The most direct impact of crime is borne by victims. Despite this fact, victims have often been the least studied and least organized, and have the least input into the criminal justice process. Prior to the mid-1980s, it was generally believed that the cost of the criminal justice system dwarfed the cost imposed on victims. However, once economists began to include the intangible costs of crime such as pain, suffering, and lost quality of life, this relationship has reversed itself. Victim costs are now seen to be the largest component of the cost of crime. At the same time, victim rights have become more important in the criminal justice system, as have victim rights organizations. This chapter focuses on victim costs-both tangible and intangible. In addition to adding these costs up, we briefly look at the demographics of victimization (i.e. who suffers the most) and attempts to compensate victims for the costs they bear. Most of this chapter deals with traditional “street crime.” However, we also consider two important areas of crime that impose significant social costs: (1) economic crimes such as fraud, anti-trust, and crimes against the environment, and (2) drug crimes.
Table 3.1 (overleaf) lists the major crime categories and the average costs for victims of most types of violent and property crime in the U.S. It is taken from the most recent U.S. estimates of the cost of crime to victims-Miller, Cohen, and Wiersema (1996). Note that the costs shown in Table 3.1 include both tangible and intangible costs, and are averaged over both completed and attempted crimes. This chapter will enumerate the crime cost categories that go into these estimates-including lost wages/productivity, medical care, mental health care, police and fire services, victim services, property losses, and pain, suffering, and lost quality of life. Costs generally borne by third parties or society as a whole are reserved for Chapter 4.
The costs in Table 3.1 are based on “victimizations, ” not “victims.” Thus if a victim is subjected to repeated victimizations, each one is estimated as a separate event. It is possible, for example, that the psychological trauma associated with a repeat victimization is worse than twice that of a single victimization. If so, these figures would need to be adjusted upward to account for repeat victimizations. On the other hand, if the psychological trauma associated with repeat victimization is less than the sum of individual single-event victimizations, these figures would be too high.