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Criminology Victimization Patterns and Trends
by
Janet Lauritsen

Introduction

Key insights about crime have been derived from the study of victimization patterns and trends that are based on data gathered from victims rather than police records. Such insights were made possible by the development of population-based victimization surveys in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Survey data allow researchers to assess individuals’ and households’ risks for various types of crime. The availability of victim survey data also permits a better understanding of the nature and consequences of crime because there is much more information about the experience. The study of victimization patterns typically involves assessments of the relationships between individual, family, and community characteristics regarding the risk for property or violent crime victimization. Trends in crime based on survey data are often studied in conjunction with trends derived from police records because most crime does not come to the attention of the police, and because police departments may not record all incidents that come to their attention or participate in national police reporting systems. Lynch and Addington 2007 (see General Overviews) provides a detailed comparison of police-based crime trends and survey-based victimization trends. Although many countries have conducted a victimization survey at least once, only a handful of countries (such as the United States and Great Britain) conduct such surveys regularly.

General Overviews

General sources of information about victimization patterns and trends are maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States and the Home Office in Great Britain (see Nicholas, et al. 2008 for the most recent report). In the United States, the Bureau of Justice Statistics website has a page titled Criminal Victimization, which provides up-to-date descriptive information about victimization patterns and trends according to crime type and selected victim characteristics derived from National Crime Victimization Survey data, as well as some information about victims derived from homicide records. The annual victimization reports issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Criminal victimization in the United States—statistical tables) are considered standard reference material for research on US victimization trends. The amount of detail on victimization patterns and trends varies greatly across countries. However, the United Nations has recently developed a summary of all known national victimization surveys gathered worldwide, the UNODC-UNECE Manual on Victim Surveys), which includes basic information on some victimization patterns. Comparisons of victimization rates across multiple countries based on the International Crime Victims Survey can be found in Dijk, et al. 2008. Research on victimization patterns and correlates has been much more extensive than studies of trends because it is only recently that enough data have been gathered to produce trend information. A general introduction to the insights gained from the study of victimization patterns can be found in Gottfredson 1986. A broad assessment of violent victimization correlates and their relationship to various individual, situational, and community factors can be found in Sampson and Lauritsen 1994. Lynch and Addington 2007 provides a detailed comparison of police-based crime trends and survey-based victimization trends. General assessments of victimization patterns and correlates are not often updated because the data suggest that the basic patterns change very slowly over time. In addition, the study of victimization patterns is often specialized according to type of crime or victim. In particular, the victimization of children and women tends to be studied separately from other forms of criminal victimization, and, as such, each has its own specialized literature and theories.

  • Dijk, Jan van, John van Kesteren, and Paul Smit. 2008. Criminal victimisation in international perspective: Key findings from the 2004–2005 ICVS and EU ICS. The Hague, The Netherlands: Boom Juridische Uitgevers.

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    Offers detailed descriptions of victimization patterns and some trend data for the European Union and various other countries, based on the most recent administration of the International Crime Victims Survey. The International Crime Victims Survey has been conducted several times and provides the only data permitting direct comparisons of victimization patterns across countries.

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  • Gottfredson, Michael. 1986. Substantive contributions of victimization surveys. In Crime and justice: An annual review of research, Vol. 7. Edited by Michael Tonry and Norval Morris, 251–287. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Provides one of the first summaries of the importance of studying victimization and the development of victim surveys. The insights in this essay continue to be relevant today.

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  • Lynch, James P., and Lynn A. Addington, eds. 2007. Understanding crime statistics: Revisiting the divergence of the NCVS and UCR. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A comprehensive edited volume comparing US victimization trends to crime trends depicted in police data. Provides the most complete coverage of the issues surrounding the comparability of the two sources of crime statistics. Although focused on the United States, many of the issues discussed here would be applicable to other countries or geographic locales.

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  • Nicholas, Sian, Chris Kershaw, and Allison Walker, eds. 2008. Crime in England and Wales, 2006/07. Home Office Statistical Bulletin. London: Home Office.

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    Offers detailed descriptions of victimization patterns and trends in England and Wales, based on the most recent administration of the British Crime Survey—one of two long-running victimization surveys in the world.

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  • Sampson, Robert J., and Janet L. Lauritsen. 1994. Violent victimization and offending: Individual-, situational-, and community-level risk factors. In Understanding and preventing violence. Vol. 3, Social influences on violence. Edited by Albert J. Reiss, Jr. and Jeffrey A. Roth, 1–114. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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    Provides a summary of the literature on the individual, situational, and community correlates of violent victimization and offending. Special emphasis is placed on understanding the role of race and ethnic differences in violence and the meaning of correlates at various levels of analysis.

