Patterns of Victimisation: Social Class

A range of official statistical data, from the British Crime Surveys to the General Household Survey, provide information about the relationship between victimisation and class – although this data may not always be simple to interpret (different sources use definitions and measures of class). For example, there appears to be an apparent contradiction between two observations drawn from the statistical evidence:

  • Crime rates are higher in deprived areas.
  • Crime victims are more-likely to be drawn from the highest income earners:

  • To resolve this contradiction we need to look at the characteristics of offenders (overwhelmingly working class) and the nature of offending – which, in the case of household crimes like burglary, is highly-territorial. Wiles and Costello’s (2000) research, for example, found most crime is local to the offender; the “average distance travelled to commit domestic burglary was 1.8 miles”, which confirmed Forrester et al.’s (1988) research into patterns of burglary in Rochdale.

    While this explains working class crime and working class victims, to explain the higher levels of affluent victimisation we need to think laterally. Although an area may, overall, be designated as “deprived” this doesn’t mean it consists exclusively of deprived individuals; there are likely to be affluent patches in or close to deprived areas – especially, but not exclusively, in urban areas where there is greater pressure on space. In London, for example, a severely-deprived area (North Kensington) contains patches of affluence and sits in close proximity to the very affluent areas of West and South Kensington. The reason for relatively high levels of household victimisation among the affluent is found in the idea of offenders seeing the rewards for crimes against more affluent households outweighing any increased risks. This explanation is based to some extent on the notion of an ecological fallacy – the mistaken assumption that individual members of an area have the area’s average characteristics. In this instance, the assumption a “deprived area” consists wholly of “deprived individuals” is mistaken – affluent individuals living in or close-to deprived areas have disproportionate chances of victimisation.

    Personal crimes show a different class profile; all occupations, from managerial / professional, through intermediate to routine and manual occupations, experience much the same level of crime. However, for those who have never worked (mainly young males) and the long-term unemployed rates of personal crime are around 3-times higher. Overall, personal crime is twice as high in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.

    Young’s (1994) criticism of the reliability of victim studies is pertinent here since there is some evidence that the working class under-estimate their victimisation – especially where violent crime is concerned – and the middle-classes over-estimate their victimisation. This process occurs where middle-class respondents personalise general evidence of criminal or deviant behaviour in their local area; young people causing minor damage / vandalism etc. is more-likely to be interpreted as being indicative of victimisation.

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