May 01, 2009

Who is Most Likely to be a Crime Victim?

author_karen By Karen Sternheimer

If you watch one of the many television crime dramas that are on now, you might think you know the answer to this question. But looking at the actual statistics might surprise you.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has conducted the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) each year since 1973, asking a random sample of Americans twelve and older about their experiences with crime during the past year.

This survey is important because many crimes, especially minor crimes like theft, never get reported to police. So if we relied solely on law enforcement agency data, we might never get a good picture of the prevalence of crime. For instance, by comparing the NCVS to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, a database of crimes and arrests based on law enforcement data, we can also get an idea of how many rapes get reported to the police and how many don’t.

Here are some things the NCVS teaches us about crime victimization from 1973 to 2006, the most recent year for which data are available:

1. Violent victimization is on the decline

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Between 1973 and 1993, violent victimization held somewhat steady, hovering just under 50 per 1,000 (this means that for every thousand Americans, fifty were victims of violence) to around 20 per 1,000 in 2006. This trend mirrors FBI data, which also details a sharp crime decline after the early 1990s. As you can see below, property crime declined significantly too.

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2. Teens and young adults are the most likely victims of violent crime

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Young people are the most likely victims of violent crime. In 2006, young adults 20-24 were slightly more likely to report victimization than teens after many years of teens being the group most likely to be victims of violence. This isn’t necessarily because teens themselves are more violent—according to then FBI Uniform Crime Reports the vast majority of people arrested for violent crime (more than 80 percent) are adults.

Take a look at the lowest line on the graph above; despite the common perception that the elderly are highly likely to be victims of violence, they are the group least likely to be victimized.

3. Blacks are more likely to be victims of violence than whites

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Unfortunately, the NCVS data on race only considers two categories. From the graph above, it is clear that black victimization is higher than the rate for whites. Although the rates for both groups have declined in recent years, we can see that black victimization has increased slightly, while white victimization has remained flat.

4. Males are more likely to be victims of violence than females

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With the exception of rape, males are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than females are. As Sally Raskoff blogged about last year, we tend to believe that females are more vulnerable to violence. Boys and men are more likely to be victims of assault, robbery, and homicide than girls or women are.

5. Low-income people are more likely to be victims

The NCVS data reveal that those with household incomes below $7,500 are more than three times more likely to be robbed than those with incomes above $75,000. This might seem counterintuitive; wouldn’t wealthier people have more and better stuff to take? They probably do, but poorer people are more likely to live in higher crime neighborhoods, and criminals typically victimize those around them the most. It’s more convenient.

Poor people are not just more likely to be robbed. Those at the lowest income level are victims of aggravated assault at the rate of 13 per 1,000, compared with 3 per 1,000 in the $75,000 and over category.

 

Okay, now that we have some basic ideas about the age, race, gender, and class of the most likely victims of crime, let’s think about who is most likely to be featured in crime dramas. The victims on these shows tend to be (although are not always) sympathetic figures; after all, if we don’t care about the victim, we might not care if their assailants are caught and brought to justice.

This might lead to highlighting white female victimization, both in crime dramas and in the news to appeal to a specific target audience. Historically the fear for white women and children’s safety motivated the lynching of many black men and the passage of laws allegedly to protect women’s virtue.

In seeking a middle class audience, producers might also tend to focus on middle class victims, people we might imagine are “just like us” and therefore their victimization hits closer to home. We might also feel more emotional connection to stories about elderly victims, which heighten the sense of outrage against a heartless perpetrator.

So crime shows have a lot of compelling reasons for telling slightly different crime stories than the ones that happen in real life. Drama, after all, is heightened reality, not reality.

But it’s important to recognize that the abundance of crime dramas might distort our perception of who are most likely to be victims. Based on NCVS data, those who are young, black, male, and poor are disproportionally likely to be crime victims. Why do you think we have had an easier time viewing this group as the cause of crime, rather than as crime victims?

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Comments

And these statistics don't even begin to cover issues like sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender people are estimated to have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, when the typical person has a 1 in 18,000 chance of being murdered (statistic taking from an HRC page on hate crimes).

Nothing in this really surprised me, it's all pretty typical. Woman are (typically) weaker than men, so they are easier topics. The reason's behind poorer people being attacked kind of confuses me, what are you going to steal? You'd think the perpetraitor would want monetary gain or something.

