As the field of criminology evolved, it primarily focused on the criminals, without looking into the victims of crime. However, understanding the role of a victim in a crime has gained scholarly respectability in contemporary times, which has given rise to theories of victimization. These theories focus on the role of a victim in the occurrence of a crime.
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Nevertheless, in the formative stages, victimization theories faced socio-political opposition due to the insinuation that some victims contribute significantly to the occurrence of a crime, and thus they bear the responsibility of the same. This ideology appeared to shift blame to the victim, and thus most criminology scholars opposed such a liberal approach to the subject. However, to understand a crime holistically, the role of a victim could not be overlooked, and this perception heralded the development of victimization theories. This paper explores the major victimization theories and the victims’ responses.
Types of Victimization Theories
Currently, the four major victimization theories include victim precipitation theory, lifestyle theory, deviant place theory, and routine activities theory.
Victim Precipitation Theory
In the late 1950s, Marvin Wolfgang coined the term “victim precipitation” to define the direct role of a victim in the occurrence of a crime (Petherick, 2017). As such, victims are deemed to have provoked or initiated events that ultimately lead to a crime. The precipitation acts can be passive or active. In passive precipitation, a victim may unknowingly exhibit some characteristics that can prompt an attack. In most cases, such precipitation of crimes is a result of power struggles. Therefore, minority groups, sex inequalities and orientations, job status and promotion, love interests, and political activism may be predisposing factors to the precipitation of a crime.
For instance, politician A may feel threatened by the agitation of activist B, because the latter highlights the negative aspects associated with the former. Consequently, the involved politician may resort to silencing the activist through different ways including bodily harm or death in extreme cases. Similarly, an employee may rise quickly through the corporate ranks, thus threatening the place of long-serving workmates, who may respond by committing a crime as a way of countering such threat. Gays, lesbians, and people of different sexual orientations may provoke the occurrence of a crime because they are deemed to violate the belief system of a given community.
On the other hand, inactive precipitation, victims are believed to instigate a crime through their direct actions. Rape among women is one of the controversial arguments of this theory. As such, women who undergo this heinous act are thought to have provoked the rapists through their dressing, being in a relationship, or suggesting consent in one way or another. As such, it becomes difficult to convict an accused rapist if he has been in a relationship with the victim. This theory emphasizes the need to look into the ecology of a crime together with the demographic characteristics of the victims and accused perpetrators.
In both active and passive precipitation, there is a clear link showing that victims contribute somehow to the ultimate victimization leading to the occurrence of a crime. However, in some cases, it is difficult to establish the role of a victim in a crime due to incomplete information or lack of it thereof. For instance, in murder cases, it may be hard to establish whether the victim provoked the offender due to the lack of corroborating evidence from both sides. However, in homicide cases whereby the person who becomes a victim or an offender is a matter of chance, this theory is applicable (Muftic & Hunt, 2013). In summary, the precipitation theory emphasizes that victims of a crime have a role to play especially by provoking the offender.
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In 1978, three scholars, Michael Hindelang, Michael Gottfredson, and James Garofalo, developed the lifestyle-exposure theory of victimization (McNeeley & Stutzenberger, 2013). According to this theory, victims are exposed to crimes based on their lifestyle choices. Therefore, an individual’s lifestyle plays a critical role in determining the risk of exposure to a crime or victimization. In this context, lifestyle is taken to cover all routine daily activities whether vocational or leisure.
The assumption underlying this theory is that people’s activities naturally bring them closer or into contact with crime. As such, if someone remains indoors, the probability of him or her encountering a crime reduces. On the other hand, spending time in public spaces increases the chances of being a victim of crime. For example, going out alone at night exposes someone to victimization. Similarly, associating with known felons or keeping the wrong company increases the probability of being victimized in the occurrence of crime (Rokven, de Boer, Tolsma, & Ruiter, 2017).
