Criminology Adolescent Victimization
Marie Skubak Tillyer, Marissa E. Hinton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0235


Because not all crimes are reported to law enforcement, researchers have generally used survey data collected from adolescents to better understand the nature, patterns, causes, and consequences of adolescent victimization. Such data allow researchers to examine the prevalence of different forms of victimization and whether adolescent victimization is increasing or decreasing over time. Some surveys ask about details of the crime to try to develop a better understanding of the situational characteristics of crime incidents. For example, such details may include the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, the time and location of the incident, the presence of weapons, forms of victim resistance, and whether the incident was reported to law enforcement. Surveys that ask adolescents about the frequency of their victimization also reveal how these events are distributed across the population and the extent to which adolescents experience repeat victimization. Because many surveys also ask respondents about their personal characteristics, prior experiences, peers, behaviors, communities, schools, and families, researchers are able to explore the risk and protective factors associated with various forms of adolescent victimization. Developing a better understanding of the causes and correlates of adolescent victimization can help inform prevention efforts. In addition, researchers have begun to study numerous potential consequences of adolescent victimization, some of which may extend beyond adolescence into adulthood.

Data Sources

Researchers who study adolescent victimization rely on a number of data sources to provide insight into different aspects of adolescent victimization. Rennison and Rand 2007 provides a description of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a national household survey that includes household members who are twelve years of age and older. NCVS data can be used to measure adolescent victimization prevalence and frequency over time, crimes unreported to the police, and many situational characteristics of victimization experiences, including the victim-offender relationship, the presence of weapons, the extent of victim injury, and other victimization consequences. The NCVS, however, does not include measures of some key correlates of adolescent victimization, such as self-reported delinquent behavior or low self-control. Lessne, et al. 2016 describes the NCVS’s School Crime Supplement, which measures student victimization every two years. A description of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) can be found in Harris 2013. The Add Health consists of data across several waves of adolescence and adulthood and includes measures of many known correlates of adolescent victimization, including variables related to family, peers, neighborhoods, delinquency, etc. The Add Health, however, does not include incident-level data about adolescent victimization, such as information about the perpetrator, whether the incident was reported to law enforcement, etc. Data from the Rural Substance abuse and Violence Project (RSVP) have been used to understand adolescent victimization within the school context. The RSVP includes four waves of data collected in Kentucky schools from students, teachers, and principals, making it a rich source of data that allow researchers to nest students within the broader school context, though its generalizability may be limited (see Tillyer, et al. 2017). Finkelhor, et al. 2015 describes the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), a household survey designed to measure the incidence and prevalence of children’s (from birth to age seventeen) exposure to violence within the home and their communities.

  • Finkelhor, David, Heather Turner, Anne Shattuck, Sherry Hamby, and Kristen Kracke. 2015. Children’s exposure to violence, crime, and abuse: An update. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    A comprehensive report on the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. The NatSCEV includes a wide variety of crime types, as well as the perspective of both the caregiver and the child when applicable. This bulletin is an excellent resource for understanding the scope of youth violence victimization in the United States.

  • Harris, Kathleen Mullan. 2013. The Add Health study: Design and accomplishments. Chapel Hill: Carolina Population Center, Univ. of North Carolina.

    This paper describes the design features of the first four waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of seventh to twelfth grade students in the United States. The Add Health contains considerable social and behavioral adolescent data, including delinquency, substance use, and victimization.

  • Lessne, Deborah, Melissa Cidade, Amy Gerke, Karlesha Roland, and Michael Sinclair. 2016. Student victimization in U.S. schools: Results from the 2013 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. NCES 2016-145. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

    The School Crime Supplement is included with the NCVS every two years to measure student criminal victimization at school, bullying, and cyberbullying. The surveys are administered to eligible household members twelve to eighteen years of age after they complete the NCVS.

  • Rennison, Callie Marie, and Michael Rand. 2007. Introduction to the National Crime Victimization Survey. In Understanding crime statistics: Revisiting the divergence of the NCVS and UCR. Edited by James P. Lynch and Lynn A. Addington, 17–54. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This chapter provides an excellent overview on the origins, evolution, and current methodology of the National Crime Victimization Survey.

  • Tillyer, Marie Skubak, Pamela Wilcox, and Erica R. Fissel. 2017. Violence in schools: Repeat victimization, low self-control, and the mitigating influence of school efficacy. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10940-017-9347-8

    This article includes a description of the Rural Substance Abuse and Violence Project (RSVP), a longitudinal study of adolescents in Kentucky schools, and the strengths and limitations of using these data to study adolescent victimization in school. The RSVP also includes survey data collected from teachers and principals. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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