Who are the Victims of Crime?

How do patterns of Victimisation vary by social class, gender, ethnicity and age?

Are some people more likely to be victims of crime than others? And how do the characteristics of victims vary by different types of crime?

This post has been written for students of A-level sociology studying the crime and deviance module, it is an introduction to the topic of victimisation, which is explicitly on the AQA’s specification.

NB some of the latest up to date information in this post may well contradict the very probably dated information in your sociology text books!

The statistics below focus mainly on the victims of crime in the United Kingdom?

Characteristics of victims of any crime by ethnicity, social class and age (TCSEW)

The Telephone Crime Survey of England and Wales is based on a telephone survey of 30 000 respondents, making it the largest sample which addresses the question of who the victims of crime are.

(NB it’s currently a telephone survey because of Covid-19 restrictions, before that it was a face to face interview survey, to which it may return at some point!)

The TCSEW reports the following variations in patterns of victimisation for the year ending March 2020:

People of mixed ethnicity were more likely to have been victims of crime than other ethnic groups

20% of people from mixed ethnic backgrounds reported being victims, but the victimisation rates were very similar across all other ethnic groups (varying from 14-17%)

Gender seems to have very little affected on reported levels of victimisation

There were very similar reporting levels for both males and females in all ethnic groups.

The chart below demonstrates the remarkably similar patterns in victimisation by both ethnicity and gender (the only ‘significant’ difference being the higher reported rates for mixed ethnicity).

Younger people are more likely to victims of crime than older people

The chart below shows percentage of people reporting having been a victim of crime by age group – you’ll notice it generally declines as people get older, and there is a marked difference if you compare the 55s and overs with youngest three categories:

There is no obvious correlation between social class background and being a victim of crime.

In fact the picture is complex – there is no variation by class for white people, for black people, the unemployed report much lower levels of victimisation compared to professionals and for Asian people there is a slightly lower chance of being a victim the higher your social class background!

Repeat Victimisation

Data from the 2018 CSEW shows that 74% of victims of violent crime were victims once, whereas 26% were victims twice or more (7% three times or more) in the previous year.

Limitations with victimisation data from the TCSEW

  • These data look at ALL crimes, and the most common types of crime (which have INCREASED MASSIVELY in recent years) are fraud and computer misuse – which are quite likely to be ‘gender/ class/ ethnicity neutral’.
  • and it may be the case that for more serious crimes there are still significant variations by class/ gender and ethnicity – such as violent crimes including domestic violence and hate crimes.
  • These data may be invalid because the reporting rates might vary by social class, gender, age and ethnicity – a recent report on the victims of violent crime (see section below) for example found that children were twice as likely to NOT report a crime compared to adults. Also where being a victims of Domestic Violence is concerned, with women more likely to be victims than men, this isn’t the kind of thing you can easily report over the phone, during Lockdown.
  • And let’s not forget the crimes the TSCEW doesn’t cover victims of State Crime.

Who are The Victims of Violent Crime?

It’s worth looking at who the victims of violent crime are as the impacts are likely to be felt more severely than other types of crime, such being a victim or fraud or burglary.

Victims of Serious Violence England and Wales 2011-2017 pooled data from several years of the Crime Survey for England and Wales and extracted data on over 10 000 incidents.

Extremely low numbers of people are victims of violent crime each year. The report estimates that 2-3% of adults are victims of violence each year, and only 1 in 250 require some kind of medical treatment for their injuries.

  • Males were at greater risk of violence – both for adults and children
  • Younger people were more at risk than older people
  • People from deprived areas were were more likely to be victims – adults from the 10% most deprived areas were almost twice as likely to be victims of violent crime compared to adults from the 10% most affluent areas.
  • ethnic minorities in general were less likely to be victims of violent crime

The report states that 36% of violence experienced by adults, and 70% by children does not come to the attention of police or a medical professional

Who are the Victims of Domestic Abuse?

One type of violent, interpersonal crime probably not covered in a representative way in the above research is Domestic Abuse, because of its very low reporting rates.

Safe Lives reports the following patterns of victimisation for this type of crime:

  • 90% of victims are women, only 10% are men.
  • Women from low income households (less than £10 000) were 3.5 times more likely to be victims compared to women from households earning more than £20 000.
  • The majority of victims are in their 20s and 30s, so as with crime in general, young people are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than older people.

NB the above stats are based on people seeking help and advice about domestic abuse, so many of these won’t show up on the TCSEW.

