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Victim Precipitation: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:02 Definition
  • 0:36 Theory
  • 2:02 Victim Facilitation
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittany McKenna

Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.

Victim precipitation refers to the interactions of victims with those who commit crimes against them. In this lesson, you will be introduced to the theory of victim precipitation through definitions and examples.

Definition

Victim precipitation is a criminology theory that analyzes how a victim's interaction with an offender may contribute to the crime being committed. The theory is most commonly associated with crimes like homicide, rape, assault, and robbery.

The phrase 'victim precipitation' was first introduced by 20th century criminologist Marvin Wolfgang, in his article entitled Victim Precipitated Criminal Homicide. In this theory, Wolfgang describes the victim as the first in the homicide drama to use physical force against his subsequent slayer.

Theory

Like all criminology theories, victim precipitation relates to how and why crime happens. While most theories focus on the acts and intentions of the offender, victim precipitation seeks to understand the interaction between the victim and the offender.

Under this theory, the victim is viewed an active participant in the crime. This happens in two ways: first, the victim is the participant in the crime who acts first; and second, the victim encourages or provokes the offender to commit the crime. These are the primary components of the victim precipitation theory.

Consider the following example: Cain and Abel are having a drink at the local tavern. Abel owes Cain money, and as the night progresses, Cain becomes increasingly agitated with Abel's failure to pay his debt. Finally, Cain snaps-- he shouts at Abel from across the bar, and then charges at him, brandishing a pistol. He fires a shot toward Abel, barely missing his head. Abel pulls a knife and stabs Cain to death as the two wrestle on the floor.

Under the victim precipitation theory, Cain's participation in his own death can be analyzed by applying the theory's two components. First, Cain was the initial aggressor- he started the verbal altercation, and he started the physical altercation when he fired his pistol at Abel. Second, Cain clearly provoked Abel-- he ran towards him aggressively, intending to kill or seriously injure him.

Victim precipitation theory also relates to interactions that make a victim susceptible to crime. This application of the theory is know as victim facilitation, and it concerns situations where a victim's negligence or carelessness makes them more vulnerable to criminal conduct.

A good example of victim facilitation involves auto thefts. Imagine that college freshman Dolly Driver is late to class. She parks her car in an alley several blocks from campus. She's never parked there before, and she knows the alley is adjacent to a high-crime area. In her frenzy to get to class on time, Dolly leaves her car unlocked. An hour later, Carl Carjacker finds the unlocked car unlocked in the alley. He quickly and easily jumpstarts Dolly's car and drives away.

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