Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Analyzing Repeat Victimization

Tool Guide No. 4 (2005)

by Deborah Lamm Weisel

Analisando a Repetição da Vitimização (Portuguese) PDF

Introduction

This guide begins by describing the concept of repeat victimization (RV) and its relationship to other patterns in public safety problems, such as hot spots and repeat offenders. The guide then describes sources of information, and ways to determine the amount and characteristics of repeat victimization in your jurisdiction. Finally the guide reviews responses to repeat victimization from evaluative research and police practice.

Patterns of Repeat Victimization

This guide is intended as a tool to help police identify and understand patterns of repeat victimization for a range of crime and disorder problems. The guide focuses on techniques for determining the amount of RV for specific public safety problems and how analysis of RV generally may be used to develop more effective responses. This publication is not a guide to specific problems, such as burglary, domestic violence, or vehicle theft. You are encouraged to refer to other guides for an in-depth understanding of these problems.

For decades, much effort by police and citizens has been invested in crime prevention-such as marking property, establishing a Neighborhood Watch, conducting crime prevention surveys, hardening targets, increasing lighting, and installing electronic security systems.

While numerous crime prevention efforts are effective, many are adopted by persons, households, and institutions least at risk of being victimized. Crime prevention strategies are most effective when directed at those most likely to be victimized.

Linking crime prevention strategies with likely victims is a challenge because of the difficulty in predicting the most likely victims of crime. Taking steps to prevent that offense from occurring would be easier, if only police knew.

  • What stores will be robbed?
  • Whose homes will be burglarized?
  • Which college students will be sexually assaulted?

It is often painfully obvious that some individuals, households, or businesses are particularly vulnerable to crime. Such vulnerability may be related to factors such as abusing alcohol, failing to secure property, being physically isolated, engaging in risky behaviors, or being in close proximity to pools of likely offenders.

While most people and places do not get victimized by crime, those who are victimized consistently face the highest risk of being victimized again. Previous victimization is the single best predictor of victimization. It is a better predictor of future victimization than any other characteristic of crime.

Lynch, Berbaum, and Planty (1998) disagree. Using data from the NCVS, the authors found that housing location, age, and marital status of the head of household, size, and changes in household composition were stronger predictors of repeat victimization for burglary than initial victimization in the United States. In addition, the authors found that the best predictor of repeat victimization for assault was the reporting of an initial assault to the police.

Not only is repeat victimization predictable, the time period of likely revictimization can be calculated since subsequent offenses are consistently characterized by their rapidity. Much repeat victimization occurs within a week of an initial offense, and some repeat victimization even occurs within 24 hours. Across all crime types, the greatest risk of revictimization is immediately after the initial offense, and this period of heightened risk declines steadily in the following weeks and months.

The predictability of repeat victimization and the short time period of heightened risk after the first victimization provide a very specific opportunity for police to intervene quickly to prevent subsequent offenses. Strategies to reduce revictimization can substantially increase the effectiveness of police. Reducing repeat victimization can result in lower crime, improved efficiency of crime prevention resources, and the apprehension of offenders. It can also conserve both patrol and investigative resources.

Defining Repeat Victimization

In basic terms, repeat victimization is a type of crime pattern. There are several types of well-known crime patterns including hot spots, crime series, and repeat offenders. While repeat victimization is a distinct crime pattern, some offenses feature multiple crime patterns; these patterns are discussed later in this guide.

By most definitions, repeat victimization, or revictimization, occurs when the same type of crime incident is experienced by the same-or virtually the same-victim or target within a specific period of time such as a year. Repeat victimization refers to the total number of offenses experienced by a victim or target including the initial and subsequent offenses. A person's house may be burglarized twice in a year or 10 times, and both examples are considered repeats.

The amount of repeat victimization is usually reported as the percentage of victims (persons or addresses) who are victimized more than once during a time period for a specific crime type, such as burglary or robbery. Repeat victimization is also calculated as the proportion of offenses that are suffered by repeat victims; this figure is usually called repeat offenses. While both figures are important, they are not interchangeable and care should be taken in the reading of such numbers. In this guide, we report both proportions of repeat victims and repeat offenses when the data are available.

For example, the first row in Table 1 would be stated as:

46% of all sexual assaults were experienced by persons suffering two or more victimizations during the data period

Similarly, the second row in Table 2 would read:

11% of assault victims suffered 25% of all assaults over the 25-year period

And the first row in Table 3 would read:

40% of all burglaries were experienced by the 19% of victims who were victimized twice or more during the data period

The term "victimization" usually refers to people, such as a person who has been victimized by domestic violence. But repeat victimization can best be understood as repeat targets since a victim may be an individual, a dwelling unit, a business at a specific address, or even a business chain with multiple locations. Even motor vehicles may be repeat victims. Later in this guide, we discuss how to distinguish repeat victims in police data by address, victim's name, and other identifiers.

