Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

When Repeat Victimization Occurs

A critical and consistent feature of repeat victimization is that repeat offenses occur quickly-many repeats occur within a week of the initial offense, and some even occur within 24 hours. An early study of RV showed the highest risk of a repeat burglary was during the first week after an initial burglary.24

After the initial period of heightened risk, the risk of a repeat offense declines rapidly until the victim once again has about the same victimization risk as persons or properties that have never been victimized. This common pattern is displayed in Figure 1 and shows that 60 percent of repeat burglaries occurred within one month of the initial offense; about 10 percent occurred during the second month. After the second month, the likelihood of a repeat offense is quite low.

RV consistently demonstrates a predictable pattern known as time course: a relatively short high-risk period is followed by a rapid decline and then a leveling off of risk. The length of the time period of heightened victimization risk varies based on local crime problems. Determining the time period of heightened risk is critical because any preventive actions must be taken during the high risk period to prevent subsequent offenses. For offenses with a short high-risk time course, the preventive actions must be taken very quickly. The delay of two days or a week may miss the opportunity to prevent a repeat from occurring.

Some research suggests that the predictable time course of repeat victimization may be punctuated by a "bounce"-a slight resurgence in the proportion of revictimization occurring after the risk appears to be steadily declining (see Figure 2). The bounce in the time course may be associated with the replacement of property with insurance money. It seems likely that some repeat offenders may employ a "cool down" period, perceiving victims to be on high alert immediately after an offense but relaxing their vigilance within a few months.

Evidence suggests that the time period between an initial and subsequent offense varies by the type of crime. The time course of domestic violence appears short (see Table 7) with 15% of repeat offenses occurring within a day. The time course of RV may be calculated by hours, days, weeks or months, or even years between offenses, depending upon the temporal distribution of data.

In addition to variation by crime type, it is likely that the time course may also vary by the location of the study. For example, a study in Florida showed 25% of repeat burglaries took place within a week while a study in Merseyside showed 11% of repeats occurred during a similar time period.

Although the time period for reporting repeat victimization varies, the statement of such findings is straightforward. For example, the first row in Table 7 would be stated as:

Of repeat incidents of domestic violence, 15% occurred within 24 hours of the initial incident while 35% of repeat incidents occurred within five weeks.

Table 7: Time Course of Repeat Victimization by Offense Type:

Crime Reports

Offense

Proportion of Repeats by Time Period

Where/Study

Domestic violence

15% within 24 hours

35% within five weeks

Merseyside, England25

Bank robbery

33% within three months

England26

Residential burglary

25% within a week

51% within a month

Tallahassee, Florida27

11% within one week

33% within one month

Merseyside, England28

Non-residential burglary

17% within one week

43% within one month

Merseyside, England29

Property crime at schools

70% within a month

Merseyside, England30

Why Repeat Victimization Occurs

There are two primary reasons for repeat victimization: one, known as the "boost" explanation, relates to the role of repeat offenders; the other, known as the "flag" explanation, relates to the vulnerability or attractiveness of certain victims.

In the flag explanation, some targets are unusually attractive to criminals or particularly vulnerable to crime, and these characteristics tend to remain constant over time. In such cases, the victim is repeatedly victimized by different offenders.

  • Some locations, such as corner properties, may have higher victimization because offenders can easily determine if no one is home. Similarly, apartments with sliding glass doors are particularly vulnerable to break-ins.
  • Some businesses, such as convenience stores, are easily accessible and open long hours, which increases exposure to crime.
  • Some jobs, such as taxi driving or delivering pizzas, routinely put employees at higher risk than do other jobs. People who routinely spend time in risky places, such as bars, are at greater risk of victimization.
  • Hot products, such as vehicles desirable for joyriding, are at higher risk of being stolen.

In the boost explanation, repeat victimization reflects the successful outcome of an initial offense. Specific offenders gain important knowledge about a target from their experience and use this information to reoffend.

This knowledge may include easy access to a property, times during which a target is unguarded, or techniques for overcoming security. For example, offenders who steal particular makes of vehicles may have knowledge of ways to defeat their electronic security systems or locking mechanisms. Even fraudulent victimization shows this boost pattern, as insurance fraud may explain some cases of repeat victimization.

