Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 44Research on Repeat Victimisation in Scotland
Mandy Shaw and Ken Pease Applied Criminology Group, University of Huddersfield
Previous research into repeat victimisation within the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, has shown that: a small proportion of the population suffers a high proportion of all crime; the more crimes suffered the more likely a further offence becomes; repeat crimes are likely to happen quickly after a previous offence is committed; and that knowledge about repeat victimisation can be used as a crime management tool. This information is important for policing as it justifies the allocation of resources to the small proportion of people and places suffering the highest proportion of crime. This research tests whether the findings from elsewhere also apply to Scotland. It does this by analysing Scottish Crime Survey (SCS) data, police records and through interviews with repeat victims and repeat offenders. The link between the prolific offender and the repeat victim is not yet fully understood. As such, this research asks whether prolific offenders account for repeat victimisation of the same people and places, and, if so, why they return.
- Scottish Crime Survey (SCS) data show the familiar repeat victimisation phenomena found in previous research on repeat victimisation. Crime is disproportionately suffered by repeat victims. The probability of becoming a victim again increases as the number of prior victimisations increase.
- The familiar appearance and time course of repeat victimisation are in evidence in Scottish police data. If a house is going to be broken into again after one housebreaking, it will probably happen soon after the previous one. The same is true of sequences of motor vehicle crime and of assault.
- There was shown to be a concentration of victimisation on the same side of a street as a home previously broken into (defined in the research as the 'penumbra' of risk).
- Cross-crime type analyses showed that there was some predictability in sequences of crime, with some crime types being better predictors than others. A first incident of assault best predicts future victimisation of the same type, and violence following housebreaking happens three times more often than statistically expected. Housebreaking followed by vehicle crime was also identified as a common occurrence.
- Lead-ups to repeat incidents come in various forms. For some, relatively trivial incidents may precede more serious crimes.
- The impact of repeat victimisation is distinctive as repeat victims typically do not get used to being victims of crime. In the worst cases, the effect on victims is social exclusion.
- Offenders admit returning to the same targets. If an offender decides to go back to the same target, it is likely to be soon after the last time they were there.
- Many reasons were given by offenders for returning to the same target, including the ease of previous visits, laziness and the knowledge that they had left items which they wanted.
- The poor entrance security systems in many tenement buildings is exploited by offenders returning to the same locations.
- Offender accounts support previous research evidence concerning the phenomenon of 'virtual' repeats (where very similar or identical people or places are repeatedly targeted).
- Offenders often target the same side of the street instead of going across to other properties or vehicles on the opposite side of a street.
Over the past decade, interest in the issue of repeat victimisation has grown in research and policy-making circles to varying degrees within the United Kingdom. It is now widely accepted that a small proportion of the population suffers a high proportion of all crime. The more crimes suffered, the more likely is a further offence. Repeat crimes are likely to happen quickly after a previous offence has been committed. Some crime prevention successes have been achieved by targeting resources and attention towards repeat victims. A notable example is the 'Biting Back' project in Huddersfield. Addressing repeat victimisation is a crime management tool relating to crime prevention and detection. However, direct evidence of repeat victimisation has not, to date, been clearly detected in Scotland.
Data from the SCS provides best-estimates of the general levels of repeat victimisation for the whole of Scotland, complemented in this study with recorded crime data from three police divisions. Although both sources of data have their disadvantages, together the survey data and force data can provide a relatively accurate guide as to the levels and nature of repeat victimisation. These data are supported by interview material with repeat victims and repeat offenders.
All existing sweeps of the SCS (1982, 1988, 1992 & 1996) were analysed and contained evidence of repeat victimisation in respect of both property and personal crimes. Three key measures of crime were calculated: incidence; prevalence; and concentration. Crime concentration (victimisations per victim) is greatest in areas of highest crime. This point is important because of the fact that prevention could be facilitated by attention to repeat victimisation because it automatically takes one to areas of highest crime, with a natural focus (via crime prevention and victim support) on intervention with victims and their immediate surroundings. The analysis on incidence shows the unsurprising fact that the highest crime areas are very much higher in crime than other areas. In terms of prevalence, there is a steadier increase in the proportion of people and households victimised. Even in the highest crime areas, only some 20% of people suffer a personal crime, and less than 30% suffer a property or a vehicle crime. Thus high crime areas are not areas in which everyone is victimised. SCS data consequently show the familiar repeat victimisation phenomena: crime being disproportionately suffered by repeat victims; increasing probability of becoming a victim again as the number of prior victimisations increase; and the concentration of repeat victims in areas of highest crime.
