Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Victims Mostly Men

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1686-1



An unfortunate person who suffers from some adverse circumstance.


Prior to the 1960s, criminological inquiry primarily centralized upon offender/criminal characteristics; negating situations, behaviors, and characteristics associated with victimization. While researchers had previously attempted to develop victim typologies with the use of law enforcement data, criminologists were ultimately unsuccessful in their typological endeavors (Mendelsohn 1976). However, in the 1960s the first self-report victimization survey was developed and conducted allowing researches insight into what is now known as the dark figure of crime (Reiss 1967). After examining and refining methodological problems associated with the original survey, the first national level annual offender/victim analysis was implemented (National Crime Survey 1973; Barnes, Seepersad, Wilkis, & Wortley, 2016).

Since the development and implementation of the National Crime Survey (1973), an increase in criminological and psychological victim-based research has been observed. Said research indicates clear differentiation among victimization risk based upon individual/lifestyle characteristics. Characteristics correlated with risk of victimization include, but are not limited to, an individual’s age, gender, ethnicity, social economic status, and peer network (Garofalo 1987). Specifically, males, minorities (i.e., African Americans), persons living in low socioeconomic neighborhoods, and adolescents are found to be at higher risk for experiencing personal and property victimization, with the highest rate of victimization occurring among African American males ranging from 14 to 24 years of age (National Crime Victimization Survey 2016).

Historically, the offender-victim relationship has been portrayed with males committing the majority of criminal acts with females possessing the greatest risk for victimization. However, national crime statistics indicate a unique relationship between offending and victimization risk with males being the most represented among both populations (excluding sex crimes) (National Crime Victimization Survey 2016).

Although not originally intended to differentiate by gender, both macro and micro-level theories have attempted to explain the variation among victimization risk. Multiple theories have investigated the relationship between gender and victimization from an offender – victim overlap perspective (Lauritsen and Laub 2007). Offender-victim overlap models focus on the relationship between offending behavior and victimization from a structural characteristic background, spotlighting similarities among offender and victim attributes (Baumer and Lauritsen 2010).

Three theoretical approaches aiding in the explanation of the offender-victim overlap are lifestyle/routine activities theory, deviant lifestyles theory, and self-control theory (Jensen and Brownfield 1986; Schreck et al. 2008). For instance, Hindelang’s (1976) “principle of homogamy” focuses on the theoretical link between offending behavior and victimization, noting that certain behaviors may increase the potential for victimization.

Hindelang’s (1976) theory of integrated lifestyle exposure was one of the first theories to focus on personal victimization and the differences therein. The theory of integrated lifestyle exposure was developed for the purpose of explaining the unequal distribution of victimization among various persons with differing backgrounds. Background characteristics include an individual’s age, race, sex, income, marital status, social affiliation, etc. Furthermore, Hindelang (1976) proposed the idea that an individual’s background could affect his/her potential achievements, reaction, and adaption to novel stimuli, professional activities, and vocational activities. These individual background differences were theorized to result in observable lifestyle differences and purported to be indicators of an individual’s daily routine.

Differences in lifestyle activities were believed to affect an individual’s rate of exposure to high risk situations and/or environments. For instance, adolescent males were noted as having a higher frequency of unstructured nightly routines, spending more time in high-risk areas, while lacking the presence of parental or social control, thus increasing their exposure to offenders and the potential for victimization. Alternatively, young women were thought to be highly monitored and supervised by their guardians which was theorized to partially explain gender differences in victimization.

Routine Activates Theory

Analogous to Hindelang’s (1976) lifestyle theory which focused upon places frequented, interaction with criminally prone individuals, and convenience of target is Cohen et al.’s (1981) theory of routine activities. Cohen et al. (1981) expanded upon the lifestyle theory by proposing an opportunity-based theory of offending and victimization. Cohen et al.’s (1981) opportunity theory focused on descriptors of lifestyles probabilistically associated with increased risk of victimization. Their routine activities approach (Cohen and Felson 1979) primarily focused on a motivated offender, the availability of a suitable target, and the availability of a capable guardian (or lack thereof). Cohen and Felson, theorized higher risk of victimization resulted when a motivated offender converged with a suitable target absent a capable guardian (Cohen and Felson 1979). Cohen (1979) later summarized the routine activities model of offending to include an individual’s everyday behavior/activities. Personal behavior/activities were theorized to bring about interactions between an individual and a potentially motivated offender. For instance, persons purchasing or selling narcotics were theorized as being more likely to converge with a motivated offender when compared with their non-drug using counterparts; thus, increasing the risk of victimization.