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  • United Nations. 2009. UNODC-UNECE manual on victim surveys.

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    Includes a discussion of survey methods; a presentation of findings; technical details regarding issues such as sampling, data quality, and documentation; and interviewing techniques for all known victimization surveys in the world. Helps decision makers develop or refine their own country’s victimization survey.

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  • US Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Criminal victimization.

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    Includes annual reports summarizing national victimization patterns and recent trends in the United States for violent and property crimes according to victim and incident characteristics using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey and homicide records. These reports are one of the two national sources about crime that are routinely used in annual media coverage.

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    • US Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Criminal victimization in the United States—statistical tables.

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      Includes annual volumes offering extensive detailed descriptions of US victimization patterns by victim, offender, and incident characteristics using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey. They are typically released in electronic form about six to nine months after the initial annual report.

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      Data Sources

      The key sources of information on victimization patterns and trends are self-report victimization surveys. In the United States, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and its predecessor, the National Crime Survey, form the basis for national statistics about victimization. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere participate in the periodic International Crime Victims Survey, while other countries regularly administer their own victimization surveys, such as the British Crime Survey in Great Britain (see Nicholas, et al. 2008, cited in the section General Overviews). Countless additional victimization surveys have been conducted worldwide to obtain further detail about the risk for specific forms of crime—such as violence against women, crimes against children, and victimization at school—as well as the consequences of such crimes. In addition, some data about victimization that comes to the attention of the police is compiled by police agencies, such as the Uniform Crime Reports’ Supplemental Homicide Reports (National Archive of Criminal Justice Data) and the National Incident-based Reporting System in the United States. The Bureau of Justice Statistics maintains a website about homicide victimization trends and patterns derived from the Supplemental Homicide Reports (Homicide Trends in the United States). Injury and death statistics with information about the age, sex, and race and ethnicity of victims are also compiled by public health agencies, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which maintains the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Furthermore, surveys designed to address other topics may also include questions about victimization. This is especially true in delinquency studies, as there is a correlation between involvement in offending and victimization risk. Key sources of national victimization data are listed below.

      Measurement Issues

      An important concern of research on victimization trends and patterns involves the development of valid and reliable measures of various forms of victimization. This is especially true for crimes in which victims may be afraid, embarrassed, or unable to admit to interviewers that they were victimized, as well as for those who experience victimization repeatedly. Issues such as question wording, memory prompts, interviewer-respondent rapport, and method of interview have been studied to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different forms of measurement. General assessments of the measurement of crime victimization can be found in Cantor and Lynch 2000, while Fisher and Cullen 2000 provides a review of the methodologies for measuring sexual crimes. The classic research underlying the US National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) (see Data Sources) is presented in Lehnen and Skogan 1984. A recent assessment of the history of the NCVS and a discussion of issues for the future of the NCVS is found in Groves and Cork 2008. A comparison of NCVS estimates of women’s violence to another important national survey, the National Violence Against Women Survey, is found in Rand and Rennison 2005.

      • Cantor, David, and James P. Lynch. 2000. Self-report surveys as measures of crime and criminal victimization. In Criminal justice 2000. Vol. 4, Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. Edited by David Duffee, 85–138. Washington DC: US Department of Justice.

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        Provides a summary and state-of-the-art review of the strengths and limitations of victimization surveys for measuring criminal victimization. Also includes a description of the history of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) from the 1960s to the present.

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      • Fisher, Bonnie S., and Francis T. Cullen. 2000. Measuring the sexual victimization of women: Evolution, current controversies, and future research. In Criminal justice 2000. Vol. 4, Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. Edited by David Duffee, 318–390. Washington DC: US Department of Justice.

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        Provides a summary and state-of-the-art review of the strengths and limitations of victimization surveys for measuring the sexual victimization of women. Includes a comparison of the different methodological approaches that have been used to study sexual victimization and the effect these approaches have on estimates.

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      • Groves, Robert M., and Daniel L. Cork, eds. 2008. Surveying victims: Options for conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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        Provides a broad assessment of the value of victimization surveys for understanding crime in the United States Describes the methodology of measuring victimization, the strengths and limitations of the National Crime Victimization Survey and uses of the data. Also includes a history of the National Crime Victimization Survey, and comparisons to other surveys conducted worldwide.

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      • Lehnen, Robert G., and Wesley G. Skogan, eds. 1984. The National Crime Survey working papers. Vol. 2, Methodological studies. Washington DC: US Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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        Contains an important set of early methodological assessments about how factors such as the number of prior interviews, question wording, and interview bounding affect victimization estimates. The results presented in these papers were used to inform the current design of the National Crime Victimization Survey. Available online.