None of these surprise me. Low income families tend to commit more crimes not because of the low income but because of the type of parents who are usually at low income and their surrounding enviroment. They all tie together if you look at it.

It almost seems like the graphs showed typical stereotypes when it comes to crime, but I guess that's where the stereotypes came from in the first place. I always thought I could have been anyone to commit or be a victim of a crime, depending on their environmental surroundings.

The statistics show us that higher crime rates occur more consistently in the poor urban areas than in the wealthier suburbs. But the statistics do show is the police tend to concetrate their efforts in urban areas, where they assume to be more crime, and make more arrests. These statistics do not justify which citizens are more likely to commit a crime, rather it shows the correlation between a persons class and how citizens are officially treated. Viewing these results we must realize that the individuals in urban areas are most definately economically and socially at a disadvantage, which may cause an increase in crime. This also doesn't take into account the stereotypical image officialls create of a criminal as youthful, and avoids the often times more difficult to detect crimes committed of older people.

The shows that porttray these crimes can't be different than any other show on tv. Most of them disstort the truth and make things seem different than they are, but it makes perfect sense to get the audience they're looking for. But for me the thought of being more likely to be a victim just because of you're income is kiond of scary. I mean it's not all that shocking, but most people would probably think that you being a victim would depend mostly on who you are and race.

I really like your article. For our sociology class we are studying how race and sex can be sometimes sterotyped more than others. I was wondering if you think that the other variables are going to start affecting the results. Such as economic variables, or others I cant think of right now. But it seems also that it keeps going up and I was indeed then wondering if you think it might hopefully go down.

For this article and statistics the sterotypes are true. Low income families commit more crimes as well as young people and males. These common assumptions are true.

Yes. This article is so true. We can never make proper judgement because it would take forever to complete all of the research.We can't possibly make accurate judgement because we are never given all of the facts. We are only aware of what the media shows us. It is also true that people of lower income are more likely to become victims before people of higher income due to their environment. People of lower income are surrounded by the criminals, consequently they become victims. The people of highe3r income are more likely to live near people of their kind who are not known for commiting crimes, if so these people are able to afford reliable protection such as alarm systems. I believe that it depends on one's environment, status and gender, when it comes to becoming a criminal or a victim.

Young people create the most violence because our society has steadily becoming more acceptive of violent media. Which teaches kids violence is ok. We need to be more strict on the media.

I originally thought that teens and young adults would be the answer just b/c during that part of peoples life teens are really just growing up and experiencing life and young adults are coming out of their child moment and finally moving to "Here comes the big 45-50"

The article is good but the comments are not. Men are more likely to be crime victims than are women and Blacks more likely than Whites. Police protection is not more highly concentrated in poorer areas it is less so. People who are suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse are more likely to congregate in poorer areas because their unemployment rates are higher and it is cheaper to live in poor areas and the crime rate among people too drunk or high to work is (of course) higher than it is in the gainfully employed population. The overall crime rate has risen among every demographic group over the last 50 years and so the cause cannot be specific to any certain area of town or race or gender. The unequal rates mean that various groups are better able to protect themselves from whatever is causing this.

Race, gender , and economic place in society determine who will be most likely to be a victim of a crime, when inpoverished come to a point of want usually a victim is chosen

why are men mostly targeted? i need this info for a school ssignment.

I think it is interesting that the percentage of victimization drops as one ages. I would have predicted the opposite trend. Perhaps the more violent among us prefer to target those who are in the same age group. And as one ages, he/she is less likely to become violent, therefore victimization is lessened. That is my take on the data.

The sign seems perfectly clear. At least in the context of a highway and the speed of highway traffice.

I was surprised to read that young males are the most likely to be victims of violent crimes. I always thought that young females would be the most likely to be victims because they are so vulnerable. I thought that young males would be the least likely because (usually) they are more intimidating.

A theory for the poster above: Men are most likely to be around violent people. I don't have the option of avoiding the most active criminal populations without seeming horribly racist or classist, but it is fine for women to protect themselves from men, and for the old to isolate themselves from the young. Since class, sex, race, and age are the primary predictors for folks who *commit* violence, they are also the primary precitors for those who suffer it.

If you haven't guessed from the tone, I consider that wrong. Different populations should mix more, period. And I think any avoidance of that on the basis of safety is basically unfair.

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