Risk Estimations of the Conjunction of Victim and Crime Event Characteristics on the Lethal Outcome of Sexual Assaults

Article excerpt

This study examines what factors may distinguish injury from death in sexual crimes. We suggest that victim characteristics may work in conjunction with the crime context to enhance or reduce a fatal outcome once a sexual assault is underway. Based on a sample of 201 sex offenders who either physically injured or killed their victim, we calculate risk estimations of lethal and injurious outcomes for various conjunctions of victim characteristics and contextual aspects of the crime event. One of the most interesting findings is the apparent protective effects of a victim's criminogenic environment, which consistently appears to decrease the probability of a fatal outcome.

Keywords: lethal outcome; sexual assault; risk estimation; crime event; sexual homicide

Beyond the injury of forced sex, a sexual assault can result in physical injury or death. According to the existing literature, there are two main perspectives to explain a lethal outcome to a sexual assault (Felson & Messner, 1996). The first one states that homicide and criminal violence share the same behavior and the same process, differing only in the outcome. In other words, the dynamics of homicide and other assaults would be identical but the end result of the former would be the death of the victim (Harries, 1990). For instance, it may be that less access and lower quality medical care for some victims in some neighborhood could result in the death of the victim (Doerner & Speir, 1986). Thus, according to such a perspective, one would expect no distinctive patterns of behavior when examining sexual assaults that result in either physical injuries or the death of the victim. The alternative perspective suggests that there exists distinctive dynamics in homicides, which are related with the formation of lethal intent. "According to this point of view, a substantial portion of homicide offenders really do intend to kill their victims and not merely to injure them. The death of a victim, therefore, is not an incidental outcome that reflects extraneous considerations but rather is an integral part of the incident that is likely to be systematically related to other features of that incident" (Felson & Messner, 1996, p. 520). This study adopts the latter perspective and investigates how the conjunction between victim characteristics and offenders' actions during the crime influence the risk of a lethal outcome following a sexual assault.


Regardless of what the offender's intent may be at the outset of the criminal act, the actual outcome depends on what occurs between the offender and the victim (Tedeschi & Felson, 1994). In the course of any personal crime, the behavior of one actor is shaped by the behavior of the other (Block, 1981). Luckenbill (1977) applied this concept of a social interaction between victims and perpetrators of homicide, referring to this exchange as a "collective transaction." Essentially, Luckenbill suggests that each participant develops a role within the criminal interchange; this role is shaped by the other actor and ultimately plays its own part in the resulting fatality. Because the victim's actions antagonize the offender in some way-even if this is completely unintentional-this is perceived by the offender as entering into an agreement where violence and force are acceptable tools that may be used to settle the dispute (Luckenbill, 1977). Similarly, Block (1981) examines the effect of the interaction between victim and offender on the outcome of violent crimes. However, rather than viewing the event as a "working agreement" between victim and offender, Block (1981) simply states the importance of the victim's role and actions on those of the offender. What takes place within the confines of the microenvironment surrounding the crime is most often a result of the actions of the victim and how those actions intersect with the strategies and behavior of the offender. …