In This Article Victimization Patterns and Trends

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Measurement Issues
  • Theoretical Perspectives on Victimization
  • The Victim-Offender Overlap and Repeat Victimization

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Criminology Victimization Patterns and Trends
Janet Lauritsen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0032


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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