If these domestic abuse stats are valid, then women are actually at greater risk of violent crime overall than men. Safe Lives reports that 100 000 women are currently at risk of severe violence at home. (This assumes there isn’t just as many male victims of any violent crime NOT coming forward and reporting their victimisation!).

REPEAT VICTIMISATION is also a horrible feature of Domestic Abuse – SafeLives reports that the average victim is a victim of abuse 50 times over, something which you generally don’t find to anywhere near this extent with being a victim of other types of crime.

Who are Victims of Hate Crime?

Hate crimes recorded by the police have been increasing in recent years according to a recent Home Office Briefing (from 2020).

The vast majority of hate crimes are due to someone’s ethnic background (so basically racist abuse) followed by religion, and around 50% of religiously motivated hate crimes are against Muslims. Anti-semitic crimes have also been increasing steadily.

Crimes against LGBT and Trans people are also higher than you might think – the report notes (based on data from a 2017 survey) that 54% of Trans people have reported experiencing a negative incident outside their home, as have 40% of LGBT people).

The vast majority of victims said they did not report the hate crime against them.

46 million Victims of UK State Crime?

And counting….

At time of writing 46 million people have received at least one dose of one of the Covid-19 vaccinations. The live count is here.

It is possible to interpret these people as having been victims of one of the largest ongoing State Crime of modern times.

The UK governments has consistently declared the vaccines to be safe, whereas the simple and objective truth is, that by regular medical-trial standards scientists simply don’t yet have sufficient data to comment on the safety of these vaccines.

The fact that the UK government has not been clear about this means that they have misled the British public into taking part in a country-level medical trial without their full and informed consent.

This is in breach of people’s human rights as UN conventions clearly state that citizens have a right to not take part in medical trials.

Now it’s a stretch to make the case for this being a State Crime, as people have the choice to not get vaccinated, but there is pressure there – and the government is a leading voice in this, which could be interpreted as coercion, which opens up the door to defining this scenario as a state crime with 46 million victims and counting.

Why do some victims not report their crimes?

This topic came up as the 6 mark question in the 2019 AQA A-Level Crime and Deviance Paper.

More precisely the question was ‘outline three reasons why victims may not report crimes’

This strikes me as a very easy question, as all you need to do is identify three reasons and then state why. To my mind, this would have been much better as a 10 marker, in which students have to demonstrate more analytical skills by discussing reasons in much more depth. It would surprise me in fact if this comes up as the 2020 10 mark question!

A few ideas on why some victims do not report crimes to the police.

NB – Written in a verbose exam style – you could get away with writing less and still get max marks on the above question! 

The first reason is that people may not be aware that they have been a victim of a crime – young children may not have the mental capacity to be aware that they are victims of abuse, or they may have been socialised into thinking abuse is normal.

A second reason is that victims may be fearful of the negative physical or emotional consequences for them if they reported the crime. They may be afraid the perpetrator would find out and punish them for dobbing them into the police, or they may not want the sense of shame that comes with admitting to having been a victim, or not want to relive painful memories.

A third reason is that the victim may have been badly treated by the police in the past or perceive the police as the enemy- young black men are more likely to be stopped and searched and thus may have the impression that the police are institutionally racist, and thus think their racism might lead them to not take them seriously if they reported a crime – the victim might think that if they are racist, the they wouldn’t bother trying to track down someone who harmed a black person.

 

 

 

 

Victimology

Victimology is the study of who the victims of crime are, why they are victims, and what we can do about this.

 

Victimology is a relatively recent edition to the A-level sociology Crime and Deviance specification, and is mainly addressed through applying the sociological perspectives.

Patterns of Victimisation

The risk of being a victim of crime varies by social groups.

  • Social Class – The poorest groups are actually more likely to be victims of crime. The Crime Survey of England and Wales shows us that crime rates are higher in areas of high unemployment and deprivation.
  • Age – Younger people are more at risk of victimisation – those most at risk of being murdered are infants under one (infanticide), while teenagers are more vulnerable than adults to assault, sexual harassment, theft and abuse. While older people might be abused in care homes, this is something of a media stereotype, in general the risk of victimisation declines with age.
  • Ethnicity – minority ethnic groups are at greater risk than whites of being victims of crime, as well as of racially motivated crimes. In relation to the police, ethnic minorities, the young and the homeless are more likely to report feeling under-protected and over controlled.
  • Gender – Males are at greater risk of being victims of violent attacks, about 70% of homicide victims are male. However, women are more likely to victims of domestic violence than me, sexual violence, people trafficking and rape as a weapon of war.
  • Repeat Victimisation – There are a few people who are unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime many times over. According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a mere 4% of people are victims of 44% of all crimes in any one year. In contrast, 60% of people experience no crime in any given year.