The familiar appearance and time course of repeat victimisation were in evidence in police crime data. There was shown to be a concentration of victimisation on the same side of a street, as well as, but not disproportionately, in the vicinity of a home previously broken into. The extent of the 'housebroken side of the street' phenomenon is such that it merits attention in distributing housebreaking help and advice.
Cross-crime type analyses showed that there was some predictability in sequences of crime, with some crime types being better predictors than others. A first incident of assault best predicts future victimisation of the same type, and violence following housebreaking happens three times more often than statistically expected. Housebreaking followed by vehicle crime was also identified as a common occurrence.
There is now a sizeable body of research in the United Kingdom on repeat crimes, particularly: housebreaking; theft of and from motor vehicles; domestic violence; and bullying. This study contributes to this debate by looking specifically at the Scottish dimension to repeat victimisation. The issue of repeats of different crime types against the same target, and the crime reduction implications of this, is considered for the first time in this research.
The nature and impact of chronic victimisation issue has only recently been highlighted in research on repeat victimisation and is addressed within this research. Although only a relatively small proportion of the population are chronic victims, they are thought to experience many different crime types, sometimes on a daily basis. It is thought that they endure many more crimes than come to the attention of the police and that they suffer more from their experiences than most other crime victims. Far from getting used to crime, chronic victims suffer many emotional side-effects even when victimisation episodes appear individually trivial. That a series of apparently trivial events can have such an impact on victims is of crucial importance to inform appropriate police responses to incidents that may otherwise be dismissed as insignificant.
"It's one thing after another ... you don't know what's going to happen next ... you just have to accept that you've had a lot of bad luck ... it's got harder and is getting me down ...'
Anger is a common response to repeat victimisation, particularly from victims towards the perpetrators. There is also a social impact which, in the worst cases, leads to social exclusion. Many chronic victims withdraw either partially or completely from any social contact during the worst periods of victimisation.
Of the many things not yet understood, one is the link between the prolific offender and the repeat victim. Given the research evidence to suggest that those who repeatedly target the same victim (person or place) are more established in criminal careers, and, therefore, responsible for the greatest proportion of all crime, research which identifies the specific targeting practices of these offenders has important implications for both crime prevention and crime detection. If it became possible to know the characteristics/targeting practices of specific offenders, by referring to the repeat crimes which they had committed in the past, and therefore what they were likely to commit the future, then this information would enable the police to target known prolific offenders by reference to the types of crimes they are liable to commit.
"I got a good-turn and kept on hitting it ... I just keep going until I get caught, basically"
The majority of prisoners interviewed went back to the same target (Figure 1). Offenders who are going to return to the same target are likely to do so soon after the last time they were there. Many reasons are given by offenders for returning to the same target, including the ease of previous visits, laziness and the knowledge that they had left items which they wanted. The poor entrance security systems in many tenements in Scotland are used by offenders to commit offences and to return to the same locations. The offender accounts support previous research evidence concerning the phenomenon of 'virtual' repeats, where very similar or identical people or places are repeatedly targeted. In addition, offenders often target the same side of the street instead of going across to other properties or vehicles on the opposite side of the street.
In Repeat Victimisation: Taking Stock, Pease (1998) identified a number of 'next steps' for research and practice on repeat victimisation.
"The immediate next step should be the improvement of police computer systems to identify repeats ...Traditionally, crime prevention and detection have been treated as separate entities. Focusing on repeat victimisation draws the two functions closer together ... Information on offender, victimisation event and place need to be brought together more systematically to enable preventive strategies of this kind to be formulated more effectively" (p.25)
The findings from this research may assist forces as they seek to address repeat victimisation and tackle repeat victim and repeat offender targeting. The research should also be of value to victim support organisations in providing an analysis of the experience of repeat victimisation.
If you wish further copies of this Research Findings or have any enquiries about the work of CRU, please contact us at:
Scottish Executive Central Research Unit
Web site: www.scotland.gov.uk/cru
If you wish a copy of 'Research on Repeat Victimisation in Scotland' the research report which is summarised in this research finding, please send a cheque for £5 made payable to The Stationery Office to:
The Stationery Office Bookshop
71 Lothian Road
Tel 0870 606 5566
Fax 0870 606 5588
This document (and other CRU Research Findings and Reports) and information about the work of CRU may be viewed on the Internet at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/
The site carries up-to-date information about social and policy research commissioned and published by CRU on behalf of the Scottish Executive. Subjects covered include transport, housing, social inclusion, rural affairs, children and young people, education, social work, community care, local government, civil justice, regeneration, planning and women's issues. The site allows access to information about the Scottish Household Survey.