  • During initial offenses, offenders may spot butto carry away all the desirable property. These offenders may return for property left behind; or the offenders may tell others about the property, leading different offenders to revictimize the same property. Since many victims will eventually replace stolen property, such as electronics, original offenders may also return after a period of time to steal the replacement property-presumably brand new.31
  • Some victims may be unable to protect themselves from further victimization. An unrepaired window or door may increase vulnerability and make repeat victimization even easier than an initial offense. For example, once victimized, a domestic violence victim faces a high likelihood of revictimization if no protective measures are taken to prevent subsequent offenses.
  • Interviews with offenders suggest that much repeat victimization may be related to boost explanations-experienced offenders can reliably calculate both the risks and rewards of offending. Half to two-thirds of offenders report burglarizing or robbing a specific property twice or more.32 Among domestic violence offenders, as many as two-thirds of incidents are committed by repeat offenders.33

Boost and flag explanations may overlap and vary by offense type. For example, bank robberies are most likely to recur if an initial robbery yielded a large take; when monetary losses were small, banks were less likely to be robbed again.34 Research on repeat victimization-for banks and other targets-suggests that most offenses are highly concentrated on a small number of victims while the majority of targets are never victimized at all.

How Repeat Victimization Relates to Other Crime Patterns

Research has revealed several types of repeat victimization:

  • True repeat victims are the exact same targets that were initially victimized, such as the same house and the same occupants who were burglarized three times within a year.
  • Near victims are victims or targets that are physically close to the original victim and may be similar in important ways. Apartments close to a burglarized unit will tend to contain similar goods, have similar physical vulnerabilities, and a common layout.
  • Virtual repeats are repeat victims that are virtually identical to the original victim in important ways. A chain of convenience stores or fast food restaurants may have identical store layouts and management practices, such as having a single clerk on duty or informal cash handling procedures. The new occupants of a dwelling that had been previously burglarized are another type of virtual repeat.
  • Chronic victims are repeat victims who suffer from different types of victimization over time-such as burglary, domestic violence, and robbery. This phenomenon is also known as multiple victimization.

For some crimes, repeat victimization is related to other common crime patterns:

  • Hot spots are geographic areas in which crime is clustered. Hot spots may be hot because of the frequency of the same type of crime, such as burglaries, or hot spots may include different types of crimes. For many crimes, repeat victimization contributes to hot spots.
  • Hot products are goods that are frequently stolen, and their desirability may underlie repeat victimization. Stores that sell CDs, beer, or gasoline may suffer repeat victimization. Some products, including vehicles, become hot products because of the product's vulnerability-for example, vehicles with locks that are easy to defeat.
  • Repeat offenders are individuals who commit multiple crimes. Some offenders specialize in a single crime type, while others commit complementary offenses-such as breaking into a house and stealing a vehicle to transport the goods, or stealing a license plate to be used in the commission of another crime, such as a commercial robbery.
  • Crime series are offenses of one crime type that appear to be the work of the same offender. The offenses may be clustered in space or time, or reflect a distinctive modus operandi, such as a serial rapist who targets college students. Common series involve property crime at similar targets, such as robberies of convenience stores.
  • Risky facilities are locations such as colleges or shopping areas that routinely attract or generate a disproportionate amount of crime. For example, lots where students routinely park may generate more larcenies from vehicles because the vehicles of students may routinely contain desirable electronic equipment.

These crime patterns are not mutually exclusive and may intersect or overlap; the detection of repeat victimization, however, routinely provides important clues about the reasons for recurrence and permits police to focus on avenues for prevention.

Where Repeat Victimization Occurs

For many crime problems, repeat victimization is most common in high crime areas.

† Offenses such as domestic violence and sexual assault do not usually exhibit spatial concentrations, while other targets of repeat victimization, such as convenience stores, budget motels, and banks, may be geographically dispersed.

Persons and places in high crime areas face a greater risk of initial victimization for many crimes, and they may lack the means to block a subsequent offense by improving security measures and doing so quickly.35

In high crime areas, crime is so concentrated among repeat victims that recurring offenses can create hot spots-relatively small geographic areas in which offenses are clustered. As a result, experts have coined the term "hot dots" because incident maps may be dominated by symbols scaled to represent the number of offenses at specific addresses.36 (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3

Repeat Commercial Robberies37

Incident maps are often used to identify hot spots and can be used to detect repeat victimization. Icons or symbols should be used on maps that are scaled in size to reflect the number of incidents, otherwise points that overlap may not be visible, masking RV. Data decisions can also distort the amount of repeat victimization that can be detected on maps. Short time periods, such as a week or month or even a quarter-may mask repeat victimization; imprecise address information, such as a single address for incidents occurring at a large apartment complex, also mask specific locations of RV.

Incident maps may mask RV in densely populated areas because most maps demonstrate the incidence and spatial distribution of offenses, and do not account for the concentration of crimes. In densely populated areas such as those with multi-family dwellings, most maps will not differentiate between apartment units and apartment buildings that may comprise large apartment complexes.