Lifestyle differences are socially influenced by people’s collective responses to different role expectations. As such, achieved and attributed status characteristics, such as age, gender, occupation, marital status, levels of income, and race, play an important role in predatory crimes. These status attributes create structures through which one’s behavior is enabled or constrained. For instance, males are likely to be victims of crime because their gender roles demand that they spend more time in public spaces, as compared to their female counterparts. On the other hand, women may spend more time at home or in safer places as compared to males.
Consequently, the probability of women becoming victims of crime is lower than that of men. The aspect of gender also determines the nature of crimes that different people are exposed to as victims. For example, women are highly likely to suffer sexual abuse as opposed to males because of gender. Age also is an important factor in this theory, as youths are more likely to be victims of crime compared to the aged. Similarly, low-income levels may constrain someone from moving away from crime-prone areas, and thus he or she is highly exposed to being a victim of crime. The lifestyle-exposure approach also theorizes that victims share common traits with perpetrators of crime.
The commonly shared traits are lack of self-control and impulsivity. For instance, an alcoholic person may lack self-control, which exposes him or her to victimization. Likewise, young people are known to be impulsive, and thus their lack of forethought may lead to the making of decisions that expose them to victimization.
The understanding of crime from this theoretical perspective helps policymakers and law enforcers to come up with ways of educating the masses on how to avoid becoming victims of criminal activities. The nature of a crime that is likely to occur can also be established and the prone individuals advised accordingly.
Routine Activity Theory
The routine activity theory has many common characteristics with the lifestyle-exposure theory. They both explore the role of routine patterns or lifestyles in creating an opportunity for the occurrence of a crime. The routine activity theory holds that for a crime to occur, three conditions must be met, viz. the availability of desirable targets, the presence of willing offenders, and the absence of capable guardians (Pratt & Turanovic, 2015).
The confluence of these three factors at the right time facilitates the occurrence of a crime, and thus the targets that are caught in the process become victims. Therefore, the lack of any of these conditions will be enough to deter the occurrence of criminal activity. Based on this argument, the rate of a given crime may go up even in the absence of a proportionate increase in the number of willing offenders. If there is an increase in the number of attractive and unguarded targets, the existing willing offenders can commit multiple crimes because the opportunity has been presented to them. For instance, crime rates may increase even with decreasing economic inequality, racial segregation, and unemployment, which are deemed to foster criminality at the time.
The routine activity theory explains this phenomenon, which seems to baffle the conventional criminal theories of cause and effect. Likewise, children are likely to become victims of sexual abuse from pedophiles when left unattended by their parents or guardians. In such a scenario, children (targets), without the watch of their parents (absence of a guardian) are exposed to pedophiles (motivated offenders) and the confluence of these three aspects creates a fertile ground for the occurrence of a child sexual abuse (a crime).
Human beings exist in ecological niches and predatory crimes thrive in such places as the perpetrators endeavor to meet their needs at the expense of other individuals. Therefore, if someone alters his or her routine activities, predatory crime is unlikely to occur. This understanding forms the premise that routine activities of victims can encourage or deter the occurrence of a crime. For instance, burglars are attracted to portable and high resale value items such as jewelry, cash, and electronics. Similarly, manufacturing changes affecting the demand for expensive durable goods will have a proportionate effect on the rate of crime.
However, increased security measures taken by owners of such goods will decrease the rate of crime by cutting off access to the crime targets for would-be perpetrators. Therefore, the best way to control crime under this theoretical framework is to remove one of the enabling conditions. For example, in the case of child abuse discussed earlier, the presence of watchful parents or guardians will deter pedophiles from executing their criminal activities.
Deviant Place Theory
This theory explores the other side of the victim precipitation theory whereby individuals are exposed to crime not because of their actions, but by virtue of being in a certain place. Being exposed to dangerous places, such as crime-prone areas, increases the probability of becoming a victim of criminal activity. This assertion holds because the probability of coming into contact with offenders in crime-prone areas is high as opposed to being in low-crime areas. Individuals from minority groups are likely to be exposed to crime and fall victims because they live in low-level income neighborhoods where criminal activities are likely to occur.