The Extent of Repeat Victimization

Repeat victimization is substantial and accounts for a large portion of all crime. While revictimization occurs for virtually all crime problems, the precise amount of crime associated with revictimization varies between crime problems, over time, and across places.

† With the exception of Lynch, Berbaum, and Planty (1998), most estimates of repeat victimization are produced outside the United States and are drawn from the British Crime Survey, International Victims Survey, and other surveys. A few American studies in the early 1980s used the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to examine repeat victimization but the NCVS is not designed to detect RV as it excludes crime “series”, collects data only for incidents occurring in the preceding six months and uses a sample based on address that cannot control for people moving over time.

These variations reflect the local nature of crime and important differences in the type and amount of data used for computing repeat victimization. Three primary sources of information demonstrate that repeat victimization is prevalent across the world: surveys of victims, interviews with offenders, and crime reports. Although each of these sources has limitations, the prevalence of revictimization is consistent across these different sources.

Table 1

Estimates of Repeat Victimization:

International Victimization Survey1

Offenses

Repeat offenses

Sexual assault

46%

Assault

41%

Robbery

27%

Vandalism to vehicle

25%

Theft from vehicle

21%

Vehicle theft

20%

Burglary

17%

Comparison data from international victimization surveys show that repeat victimization is more common for violent crime such as assaults and robbery than for property crime (see Table 1). Assault victims routinely feature a high rate of revictimization (see Table 2), and domestic violence is among the most predictable crimes for which a repeat will occur.

Table 2

Estimates of Repeat Victimization for Assault

Offense

Repeat Offenses

Repeat Victims

Data Source and Time Period

Assault

25%

11.4%

Emergency room reports, 25 years, Netherlands2

Sexual assault

85%

67%

Victim surveys, adult experience, Los Angeles, California3

Domestic violence

n/a

44%

Victimization survey, one year, Great Britain4

Assaults of youth

90%

59%

National Youth Survey, one year, United States5

Repeat victimization is also common for property crime as evidenced in data from the British Crime Survey (see Table 3).

Table 3

Estimates of Repeat Victimization for Property Crime:

British Crime Survey

Offense

Repeat Offenses

Repeat Victims

Residential burglary6

40%

19%

Vehicle crime (thefts of/from)7

46%

24%

Vandalism8

n/a

30%

Although many studies of repeat victimization are based on surveys of victims, police records also show strong evidence of revictimization for problems ranging from bank robberies to domestic violence and burglaries (see Table 4). As with the victimization surveys, crime reports show the largest amount of repeat victimization for domestic violence.

Table 4

Estimates of Repeat Victimization:

Crime Reports

Offense

Repeat Offenses

Repeat Victims

Location

Domestic violence

62%

28%

Merseyside, England9

42%

31%

West Yorkshire, England10

Commercial robbery

65%

32%

Indianapolis, Indiana11

Gas station robbery

62%

 37%

Australia12

Bank robbery

58%

36%

England13

Residential burglary

32%

15%

Nottinghamshire, England14

13%

7%

Merseyside, England15

32%

16%

Beenleigh, Australia16

 

25%

9%

Enschede, Netherlands17

Commercial burglary

66%

36%

Austin, Texas18

33%

14%

Merseyside, England19

Residential and commercial burglary

39%

18%

Charlotte, North Carolina20

While many repeat victims suffer two victimizations during a reporting period, some repeat offenses are associated with chronic victims who are victimized more often, experiencing three or more offenses during a period of time. The British Crime Survey reveals that 7 percent of burglary and vehicle crime victims are victimized three or more times during a year (see Table 5) while 23 percent of domestic violence victims suffer this concentration of repeat victimization.

The more numerous offenses reported by these chronic victims contribute disproportionately to overall victimization. For example, 7 percent of burglary victims comprise 21 percent of all burglaries (see Table 6).

Table 5:

Concentration of Repeats Among Victims21

Type of Victimization

 

Burglary

Vehicle Crime

(Theft of/from)

Domestic Violence

One offense

81%

76%

56%

Two offenses

13%

17%

21%

Three or more

7%

7%

23%

Table 6: Contribution of Repeat Victims to Burglaries22

Offense

Victims

Proportion of Offenses

One burglary

81%

60%

Two burglaries

13%

19%

Three or more burglaries

7%

21%

Despite strong evidence of repeat victimization, virtually all estimates of repeat victimization are conservative because of data limitations. Victimization surveys show the most repeat victimization, because they capture offenses unreported to police. But longitudinal surveys lose respondents over time, as victims are likely to move, and panel surveys depend on a victim's recall of multiple events. Interviews with offenders support repeat victimization but such studies have been limited and the veracity of offenders is questionable. Unreported crime reduces police estimates of repeat victimization and evidence even suggests that repeat victims are less likely to call the police again.23 Police estimates of repeats may further exclude revictimization of the same individual at different locations, such as offenses reported from hospitals or at police stations while jurisdictional boundaries, recording practices for series offenses, the use of short-time periods such as a single year, and a small number of offenses may also mask repeats that can be identified by police.