Crime is not always geographically patterned, and this is also true for repeat victimization. For example, victims of domestic violence are unlikely to be geographically concentrated. Even repeat incidents of domestic violence may not occur at a single address; one offense may take place at a residence while the repeat offense may occur at a victim's workplace.

Some crimes, such as burglary, are clustered geographically; repeat burglaries are even more predictably clustered.38 Thus, citywide data on burglaries may mask the proportion of repeat burglaries occurring in smaller geographic areas. This suggests the need to use different geographic levels of analysis to examine RV. In contrast to burglary, offenses such as bank robberies and domestic violence may necessitate the use of data from the entire jurisdiction.

Overlooking Repeat Victimization

Although the phenomenon of repeat victimization is well-established, it is easy to overlook the importance of repeat victimization in crime pattern analysis because most people and properties within a jurisdiction are not victimized by crime, particularly within a period of one or a few years.

Consider a study in which 10,828 burglaries were reported to police in 1990:39

  • ·97 percent of the city's estimated 300,000 addresses were not burglarized
  • ·3 percent of the jurisdiction's addresses (8,116) were burglarized

At first, repeat victimization appears minimal:

  • ·82 percent of the victims (6,616 addresses) suffered only one burglary during the year
  • ·18 percent of victims (1,500 addresses) suffered two or more burglaries

Analysis sheds further light on revictimization:

  • ·61 percent of all burglaries (6,616) occurred at addresses with only one offense
  • ·39 percent of all burglaries (4,212) occurred at addresses with two or more offenses

While repeat victimization may still appear minimal, Figure 4 demonstrates graphically that revictimization accounts for a disproportionately large share of all burglaries: 18 percent of victims accounted for 39 percent of burglaries. If offenses after the initial offense had been prevented, the jurisdiction would have experienced 2,712 fewer burglaries-a 25 percent reduction in burglaries.

Figure 4:

Distribution of Burglaries by Address and Frequency

In addition to its potential for crime reduction, analysis of repeat victimization provides an important analytic and management tool for police organizations by serving the following purposes:

  • Provide a reliable performance measure for evaluating organizational effectiveness (as used by police forces in Great Britain).
  • Serve as a catalyst for developing more effective responses for problems that generate much of the workload for police.
  • Reveal limitations of existing data and police practices, and advance improvements in data quality and victim services. (See Appendix A for ways to easily improve data quality.)
  • Provide insight into patterns underlying recurring crime problems.
  • Prioritize the development and delivery of crime prevention and victim services.

Although recognizing repeat victimization is an important step, working out precisely what to do about revictimization will require additional effort on the part of police.

Special Concerns About Repeat Victimization

Once an agency undertakes analysis of repeat victimization and determines the prevalence and time course of repeats by offense type, the crime pattern can be used as a tool for developing responses to reduce revictimization. Focusing on victims raises a number of special concerns that police should consider:

  • Blaming the victim. Victims may be vulnerable because they are unable, or have failed to secure their property, or have placed themselves in high-risk settings. The behaviors of individuals-such as using poor judgment while under the influence of drugs or alcohol-may contribute to victimization. In most cases, police should provide information to the victim about the increased risk of victimization but must be careful about implying blame.
  • Increasing fearfulness. For offenses such as burglary that are unlikely to be solved, the primary role of police is often to comfort victims. Warning victims about the likelihood of being revictimized may make victims more fearful.
  • Violating privacy of victims. Although victimization increases the risk of revictimization to the original victim, it also increases the risks to persons and properties that are either nearby or virtually identical to the initial victim. While police may be concerned about violating the privacy of an initial victim by warning others, this information may prevent other vulnerable persons or places from being victimized.
  • Displacing crime. It is often believed that thwarting one offense will result in a motivated offender simply picking another target. Unless there are virtual victims, the likelihood of displacement is low.40 For example, preventing repeat domestic violence is unlikely to result in the displacement of violence to another victim. If there are virtual victims available-such as similar nearby houses to be burglarized or similar unsecured parking lots for vehicle theft-police should consider these as candidates for similar crime prevention strategies. Rather than causing displacement, crime prevention efforts focused on victims are just as likely to produce bonus effects. For example, reducing opportunities for vehicle theft may also reduce theft from vehicles.
  • Unintended consequences. Focusing on repeat victimization to reduce offending may have unintended consequences. In a study in New York City, researchers found that follow-up visits and educational services to victims of domestic violence resulted in increased calls for police service,41 and mandatory arrest for some domestic violence offenders increases revictimization.