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      • Rand, Michael R., and Callie Marie Rennison. 2005. Bigger is not necessarily better: An analysis of violence Against women estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey and the National Violence Against Women Survey. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 21:267–291.

        DOI: 10.1007/s10940-005-4272-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Provides a comparison of national women’s victimization rates. Assesses the concern that the National Crime Victimization Survey underestimates violence against women by comparing National Crime Victimization Survey estimates to those from the National Violence Against Women Survey.

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      Theoretical Perspectives on Victimization

      The various theories of victimization can be categorized according to whether they are general in scope or focus on certain forms of crime or victims, such as intimate-partner violence or violence against women or children. Theories of criminal victimization that focus on crime more generally originated during the late 1970s as victimization survey data became available for testing hypotheses about variation in risk. The early major perspectives include: lifestyle theory, developed in Hindelang, et al. 1978 and revised in Garofalo 1987; routine activities theory, developed in Cohen and Felson 1979; and opportunity theories, developed in Cohen, et al. 1981. These early theories were developed to explain variation in victimization risk across individuals, groups, communities, and time periods. These theories share the premise that victimization risk can be reduced without altering offenders’ motivations to commit crime. Instead, reductions in crime are thought to be possible by teaching potential victims how to protect themselves, by increasing social or physical guardianship, or by reducing offender access to potential victims and targets (known as “target hardening” practices). A useful comparison of these theories is found in Meier and Miethe 1993. Miethe and McDowall 1993 provides an important test of individual and community hypotheses derived from these early theories. A more recent theoretical development is found in Wilcox, et al. 2003, which develops a theory of victimization that explicitly links developments and findings from the social control and victimization literatures with the important contributions of the earlier theories.

      • Cohen, Lawrence E., and Marcus Felson. 1979. Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach. American Sociological Review 44.4: 588–608.

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        The original statement of the “routine activities” perspective on crime and victimization. Greater contact among strangers, decreased numbers of occupied homes, and increased portability of goods are argued to be important sources of increases in crime during the 1960s and 1970s.

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      • Cohen, Lawrence E., James R. Kluegel, and Kenneth C. Land. 1981. Social inequality and predatory criminal victimization: An exposition and test of a formal theory. American Sociological Review 46:505–524.

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        The first “opportunity model of predatory victimization,” in which the importance of guardianship, target attractiveness, and exposure to offenders is emphasized. Along with Cohen and Felson 1979 and Hindelang, et al. 1978, this paper introduced the value of theorizing about victimization to mainstream social scientists.

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      • Garofalo, James. 1987. Reassessing the lifestyle model of criminal victimization. In Positive criminology. Edited by Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, 23–42. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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        Presents a modified version of the original “lifestyle” theoretical model developed in Hindelang, et al. 1978. Assesses the early critiques of lifestyle theory and argues that people’s reactions to and perceptions about crime should be incorporated into a model of exposure to victimization.

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      • Hindelang, Michael J., Michael R. Gottfredson, and James Garofalo. 1978. Victims of personal crime: An empirical foundation for a theory of personal victimization. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

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        The original statement of “lifestyle” or “exposure” theory of victimization, which argues that lifestyle activities, such as routine work and leisure patterns, influence the likelihood of victimization because these activities influence a person’s level of exposure to offenders.

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      • Meier, Robert F., and Terance D. Miethe. 1993. Understanding theories of criminal victimization. In Crime and justice: A review of research, Vol. 17. Edited by Micehal Tonry, 459–499 Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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        Provides a useful introduction to the theories and hypotheses about victimization risk.

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      • Miethe, Terance D., and David McDowall. 1993. Contextual effects in models of criminal victimization. Social Forces 71:741–759.

        DOI: 10.2307/2579893Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Provides one of the first direct assessments of how various community factors are related to the risk of victimization independent of individual correlates. Prior to this type of research, most analyses of victimization risk lacked measures of community exposure to crime, raising concerns that the individual-level influences on victimization were overestimated.

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      • Wilcox, Pamela, Kenneth C. Land, and Scott A. Hunt. 2003. Criminal circumstance: A dynamic multi-contextual criminal opportunity theory. New York: Walter de Gruyter.

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        Offers a revised opportunity theory of victimization, successfully incorporating the insights from earlier victimization theories with past findings from numerous studies of crime. One of the few recent attempts to refine and develop a formal theory of victimization and crime.

