What are the effects of crime on victims and those close to them?
To understand the reactions of victims to criminal justice, and to be able best to support victims, we need to know the effects of crime on victims.
A victim of a crime may possibly experience many different kinds of effects:
- Direct costs and inconvenience due to theft of or damage to property (including time off work).
- The physical effects of injury through violent crime.
- Guilt at having become the victim of crime and feelings one could have prevented it (whether or not this was at all possible).
- Psychological effects such as anger, depression or fear, which, in serious cases, can cause sleeplessness, flashbacks to the offence or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Feelings of anxiety through shock that such a thing has happened and worries about revictimisation, sometimes leading to feelings of loss of trust in one’s community and in society.
- Limiting one’s social life or work life, or changing one’s lifestyle, by not going to places like where the crime occurred or being afraid to go out altogether, because of unease or fears of revictimisation.
- Taking extra crime preventive measures.
- Dealing with insurance claims and, for those for whom the crime is reported to the police, the police and other parts of the criminal justice system.
It is almost impossible to predict exactly what effects an individual victim will suffer. People react very differently to similar offences and where one person may be seriously affected, another might experience only minor or short-term effects. Those who are more vulnerable (such as people who are poor, live in deprived areas or have other life stressors) and those who have been previously victimised are more likely to find a greater impact on them.
The effects of a crime can be felt not only by the individual who the criminal justice system treats as the direct victim, but also by their family and those close to them. Crime against businesses is also not an effect-free area as both managers and staff are likely to be affected. The knowledge of victimisation and its shock can spread out through a neighbourhood creating a ‘ripple effect’.
Some effects may only be short-term. Victims tend to cope with financial loss (though not time off work) quite quickly, by using their own resources, or with the help of friends and family. However, psychological and social effects can be very long-lasting, over months or even years. A small proportion of the most seriously affected (who tend to be victims of serious physical assaults, robberies and particularly rape, as well as the relatives of victims of homicide) may develop PTSD, which will need professional psychiatric or psychological help.
Crime surveys such as the Crime Survey for England and Wales administered in 2013/14 (previously known as the British Crime Survey) and the International Crime Victim Survey (ICVS) which was last carried out in 2004/05, provide interesting insights into the effects of victimisation.
One striking and consistent observation is that the emotional effects of victimisation do not differ much when we compare victims of different types of crime, including nonviolent and violent crime, though more serious crime tends to produce more adverse effects.
Of course, some effects are crime-specific. For example, victims of non-violent offences will not suffer any direct physical harm and financial loss is more directly associated with property crime.
However, the similarity of the emotional impact of different types of crime is striking. For instance, based on the findings of the British Crime Surveys carried out between 1996 and 2002/2003, Shapland and Hall (2007) conclude that among victims of burglary, vehicle-related theft and any type of violent offence, there is little variation in adverse emotional reactions to the victimisation. The most common response among the victims in these three categories is anger and shock.
Table: Emotional impact of burglary, vehicle-related theft and violence on victims: Average percentage of responses from 1996-2002/3 British Crime Survey
Source: Adapted from Shapland, J. and Hall, M. (2007), What do we know about the effects of crime on victims?, International Review of Victimology, vol. 14, p.182 (Table 1).
Also, when asked to rate how strong these emotional reactions are, among victims of different categories of offences, victims of burglary and victims of violent crime seem to have similarly strong reactions.
Table: Percentage of victims aged 16-59 who said that they were emotionally affected or very much affected by victimisation, 2013/2014 Crime Survey for England and Wales
Adapted from: Office of National Statistics (2015), Crime Statistics - Focus on Public Perceptions of Crime and the Police, and the Personal Well-being of Victims, 2013 to 2014, Table 3.07. Data from the Office for National Statistics licenced under the Open Government Licence v.3.0.
Given that across different types of victimisation, emotional reactions are quite similar and can be strong, victims may not be able to cope by themselves, or with just the support from family and friends. Victim support can be needed. The International Crime Victim Survey (ICVS), then, sheds a light on the proportion of victims, worldwide, that need and receive victim support.
The last ICVS, reported on by van Dijk, van Kesteren and Smit (2007), demonstrates that victims of sexual violence are the most likely to receive victim support. Victims of burglary were the least likely to receive such support.
It also highlights that many more victims would have appreciated help but did not receive it. Van Dijk, van Kesteren and Smit (2007) calculated that only about 1 out of every 5 victims of violent or property crime in the participating countries who expressed a need for victim support also received such service.
Table: Percentage of victims that received victim support of those that indicated that they needed it, 1996-2005 International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) and 2005 European Crime and Safety Survey (EU ICS)
Adapted from van Dijk, J.J.M., van Kesteren, J.N, & Smit, P. (2007), Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective: Key Findings from the 2004-2005 ICVS and EU ICS, The Hague, The Netherlands: Boom Legal Publishers, p.125 (table 25).
- Overall, in many countries the supply of victim support fails to meet demand.
- Of the participating countries, New Zealand does best at meeting the demand for victim support. Yet, even here only half of the victims who would have liked victim support actually receive it.
- Collectively, as many as 4 out of 5 victims in participating countries do not receive the support they feel they need.
Shapland, J. and Hall, M. (2007) ‘What do we know about the effects of crime on victims?’, International Review of Victimology, vol. 14, pp. 175-217. Available online.
Office for National Statistics (2015) Chapter 3: Personal well-being and crime in Crime Statistics, Focus on Public Perceptions of Crime and the Police, and the Personal Well-being of Victims, 2013 to 2014. Available online.
Van Dijk, J.J.M., Van Kesteren, J.N, & Smit, P. (2007) Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective: Key Findings from the 2004-2005 ICVS and EU ICS. The Hague, The Netherlands: Boom Legal Publishers. Available online.
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