Perceived Danger and Offending: Exploring the Links between Violent Victimization and Street Crime

By Frederick, Tyler J.; McCarthy, Bill et al. | Violence and Victims, February 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Perceived Danger and Offending: Exploring the Links between Violent Victimization and Street Crime


Frederick, Tyler J., McCarthy, Bill, Hagan, John, Violence and Victims


Perceptions of the danger of crime are typically discussed in the context of people's fear that they will be harmed by offenders. We shiftthe focus and examine the association between perceived danger and offending and the contribution of these perceptions to the well-established relationship between violent victimization and crime. We hypothesize that violence may embolden some victims and contribute to their perception that offending is not dangerous. We examine the mediating effects of these perceptions alongside two other potential links between violent victimization and crime: deviant definitions and risk seeking. Our analyses of data from a sample of homeless youth find that violent victimization is strongly associated with four types of offending-theft, drug use, drug selling, and prostitution-and that perceived danger significantly mediates several of these relationships. Our results suggest that perceived danger may be an important mechanism connecting victimization and crime.

Keywords: violent victimization; crime; child abuse; perceived danger; homeless youth

There is a considerable evidence of an association between violent victimization and subsequent crime (Gottfredson, 1981; Hindelang, 1976; Jennings, Piquero, & Reingle, 2012; Lauritsen, Laub, & Sampson, 1992; Maldonado-Molina, Jennings, Tobler, Piquero, & Canino, 2010; Mustaine & Tewksbury, 2000; Osgood, Wilson, O'Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996; Widom, 1989, 1997; however, see Broidy, Daday, Crandall, Sklar, & Jost, 2006; Schreck, Stewart, & Osgood, 2008), and several studies examine potential mediators of this relationship (Agnew, 2002; Baron, 2009; Brezina, 1998; Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1990; Hay & Evans, 2006; Heimer & De Coster, 1999; Rebellon & Van Gundy, 2005; Simons, Simons, Chen, Brody, & Lin, 2007; Zingraff, Leiter, Johnsen, & Myers, 1993). We add to this literature by examining the intervening effect of perceived danger. Drawing on research from various disciplines and perspectives, we hypothesize that some victims of violence underestimate the danger associated with risky activities, and that this perception mediates the effect of victimization on offending.

We explore our hypothesis with data from a sample of homeless youth, a population well suited to the study of the links between victimization, perceived danger, and crime. Compared to most adolescents, homeless youth typically have more extensive histories of violent victimization, provide more variation on key mediating variables, and report greater involvement in a range of violent and nonviolent crime (Baron, 2009; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999). The preferred data for examining mediating relationships would be gathered in experiments with victimization, mediating, and outcome variables measured at three points in time. We do not have such data; instead, we use cross-sectional data for an initial exploration of whether perceived danger adds to our understanding of the link between victimization and offending. Our data limit our ability to determine causality; however, they allow us to assess competing theories and to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant further research.

VICTIMIZATION AND CRIME

Research from several disciplines document a link between victimization and crime, and in particular, between parental victimization and offending. Studies find that although most children who are abused do not become extensively involved in illegal behavior, maltreatment increases the risk of later criminality for both genders (Currie & Tekin, 2006; English, Widom, & Branford, 2002; Fagan, 2005; Lansford et al., 2007; Malinosky-Rummell & Hansen, 1993; Smith & Thornberry, 1995; Widom, 1997). We build on these findings by addressing three shortcomings common to many studies. First, we examine separately the effects of paternal and maternal abuse. A meta-analysis reveals that paternal variables typically have larger effects on delinquency compared to maternal ones (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; also see Guterman & Lee, 2005; Hoeve, Semon Dubas, Gerris, van der Laan, & Smeenk, 2011), and individual studies find that paternal physical aggression, not maternal, predict anger and aggression (Loos & Alexander, 1997) and adult criminality (McCord, 1991).

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