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      The Victim-Offender Overlap and Repeat Victimization

      Two robust findings from the study of victimization patterns have resulted in large subareas of research. The first large subarea investigates the persistent finding that an individual’s level of offending and risk for victimization are correlated. Often referred to as the “victim-offender” overlap, this literature investigates why victimization might be related to subsequent involvement in crime, and why offending behaviors might put one at risk for becoming a victim of crime. A recent summary of this literature is available in Lauritsen and Laub 2007. A wide range of studies address this issue, ranging from qualitative studies of violent retaliations among active offenders (Jacobs and Wright 2006) to long-term assessments of the effects of child abuse on later offending in adulthood (Widom and Maxfield 2001). Stewart, et al. 2006 provides one of the few studies of the effects of attitudes on the association between offending and victimization. Researchers study this association to help develop effective crime-reduction programs and to better understand the causal mechanisms involved in both offending and victimization. A second important subarea of victimization research assesses why victimization at one point in time is strongly correlated with victimization at a later point in time. Lauritsen and Quinet 1995 examines whether the two experiences are causally linked among adolescents. Policy-oriented assessments of repeat victimization are the focus of much research in the United Kingdom. A recent compilation of analyses of programs designed to reduce repeat victimization is available in Farrell and Pease 2001.

      • Farrell, Graham, and Ken Pease, eds. 2001. Repeat victimization. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

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        Presents a set of analyses of efforts to reduce various forms of repeat victimization, such as repeated burglary and domestic violence. The chapters provide a broad overview of why a better understanding of this phenomenon may be important to policymakers.

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      • Jacobs, Bruce A., and Richard Wright. 2006. Street justice: Retaliation in the criminal underworld. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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        A qualitative study of active street offenders in which the level of ongoing victimization is extensive. Cycles of violent retaliation are common among offenders who are unable to turn to authorities to settle disputes and are interested in maintaining a tough street reputation as a means of protection from future victimization.

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      • Lauritsen, Janet L., and John H. Laub. 2007. Understanding the link between victimization and offending: New reflections on an old idea. In Surveying crime in the 21st century: Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the British Crime Survey. Edited by Mike Hough and Mike Maxfield, 55–76. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press; Cullompton, UK: Willan.

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        Summarizes the findings from the literature on the correlations between victimization and offending. Findings from the early homicide studies of the 1950s to the present are reviewed, and the victim-offender relationship is found to be persistent across types of studies, crimes, nations, and time periods. The authors suggest directions for future research.

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      • Lauritsen, Janet L., and Kenna Davis Quinet. 1995. Repeat victimization among adolescents and young adults. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 11:143–166.

        DOI: 10.1007/BF02221121Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Assesses why there might be a strong positive correlation between victimization risk at one time point and victimization risk during subsequent periods. Unlike the policy-oriented work emphasized in Farrell and Pease 2001, this piece focuses on assessing whether this relationship is causal or the consequence of other factors.

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      • Stewart, Eric A., Christopher J. Schreck, and Ronald L. Simons. 2006. “I ain’t gonna let no one disrespect me”: Does the code of the street reduce or increase violent victimization against African American adolescents? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 43:1–32.

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        Presents an assessment of how youths’ attitudes and beliefs might affect their risk of victimization. Although many youth believe that “acting tough” will protect them from victimization, this research shows that such attitudes are associated with higher risks of victimization for African American youth.

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      • Widom, Cathy S., and Michael G. Maxfield. 2001. An update on the “cycle of violence.” National Institute of Justice Research in Brief. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

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        Summarizes and updates one of the key hypotheses about the association between victimization and offending. Specifically, the authors investigate whether childhood victimization and abuse are associated with adult criminal behavior years later. Available online.

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      Special Types of Victimization

      Research on victimization trends and patterns contains several subfields with extensive literatures of their own. The topics of violence against women, child victimization, and crimes against other special groups (such as crimes against the elderly), often developed as a result of victim advocacy efforts. Typically, they have had unique intellectual origins, from fields such as feminism, child development, social work, and gerontology. Other topics, such as workplace and school victimization, have come to constitute important areas of victimization interest because of the responsibility that employers and school officials have for maintaining a safe work and school environment.