Cohen and Felson’s (1979) routine activities theory has commonly been used to explain why and how males are at a heightened risk of victimization. With young unmarried males experiencing the highest rate of victimization; their routine and/or nocturnal activates with peer networks provide significant insight into the relationship between exposure and victimization. For instance, by being out at night, partaking in high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, participating in delinquent activities themselves, and frequenting high-risk areas, males are at an increased risk for coming into contact with a motivated offender without the protection of a suitable guardian (Lauritsen et al. 1991).

Delinquent Lifestyles Theory

Analogous to Cohen and Felson’s (1980) routine activity theory is Jensen and Brownfield’s theory of delinquent lifestyles (1986). Their theory of delinquent lifestyles proposed a positive relationship between active offending and victimization. In this instance, active offending behavior was viewed as a causal mechanism with victimization resulting from “motives, vulnerability, or culpability of people involved in offending activities” (Jensen and Brownfield 1986). In other words, having a lifestyle of criminal behavior placed an individual in higher crime locations, high-risk situations, and interactions with other offenders, resulting in increased risk of victimization (Lauritsen et al. 1991). In 2007, Smith and Ecob reiterated Jensen and Brownfield’s theory of delinquent lifestyles (1986) by noting the interactive nature of the offender-victim relationship. Smith viewed victimization as “the outcome of an interactive process, in which both the eventual victim and the eventual delinquent played a part” (Smith and Ecob 2007).

Self-Control Theory

As previously alluded to in routine activities theory and delinquent lifestyles theory, there is a commonly noted relationship between an individual’s daily activities and risk of victimization. The General Theory of Crime (1990), along with lifestyle theories, has been used as a template for the explanation of victimization. Specifically, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) theorized an interactive relationship between low self-control and criminal outcomes. In their general theory of crime, low self-control was believed to develop during childhood as the result of ineffective parenting and inadequate socialization, thus producing later deviant outcomes. Moreover, low self-control was thought to affect behavior by manifesting itself through impulsive risk-seeking behaviors (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990).

Ultimately, Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990), proposed an inverse relationship between an individual’s level of self-control and behavioral outcomes. Empirically, low levels of self-control have consistently been linked with a person’s propensity to engage in criminal offending. As a result, scholars further proposed a correlation between low self-control and victimization (Pratt and Cullen 2000). Alternative to the substantive amount of research conducted on low self-control and behavioral outcomes, research assessing the relationship between low self-control and victimization was not prominent until the 2000s.

In 1999, Schreck expanded Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime by integrating it with lifestyle theories of offending. Specifically, Schreck (1999) sought to understand the underlying logic between the self-control-offending relationship and how an increased risk for offending was correlated with higher levels of victimization. Schreck’s concept of self-control and victimization focused on the idea that individuals primarily interact with persons similar to them. Specifically, Schreck purported an individual’s risk of victimization to be directly associated with the number of characteristics said individual shared with antisocial persons (Hindelang et al. 1978). Schreck further argued that victims, analogous to offenders, expressed lower levels of self-control resulting in more impulsive and risk-taking behaviors. Said behaviors were believed to increase offending, ultimately resulting in persons being perceived as more attractive and vulnerable targets (Schreck 1999).


The previously noted theories have been extensively supported by prior research. Offending behavior/lifestyles has been one of the most consistent predictors of victimization (Lauritsen and Laub 2007). Jensen and Brownfield (1986) classified offending behavior as a lifestyle or routine-based activity, suggesting an increased risk of victimization resulting from higher exposure to motivated offenders without the presence of a capable guardian (i.e., law enforcement). Specifically, Jensen and Brownfield (1986) found more serious deviant behaviors (i.e., drug and alcohol use) to act as desensitizing agents, ultimately making these individuals more attractive targets to motivated offenders.

Additionally, persons engaged in criminal activities were found to be more likely to use violence as a means of physical and reputational protection. This type of lifestyle activity increased the likelihood of succumbing to unintended consequences, ultimately increasing the potential risk of victimization (Stewart et al. 2008). Moreover, previous research further discovered that offenders and victims shared many of the same behavioral and lifestyle characterizes as the result of them being the same person (Jensen and Brownfield 1986; Lauritsen et al. 1991).

Research regarding the offender-victim overlap has produced consistent findings across differing social contexts, cultures, and nationalities. Using data from the National Youth Survey, Lauritsen et al. (1991) further explored the relationship between offending and victimization by controlling for the “reciprocal influence of victimization of offending.” Lauritsen et al.’s (1991) findings provided significant support for the theory that offenders and victims do not simply share the same characteristics, but rather are the same person. Therefore, overall victimization among the male population has been substantively explained by male engagement in deviant, impulsive, high-risk lifestyles.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin Beaver
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA