; it is the victim that seeks out the attacker. These theories assume the criminal does not initiate the crime, but it is the victim. There are a number of circumstances within each theory that portray the victim as encouraging the crime by their behavior. They all presume that persons living arrangement or daily activities can impinge on victim risk, and that if a person’s lifestyle is to be altered they can reduce the likelihood of victimization.

Ted Bundy is an example in which the routine activities theory of victimization may apply. Eric Hinkey explains, “…involvement of victims of serial murder in their own victimization may be best determined by the degree of facilitation created by the victim, or the degree to which the victim had placed him- or herself in a vulnerable situation.” (pg.87) Bundy was known to seek young girls with long brown hair. Bundy would pretend his arm was broken to lure these girls to his car take them away from their comforting surroundings. He would then brutally rape and murder the young women. These women were suitable targets, in the absence of capable guardians (i.e. police), and in the presence of a motivated offender.

Another example in which theories of victimization apply is the green river serial murders. The girls found in the river had one thing in common; they were all prostitutes. Lifestyle theory explains that certain lifestyles, such as prostitution, have a greater risk for victimization. Unfortunately, the serial killer has never been identified so no one knows if he directed his aggression at prostitutes. If so, this would be an example of passive precipitation theory. The prostitutes unknowingly provoked the killer because of their profession.

In my opinion, I believe the victimization theories oppress the fact that the criminal is responsible for the crime. I do not believe that a person’s behavior is the direct result for becoming a victim of crime. I feel when one commits a crime, they have an alternative, and if they choose to participate in a criminal act, I don’t feel it is the fault of the victim. Victims can take many pre-cautions in life and in their actions; nevertheless, crime is so often an unavoidable act.

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