Some more likely to be crime victims

Not every resident of the United States has an equal chance of being a crime victim. Overall, some individuals are more likely to become targets of offenders than others, and the likelihood of being victimized for particular offenses, such as robbery and rape, is even more skewed.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, as well as other measures, indicates that becoming a crime victim is correlated with the following:


In general, the younger a person is, the more likely he or she will be the victim of a violent crime, with teens and young adults experiencing the highest rates of violent victimization. In a recent year, persons age 12 to 24 comprised 22 percent of the population and were 35 percent of murder victims as well as 49 percent of victims of all serious violent crimes (murder, robbery, rape, sexual assault, and aggravated assault). Beginning with the 25-to-34 age group, the rate at which individuals were crime victims declined significantly as age cohorts increase. The widely held perception that older persons are disproportionately victims of violent crime is false. Between 1993 and 2002, Americans 65 years of age or older experienced less violence and fewer property crimes than younger persons. Property crimes, and not violent victimizations, account for most offenses against the elderly.


Historically in this country males have had higher (often much higher) rates of violent victimization when compared to females with the exception of rape and sexual assault. The crime victimization gender gap exists at every age group and diminishes as people get older. In 2010, for the first time since the NCVS began compiling statistics, males and females had similar rates of violent victimization, 15.7 per 1,000 for males and 14.2 per 1,000 for females. The NCVS notes this finding indicates “a continuing convergence of male and female victimization.”

When males are violent crime victims their assailants are likely to be strangers. However, about two of every three attacks against women are perpetrated by someone the victims knows, typically a husband, boyfriend, family member, or acquaintance. Estimates regarding the number of females victimized by boyfriends and husbands each year range from just over a million to as many as 18 million. This wide discrepancy is explained in part by the type and purpose of the survey, the definition of violence used, and the political “context” (some would say agenda) of the research.

Abused women are slapped, punched, kicked, stabbed, burned, and occasionally shot. A significant number of these victimizations do not come to the attention of the police, and, therefore, are not reflected in the Uniform Crime Report. Abused women may be too embarrassed or frightened to inform crime victimization interviewers of their treatment, or believe that only a physical assault at the hands of stranger is a “real” crime.

Race and ethnicity

In 2012 the rate of violent crime (rape, sexual assault, robbery, simple and aggravated assault) victimizations per 1,000 by race and ethnicity were: Native American and Alaskan Native 46.9, black 34.2, white 25.2, Hispanic 24.2, Asian/Pacific Islanders 16.4. Note that Native Americans and Alaskan Natives were victims of violent crimes at a rate significantly higher than the next highest group (blacks) and almost four times as high as that of the least victimized group, Asian and Pacific Islanders.

A significant amount of violent street crime involves victims and offenders of the same race. For example, between 1976 and 2004, 86 percent of white murder victims were killed by whites and 94 percent of African American murder victims had their lives ended by African American assailants. The exception to this victim-offender relationship is Native Americans. One study found that 7 of 10 violent victimizations of Native Americans involved an offender of a different race. While African Americans are less likely to be victims of sex-related homicides, workplace killings, and homicides by poisoning, they are greatly over represented in killings involving drugs.


While the poor struggle to survive on meager incomes, they face an additional problem of high crime victimization rates. As household income increases, rates of crime victimization decrease.

In 2005, individuals 12 year of age and older from households earning less than $7,500 annually were more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime and personal theft than Americans with household incomes of more than $75,000. As a number of criminologists have noted, the poor have the highest rate of street crime victimization because they live in neighborhoods that produce a significant number of street crime offenders. Rates of sexual assault and rape were approximately the same among all income groups.

Marital status

The risk of crime victimization is a function, in part, of one’s marital status with rates of violent crime per 1,000 individuals in 2012 as follows:

-Separated 83.1

-Never married 40.7

-Divorced 37.0

-Married 13.5

-Widowed 8.3

One possible explanation for these findings is that separated, never married, and divorced individuals spend more time away from home than married and widowed individuals, and, therefore, are more likely to be victims of street crime. Although unattached, widows and widowers are more likely to be older people who stay home more than other singles making them less vulnerable to violent street crimes.

Region and location of residence

Rates of violent victimization per 1,000 in 2012 by geographic region were: West 35.5, Northeast 24.7, Midwest 23.9, and South 22.1. There is no clear explanation for the significantly higher victimization rate in the West. By location of residence, violent victimization rates in 2012 were: urban 32.4, suburban 32.8, and rural 20.9.


Research indicates that immigrants are victimized at rates similar to that of the larger population but are less likely to report crimes to law enforcement authorities. A national survey of 92 police chiefs, prosecutors, and court administrators concluded that the crimes least likely to be reported by immigrants are domestic violence, sexual assault, and gang violence. Explanations for these low reporting rates include:

-Fear of becoming involved with authorities

-Fear of embarrassing their families

-Difficulty speaking English

-Cultural differences in perceptions of justice

-Lack of knowledge of the U.S. criminal justice system

In future articles I will discuss how street criminals choose their victims and the phenomenon of repeat victimization, that is, why some individuals are victimized on more than one occasion, often in a relatively short period of time.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale, retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego. He is the co-author (with Steven E. Barkan) of “Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice: What Every American Should Know,” Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2014


Barkan, S. and G. Bryjak (2014) “Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice: What Every American Should Know,” Jones & Bartlett Learning, Burlington, Mass.

“Homicide Trends in the U.S” (2005) U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, D.C.

Truman J., L. Langton and M. Planty, (2013) “Criminal Victimization 2012,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, D.C.