Multiple Victims and Super Targets Research Paper

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The plight of multiple victims of crime is identified, with the observation that their needs are often ill-served by police and other agencies. Reasons for this are identified. These include the often inadequate information provided to officers attending the homes of such victims, together with their failure to recognize the cumulative effects on victims of crimes which taken individually may not be of great seriousness. The typical failure of victimization surveys to reflect the extent of chronic victimization is bewailed and remedies suggested.


Let us start with an appeal to your personal experience. Please bring to mind a fellow pupil at school, a fellow student at college, a colleague at work, or someone in your neighborhood who is or was subjected to repeated verbal or physical attack, practical jokes, or theft or damage to their property. Everyone whom the first author has approached with this modest task has been prompt in their nomination of such a person and often very voluble and detailed in their description of what the person nominated has suffered. The case which most embarrassed British police in recent years was that of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter rather than suffer continued victimization at the hands of young people living near her, about which she had called police 33 times without effective action being taken. The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded:

Police missed several opportunities to take robust action, inadequately investigated criminal allegations on some occasions and failed to record information on their own intelligence system.( news/uk-england-leicestershire-13504618 accessed August 16th 2012)

The Chief Constable of the force concerned, Leicestershire, apologized unreservedly for police shortcomings in the case, mention of which ever since has sent a frisson of anxiety through senior police officers who are all too aware that chance rather than professionalism has saved them from similar embarrassment. When Fiona Pilkington died, the Home Secretary of the day said that there were “some hard lessons to learn about past failures, which will be the subject of further investigations.” The shadow Home Secretary concurred, “This case has horrified the nation” ( accessed August 16th 2012).

The Pilkington case was far from the only occasion when senior police officers have been called on to apologize for cases of chronic victimization which failed to “get above the radar” and trigger official action. On recent case was that of a pedophile ring which organized sexual abuse of children (http:// s/1493200_police-council-and-cps-apologisefor-failures-that-allowed-rochdale-sex-groominggang-to-abuse-girls-for-2-years-after-crime-wasfirst-reported accessed August 16th 2012), where one of the victims “was being driven to different houses or flats where there would be other men waiting. The abuse continued for months, until one evening she was arrested by police for smashing the counter at a takeaway where some of the men met the girls.” “Towards the end,” she asserted, “it could be up to five men in a day, sometimes every day, at least four or five times a week” ( uk-england-manchester-17914138 accessed August 16th 2012).

Mark Dyche murdered Tanya Moore. The pair had met at a Young Farmers’ ball and was soon engaged. But in February 2003, Miss Moore, tired of Dyche’s jealous and threatening behavior, ended the relationship. For a year Dyche waged a hate campaign against Moore, which included repeated threats to kill her. In June 2003, he even paid three men armed with baseball bats to rob and beat her at her family’s farmhouse home in Alkmonton, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Nottingham Crown Court heard that Dyche, who had a history of terrorizing women, “wanted her hurting, wanted her legs breaking, wanted her eyes gouging out, wanted to be in control.” He offered criminal associates £50,000 to kill her, but when no one came forward, he did it himself, lying in wait on a country road in March 2004 and blasting her in the face with a shotgun. A few days before she was murdered, Miss Moore presented officers with a bundle of threatening text messages from Dyche. Derbyshire Police Federation said that the incidents leading up to Tanya Moore’s death were not properly examined due to systemic failures and overwork ( hi/england/derbyshire/6109108.stm accessed August 16th 2012).

Sadly the whole of this research paper could consist of cases of this kind, but we must move on to some of the relevant research on the topic which satisfied that chronic victimization, serious in itself, can have ultimately fatal consequences.

Why Super Targets?

The use of aggression to establish dominance hierarchies is a commonplace among nonhuman primates and has long been a standard explanation for child behavior (Strayer and Strayer 1976), with sexual aggression among normally heterosexual prisoners also being interpreted in dominance hierarchical terms (Fagan et al. 1996). The stability of dominance hierarchies over time is consistent with such analyses (see Perry et al. 2001). These authors note that aggressive children selectively target their peers, with individual victimization rates becoming stable by the later elementary school years. The consequence is a set of serious adjustment problems being manifested, including depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, low selfesteem, suicidal tendency, avoidance by mainstream peers, and poor school performance. The problems were evident into adulthood (Olweus 1978).

In the classic Milgram studies of obedience, the willingness to inflict pain diminished as the distance from the “victim” increased (Milgram 1974). It is therefore no surprise to find that Internet “trolling” and cyberbullying now feature prominently in the suffering of the multiply victimized (McQuade et al. 2009). Googling “cyberbullying” at the time of writing in August 2012 yields over 53 million hits. As with the multiple victimization of Fiona Pilkington, some cases result in the suicide of the victim ( accessed August 18th 2012).