Evaluation – Where do these statistics come from?

The most representative Victim Survey is The Crime Survey of England and Wales. This covers approximately 35 000 adults in England and Wales in private households. The survey asks about crime the individuals have been victims of within the last year, and asks whether they reported these crimes to the police.

A problem with this survey is that certain aspects of victimisation are absent:

  • Some people are missing from it – such as children and the homeless
  • Some crimes are not asked about – e.g. corporate crimes
  • Some crimes even if asked about might still be under-reported (e.g. domestic violence because of the setting)

Sociological Perspectives applied to Victimology Positivist Victimology

  • Mier’s (1989) defines Positivist victimology as having three main features:
  1. It aims to identify the factors that produce the above patterns in victimisation
  2. It focuses on interpersonal crimes of violence
  3. It aims to identify how victims have contributed to their own victimisation.
  • Earlier Positivist studies focussed on the idea of ‘victim proneness’, seeking to identify the social and psychological characteristics of victims that make them different from and more vulnerable than non-victims. For example, Von Hentig (1948) identified 13 characteristics of victims, such as that they are more likely to females, elderly and ‘mentally subnormal’. The implication is that the victims in some sense ‘invite’ victimisation because of who they are.
  • An example of positivist victimology is Marvin Wolfgang’s (1958) study of 588 homicides in Philadelphia. He found that 26% involved victim precipitation – the victim triggered the events leading to the homicide, for instance, being the first to use violence.

Evaluations of Positivist Victimology

  1. It is easy to tip over into ‘victim blaming’.
  2. Positivism tends to focus on ‘traditional crime’s – it doesn’t look at green crime and corporate crime for example.
  3. It ignores wider structural factors such as poverty and powerlessness which make some people more likely to be victims than others.

Critical Victimology

Critical victimology is based on conflict theories such as Marxism and Feminism. From a critical point of view the powerless are most likely to be victimised and yet the least likely to have this acknowledged by the state (this is known as the ‘hierarchy of victimisation’).

victims grenfell tower
Victims of the Grenfell Tower Fire, June 2017.
  • Critical Criminology focuses on two elements: the role of structural factors in explaining patterns of victimisation and power of the state to deny certain victims victim status.
  • Structural factors are important in explaining why some people are more likely to be victims of crime than others. Factors such as poverty and patriarchy make some people more likely to victims of crime than others.
  • Structural factors are important, because from a Marxist perspective because poverty and inequality breed crime and thus living in a poor area means that you are more likely to be both a criminal and a victim of crime while Feminists emphasise that the structure of Patriarchy perpetuates crimes against women such as sex-trafficking and domestic violence, meaning that women are far more likely to be victims of sex-crimes than men.
  • At another level, global power structures mean that many people are the victims of harms done by Western Corporations and State Crimes carried out by Western World Governments (Bhopal and the Drone Wars are two good examples) and yet victims in faraway places are highly unlikely to see justice.
  • Criminologists who focus on ethnicity and crime would also suggest that Structural Racism means it more likely that ethnic minorities are going to face not only racial crime from the general public, but also discrimination at the hands of the police. Refer to the ethnicity and crime material for more details!
  • To overcome this, critical criminologists suggest that criminologists should focus on ‘Zemiology’ (the study of harm) rather than the study of crime, to pick up on the true nature and extent of victimisation in the world today.
  • The state’s power to apply or deny the label of victim can distort the actual extent of victimisation. From a critical criminological perspective, the state often sides with the powerful, and does not define their exploitative and harmful acts as crimes. Tombs and Whyte (2007) for example showed that employers’ violations of health and safety law which lead to thousands of deaths of workers in the UK each year are typically explained away as industrial accidents, thus leaving no one to blame and leaving the injured and dead workers as non-victims.
  • From a Feminist point of view sexism within the CJS means that most women who are victims of DV and rape fail to come forward, and those who are do are often treated as the guilty party themselves in court, and so are often denied formal victim status and justice.
  • Tombs and White note that there is an ideological function of this ‘failure to label’ or ‘de- labelling’ – by concealing the true extent of victimisation and its real causes, it hides the crimes of the powerful and denies the victims any justice.

Evaluations of Critical Victimology

  • It disregards the role victims may play in bringing crime on themselves (e.g. not making their home secure).
  • Realists argue that it isn’t the job of criminologists to criticise governments and the police, this isn’t the most effective way to reduce crime and thus help victims of ‘ordinary crimes’ such as street violence and burglary.

Sources:

A combination of the main A-level text books were used to write this post.