      Violence against Women

      Theories of violence against women have unique intellectual foundations, and they critique opportunity, lifestyle, and routine-activities perspectives because of the assumption that an individual’s greatest risk for victimization is from someone outside the home. Generally speaking, theories of violence against women have focused more on specific forms of victimization (such as intimate-partner violence and sexual violence) and on offender motivations and the structural and cultural conditions that support men’s domination of women. Perspectives on violence against women have paid much greater attention to the psychological experiences of victims and the consequences of victimization than the mainstream theories noted above. There is no single statement of the factors associated with women’s victimization; rather, studies of this topic are characterized by a diverse set of intellectual and practical orientations. However, recent summaries and assessments of research findings in this area have been conducted by the National Research Council (Kruttschnitt, et al. 2003) and the National Institute of Justice 2009. Kruttschnitt, et al. 2003 provides a guide to the existing data on the topic and the key research questions unanswered in the literature. The website of the National Institute of Justice maintains the Compendium of Research on Violence Against Women, a list of all federally funded research on the causes and consequences of women’s victimization, as well as policy evaluations. Trends for some forms of female victimization measured by the Supplemental Homicide Reports and the National Crime Victimization Survey can be found at the US Department of Justice site titled Intimate Partner Violence in the United States. Lauritsen and Heimer 2008 compares national trends in male and female victimization beginning with data from the 1970s.

      • US Department of Justice. Intimate Partner Violence in the United States.

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        Compiles up-to-date information about the trends and demographic correlates of intimate partner violence, including rates of victimization, incident characteristics, and injury and police reporting rates. Trends in intimate partner violence are available for the period 1993 to the present.

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      • Kruttschnitt, Candace, Brenda L. McLaughlin, and Carol V. Petrie, eds. 2003. Advancing the federal research agenda on violence against women. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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        Provides the most recent assessment of the state of the research literature on the topic of violence against women. Includes a summary of existing data, key findings, and research and data needs for important unanswered questions. The report argues for a greater integration of the violence against women literature with the larger literature on crime and violence.

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      • Lauritsen, Janet L., and Karen Heimer. 2008. The gender gap in violent victimization, 1973–2004. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 24:125–147.

        DOI: 10.1007/s10940-008-9041-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Compares the long-term trends in homicide, robbery, and assault victimization for males and females, with additional comparisons by victim-offender relationship. Reports that the ratios in male and female victimization rates for homicide and robbery have remained stable over time, while the gender gaps in aggravated assault and simple assault have narrowed a bit over time.

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      • National Institute of Justice. 2009. Compendium of Research on Violence against Women, 1993–present.

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        Provides a compilation of federally funded research projects on the topic of violence against women, as well as an extensive set of links to resources and other publications on the topics of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual violence, and other forms of crimes, such as stalking.

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      Child Victimization

      Theorizing about children’s victimization is a relatively new effort, developed in part because of the inadequacies of general victimization theories to account for children’s risks or their unique vulnerabilities associated with physical, mental, and social status. Information about trends in child homicide in the United States is available because the age of the victim is recorded in official records. Trends in other types of crimes against children have been more difficult to compile because of the lack of survey data for very young respondents. Finkelhor 2008 provides a state-of-the-art assessment of the trends and patterns in child victimization. Finkelhor 1995 outlines a “developmental victimology” theory designed to explain the causes and consequences of child victimization. The Crimes Against Children Research Center provides links to many of the key national reports about children’s victimization as well as information about data sources in this area. The Bureau of Justice Statistics maintains up-to-date information about homicide trends, including for children under the age of five (Homicide Trends in the US: Infanticide), and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provides links to federally funded research reports about child victimization.

      School and Workplace Victimization

      Although there is not as much research on victimization at school or in the workplace, this topic has received specific attention from the education and business communities. The main source of trend data on school victimization in the United States comes from periodic supplements to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which are available online from the National Center for Education Statistics (Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007). Information about workplace victimization (theft and violence) is available in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) (see Data Sources) because information about the location of these incidents is gathered. More general overviews of crime at school and in the workplace are maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Occupational Violence). Though there are not unique theories about victimization for each domain, research such as Lynch 1987 has argued that measures and tests of hypotheses should be contingent on place domains.

      • Lynch, James P. 1987. Routine activity and victimization at work. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 3:283–300.

        DOI: 10.1007/BF01066832Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Argues that the theoretical concepts and tests of routine activities and lifestyle theories are more likely to be useful if the concepts and measures are tied to specific domains such as the workplace, school, leisure, or home environments. Some persons experience relatively high rates of victimization because of the nature of their jobs.

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      • National Center for Education Statistics. Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007.

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        The most recent of a series of reports on criminal victimization and perceptions of school safety (as well as other topics such as drug and alcohol use) compiled from multiple national sources. Victimization trends and patterns for school crime derived from the national School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey are summarized here.

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      • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Occupational Violence.

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        Major resource for information about work-related violence, including workplace homicide. The website maintains links to all available statistics on the topic as well as research findings and suggestions for the prevention of violence at the workplace.

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      LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

      DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0032

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