For example, people living in Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, and Birmingham, Alabama where crime rates are over 1500 per 100,000 residents, are more likely to be victims of crime as compared to their counterparts in Naperville, Thousand Oaks, and Glendale where crime rates are lower (Oliveira, Bastos-Filho, & Menezes, 2017). However, even within high-crime areas, some places are more dangerous as compared to others.
For instance, people in bars, convenience stores, or apartment complexes are highly likely to become victims of crime because such places are attractive to offenders. Additionally, some places offer easy targets for criminal activities and they have a reduced capacity to ensure social control and order. Similarly, other places, such as restaurants, transportation terminals, and schools, attract a high number of strangers, and thus the vulnerability of becoming a victim of a crime increases profoundly.
Unfortunately, taking personal precautions in crime-prone areas may not have significant outcomes because place, as opposed to lifestyle, exposes someone to being a victim of crime. While proximity to crime increases the probability of becoming a crime victim exponentially, other factors are also attributed to the phenomenon. For instance, isolated buildings or structures with multiple entries are highly exposed to burglary incidences.
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In the light of this understanding, it suffices to conclude that the best way to avoid becoming a victim of criminal activities under this theory is to stay away from crime-prone areas. However, some individuals do not have the privilege of choosing where to stay due to economic constraints. The best that one can do is to be watchful and take personal precautionary measures, albeit as argued earlier, this strategy may not contribute significantly to deterring criminals from executing their goals.
Response to Victimization
When a crime occurs, the victim is likely to have attitudinal change and become worried about the recurrence of the same in the future. Victimization has long-term impacts on the lives of the affected individuals. For instance, the consequences of sexual abuse may be life-long if not addressed comprehensively. Victims of different crimes may resort to social seclusion for fear of being retargeted. In some cases, victims of a crime may start perpetrating the same crimes as a way of revenge, which creates a vicious cycle of lawlessness.
Therefore, while addressing crime from the victimization theoretical framework, it is important to understand the impacts that it may have on the victims. However, in some cases, victims may not understand the implications of a crime when it happens. For instance, women raped by their husbands may not perceive themselves as victims, and thus they may not report the crime.
The problem with victimization theories is the suggestion that victims play an important role in the occurrence of a crime. When a criminal activity takes place, victims expect to get justice from the judicial process. However, insinuating that victims provoked the offenders may be demoralizing. Consequently, victims of certain crimes may not report them to the relevant authorities for the fear of being blamed. Therefore, when understanding crime from the victimization theory, it is important to avoid secondary victimization where victims are accused unnecessarily.
Criminology mainly focused on the role of criminals in the occurrence of crime. However, as the field evolved, victimization theories emerged to articulate the important role of victims in facilitating or deterring criminal activities. The main theories of victimization include victim perception, lifestyle exposure, routine activity, and deviant place theories. These conceptions highlight the different ways through which victims of crime contribute to its occurrence. However, these theories may force victims of crime not to report such cases, as they fear being blamed as perpetrators of the same. Therefore, it is important to ensure that victims of crime get justice without unnecessary accusations.
McNeeley, S., & Stutzenberger, A. (2013) Victimization, risk perception, and the desire to move. Victims & Offenders, 8(4), 446-464.
Muftic, L. R., & Hunt, D. E. (2013). Victim precipitation further understanding the linkage between victimization and offending in homicide. Homicide Studies, 17(3), 239-254.
Oliveira, M., Bastos-Filho, C., & Menezes, R. (2017). The scaling of crime concentration in cities. PLoS ONE, 12(8), 1-13. Web.
Petherick, W. (2017). Victim precipitation: Why we need to expand upon the theory. Forensic Research & Criminology International Journal, 5(2), 1-3. Web.
Pratt, T. C., & Turanovic, J. J. (2015). Lifestyle and routine activity theories revisited: The importance of “risk” to the study of victimization. Victims & Offenders, 11(3), 335-354.
Rokven, J. J., de Boer, G., Tolsma, J., & Ruiter, S. (2017). How friends’ involvement in crime affects the risk of offending and victimization. European Journal of Criminology, 14(6), 697-719.