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Victimization is the action of victimizing, or fact of being victimized. Until a variety of factors converged during the 1960s, individual victims were not always given much attention by the criminal justice system. During this time, the women’s movement began to address the victim-blaming often seen with sexually violent crimes. Child abuse as a societal problem was also coming to the attention of local and state leaders. Finally, rapidly growing crime rates between 1960 and 1980 brought greater scrutiny to the criminal justice system, in part through President Johnson’s 1967 Commission report. Victimization was one focus of this report. The culmination of these factors began the discussion about the victim’s role in the criminal justice process, what services should be provided to victims, and data gathering about victimization in the USA.
Certain demographic factors are associated with greater risks of victimization. The risk of victimization decreases with age after peaking in the 16-24 age group. The elderly (ages 65 and older) have much lower victimization rates than younger individuals. Men in general are more likely to experience a violent crime than are women. Women are more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than are men, as well as simple assault with minor injury. Blacks are more likely to experience crimes of violence than other minorities and whites but are slightly less likely than whites to experience simple assault (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2003).
However, demographics alone cannot fully explain victimization and criminal behavior. Theories of victimization began in the 1940s with Hans von Hentig and his theory of victim-perpetrator interaction. Von Hentig observed that victims often contributed to their victimization by somehow provoking the offender or by putting themselves in situations that would make them prone to criminal acts. Ezzat Fattah stressed the link between victimization and offending and argued that the criminal act as a whole needs to be examined because of the interaction of the victim and offender. Victims can be offenders and vice versa.
Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo developed the lifestyle theory of crime in 1978. Changing gender roles (women working outside the home) and work schedules means that people live different lifestyles, spend varying amounts of time in public, and interact with different kinds of people. This theory is based on several propositions, including that increased time spent with non-family members and in public places increases the chances for victimization.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics (2003) Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Washington, DC.
- Doerner, W. G. & Lab, S. P. (1995) Victimology. Anderson Publishing, Cincinnati, OH.