The Victim’s Decision to Report a Crime

  • Michael R. Gottfredson
  • Don M. Gottfredson
Part of the Law, Society, and Policy book series (LSPO, volume 3)


The occurrence of a crime signals the potential involvement of the criminal justice process. It is the triggering mechanism for discretionary actions on the part of victims and possibly of criminal justice functionaries. These discretionary actions are the very basis of the criminal justice system (Remington et al., 1969).


Criminal Justice Criminal Justice System Victimization Survey Spousal Violence Criminal Justice Process 
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  1. 1.
    One major exception involves studies of police decisions to file a report of behavior as crime. These are discussed in Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This chapter will focus mainly on crimes of common theft and assault, since it is about these crimes that most research has been done and for which the victim is the principal initiator of the criminal justice process. For other types of crime (such as many forms of consumer fraud or victimless crimes), the victim probably is less active as the initiator of the process. There are several possible reasons for this: (1) for many consumer fraud and white collar offenses the victim may be unaware of the victimization; (2) there may be more uncertainty on the part of the victim over the definition of the questionable behavior as crime; (3) there may be less certainty as to the proper authority to receive the report (e.g., police, consumer fraud bureaus, better business bureaus); (4) in the case of victimless crimes (e.g., gambling, narcotics, or prostitution), if there is indeed a victim he or she might be implicated in criminal activity if a report were to be made. Portions of the text discussion draw upon Hindelang and Gottfredson (1976).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Reiss was one of the first researchers to recognize that citizens are the principal initiators of the process—i.e., that victim decisions are fundamental to an understanding of the criminal justice process.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for example, Miller et al, 1971: Ch. 1.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a thorough discussion of early victimization surveys see Hindelang (1976). A good general introduction to the NCS is provided by Garofalo and Hindelang (1977). Recent reviews of the method include Skogan (1981); Gottfredson (1986); and Sparks (1981, 1982).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For a discussion of the limitations of these survey data see Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo (1978: Ch. 10); Skogan (1981); and Sparks (1981, 1982).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    As noted above, Hindelang (1976) found that demographic characteristics of victims were unrelated to the reasons given for not calling the police once the type of crime and the victim-offender relationship were taken into accountGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    The influence of the victim in the police decision to arrest once a complaint has been made has also been found to be considerable, as will be discussed in the next chapter.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    It should be stressed that the victims’ discretion does not rest solely with calling the police. Perhaps more important is the decision to regard some behavior as criminal in the first place. Most of the evidence suggests that it is the victim, rather than the police, who must apply the criminal law to behavior in the first instance (the police can, of course, decide later not to regard some behavior as a crime). Variability in this decision demands a good deal of study, since it might bear directly on the equity of the process.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Reiss (1971) also suggests that insurance coverage may inhibit some victims from reporting for fear that their policies will be cancelled.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Gottfredson
    • 1
  • Don M. Gottfredson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Management and PolicyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminal JusticeRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA

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