Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Risk of Violent Crime Victimization during Major Daily Activities

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Risk of Violent Crime Victimization during Major Daily Activities

Article excerpt

Exposure to risk of violent crime is best understood after considering where people are, what they do, and for how long they do it. This article calculates Americans' exposure to violent attack per 10 million person-hours spent in different activities. Numerator data are from the National Crime Victimization Survey (2003-2008) estimates of violent incidents occurring during nine major everyday activities. Comparable denominator data are derived from the American Time Use Survey. The resulting time-based rates give a very different picture of violent crime victimization risk. Hour-for-hour, the greatest risk occurs during travel between activities. This general result holds for demographic subgroups and each type of violent crime victimization.

Keywords: routine activities; lifestyle theory; risk of violence; epidemiology of violence; opportunity for violence

Crime opportunity theories are extremely important for studying how violent crime victimization distributes across time and space. These theories give special attention to how victims and offenders converge. Both lifestyle theory (Hindelang, Gottfredson, & Garofolo, 1978) and the routine activity approach (Cohen & Felson, 1979) explain this convergence as a function of noncriminal activity patterns. Specifically, the daily movements of individuals and populations through time and space create or diminish opportunities for violent crime to occur. Lifestyle theory focuses mainly on risky personal choices, such as engaging in activities away from home after dark or spending time near youth settings. The routine activity approach gives greater weight to conventional daytime activities, such as work and school, which expose participants to crime opportunities and risks (Roman, 2004). Similar versions of crime opportunity theory were postulated by Dutch and British criminologists around this time indicating the international importance of the link between routine activities and crime (see Mayhew, Clarke, Sturman, & Hough, 1976; van Dijk & Steinmetz, 1980, respectively).

Over time, lifestyle theory and the routine activity approach have been treated as complementary (or even synonymous) because they emphasize the impact of everyday activity patterns. Both theories relate victimization risk to the quantity of time people spend in risky settings. Among others, Eck, Chainey, and Cameron (2005) employed these theories to comprehend how illegal behaviors cluster. Research on "dangerous places" and "hot spots" has repeatedly shown that violent crime concentrates in and around particular places (Block & Block, 1995; Kautt & Roncek, 2007; Roncek & Bell, 1981; Roncek & Faggiani, 1985; Roncek & Lobosco, 1983; Roncek & Maier, 1991; Sherman, 1995; Sherman, Gartin, & Buerger, 1989; Weisburd, 2005). Theoretically, people and populations spending more time in such places should have a higher risk of victimization. Unfortunately, victimization research has been plagued by a limited ability to quantify respondent exposure to risk on a large-scale national basis and instead has been forced to rely on summary measures of risk (Mustaine & Tewksbury, 1998). For example, early research estimated lifestyle exposures from female labor force participation, marital status, age, and sales at eating and drinking establishments (Cohen & Cantor, 1981; Cohen & Felson, 1979; Messner & Blau, 1987).

In this article, we draw from the epidemiology literature to reintroduce an alternative option for measuring and comparing population exposures to risk of violent crime victimization in the United States. This alternative approach adjusts for the time exposed to risk in different major activities. Such adjustment can do more than improve measurement precision; it can reverse findings that neglect how much time is spent in settings where risk of violent crime is relatively high. Yet our purpose for writing this article is not methodological, but rather to improve our understanding of violent victimization by taking into account where people are and what they are doing. …

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