Leading Theories of Victimization Risk

Instructor: Deborah Calpin

Deborah has over twenty years of experience working with criminal justice agencies and a master's of science in criminal justice-forensic psychology.

Over the past twenty years, the study of victimization explores a victim's lifestyle, risky behaviors, and environments. This lesson will explore the leading theories of victimization including victim precipitation and lifestyle-routine activities theory. Updated: 05/09/2020

Three Theories of Victimization

Victimologists find the crossing of paths between the victim and offender as crimes of opportunity. The three theories of victimization look for an explanation of why the offender selected this victim. The causal factors associated with the victim's behaviors such as drug use, residing in a high crime neighborhood, social contacts, or work situation contribute to the victimization. Let's look at three leading theories in more detail.

Deviant Place or Ecology Theory

The deviant place theory, currently known as the ecology theory, examines characteristics of the people and the population. The theory also looks at the lack of informal social controls, including neighbors not looking out for each other. The lack of formal controls is limited to no law enforcement presence in the neighborhood.

The social disorganization of a victim's neighborhood environment can increase the chances of being a target for an offender. Social disorganization involves high crime areas, lack of parental control, high population in a small geographic area, poverty, or drug sales. This type of deviant place and the location of the victim to the area increases the likelihood of victimization.

Precipitation Theory

Historically, the precipitation theory was associated with a blame-the-victim mentality. Marvin Wolfgang was the first to use the term 'victim precipitation' in 1958.

Wolfgang examined murder and robbery victims. Based on the circumstances, the victim is partly to blame for becoming a victim of homicide because they delivered the first blow. In the case of a robbery, the victim was robbed due to mishandling sums of money. His theory purported the victim contributed to their victimization because of their actions. Therefore, the victim carried some blame.

Lynn Curtis attempts to support Wolfgang's theory. After reviewing numerous police reports in 1974, she found that such variance between victim precipitation and the type of offense made it impossible to identify what of the victim's actions could have led to their victimization.

Lifestyle Activities Theory

Victimologists argue against blaming the victim theory. However, one theory evolved from the precipitation theory. The lifestyle activities theory identifies a person that because of bad judgement, placing themselves in a vulnerable situations, not securing their property, or other routine activities increases the risk of victimization. These routine activities include professional and personal lifestyle activities.

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