As for multiple victimization by offenses against property, a number of studies have reported offender accounts of why they return (Ashton et al. 1998; Shaw and Pease 2000). Most such reasons are self-evident, along the lines of “it was easy,” with some laconic explanations as “Big house, small van” and some a little more subtle, as below:

He went into a house and got a good haul. Two months later, walking by, he saw new stuff so did it again .. . took the same stuff (the replacements). ‘If I do a place and its got good stuff in it – I think to myself “I’ll come back 2 months later”. Guaranteed – y’know what I mean, If it’s good I’ll come back. I did this geezer once three times before he got a [security] system up there .. . alarm bell. After I saw the alarm I thought .. . ah I’ll leave it now.

While the most tragic climaxes to chronic victimization, such as the suicide of Fiona Pilkington and Phoebe Prince, are thankfully rare, the evidence of the long-term effects of school bullying suggests possible widespread sub-fatal effects of chronic victimization by crime.

The central practical issue besetting a police response proportional to harm suffered concerns the dilemma which an attending police office faces in gearing her response to the presenting situation. If the response is geared to the seriousness of the most recent presenting event, it will not be appropriate to the cumulative harm suffered as a consequence of a series of similar events. Unless the officer is apprised of the event history, the response will be too meager. Stated another way, the perennial problem is that sequences of events, none of which individually gets over the threshold of seriousness which demands police action, is often cumulative in its impact on victims. Mandy Shaw (2001) draws a parallel with the classic five stages of bereavement, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In Shaw’s view, chronic victims of crime cannot work through the stages to acceptance because new victimizations overtake them and they return to the initial stage. They never complete the recovery sequence because the offense (or a variant of it) is repeated. Mandy Shaw and Sylvia Chenery (2007) note the particular distress of men whose families are repeatedly targeted since it challenges their self-perceived role as family protector.

Certain crime types almost always render their victims chronically disadvantaged in their everyday life. Such offenses include intrafamilial violence, incest, stalking, and hate crimes, especially when the prevalence of hating is high and the prevalence of victims with a particular attribute (e.g., a particular ethnicity or sexual orientation) is locally low. Lest the tone of this research paper seems unremittingly grim, it must be noted that there has been an astonishing change for the better in the perception of such offenses in the last 40 years or so, though we should not delude ourselves that the situation is as yet satisfactory. On BBC Radio’s archive channel, warnings about possible offense being caused by dated “humor” are not infrequent. Two examples can be taken from the work of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, British comedians whose material was at the time (1970s–1980s) deemed entirely uncontroversial and would still be judged as such by those who were around at the time. It would still be judged so, that is, until it was heard again with current sensibilities in place. When heard 35 years later in 2012, the impression is shocking.

In the radio program The Morecambe and Wise Show aired on December 4, 1977, a sketch depicts a couple seeking marriage guidance. One exchange goes as follows:

Wife: He put the boot in on me last week.

Husband: A man needs a hobby.

And the studio audience laughed.

A song whose lyrics now sound like a stalker’s anthem passed without comment when first featured by Morecambe and Wise. They are reproduced in full here as a reflection of how far we have progressed since 1970 when the song was written.

Anywhere, I will find you,

Don’t care where, look behind you,

I’ll be there, following you around.

Rain or shine, you won’t shake me,

I don’t mind, where you take me,

Spend my time following you around.

Now listen, don’t you know,

Hiding from me does no good,

Where ever you may go,

I’ll be in the neighbourhood.

If you fly, I will follow,

I don’t care about tomorrow,

As long as I’m, following you around.

If you run, I’ll run faster,

Gonna stick, like a piece of plaster,

Get my kicks, following you around.

Get my kicks, following you around.

Attempts at theoretical explanation of super targets within conventional criminology have been sparse and provisional (Farrell et al. 2005; Tseloni et al. 2010) and will not be dealt with here. Rather, the more important issue is addressed of how super-targeted people fail to come to official notice.

Key Issues/Controversies

Until the last third of the twentieth century, the sole measure of crime was a count of crime known to and/or recorded by the police. This remains, for the purposes of effective police intervention, the key index. A police officer cannot be expected to respond to something of which she remains unaware. Many, sometimes most, crimes are not reported to the police. Let us assume that there is a 50 % chance (0.5 probability) that any household burglary is reported to and recorded by the police. For a household which has been burgled twice, there is thus only a 25 % chance that both burglaries will be reported to the police (because 0.5×0.5 = 0.25). If three burglaries have been suffered, the probability that all three have been recorded is 0.125, and so on. (This makes the unrealistic assumption that the decision of any householder to report to the police is 50 % for every burglary suffered. This assumption is clearly unrealistic, but alternative assumptions, while they make the arithmetic more complicated, leave the central point untouched). The attrition is even greater if repeat crimes are less likely to be recorded by the police, as found by Mukherjee and Carcach (1998). So multiple victimizations will be diminished in police awareness by dint of nonreport or non-recording, if for no other reason. We will never know how many times Fiona Pilkington suffered “low-level” criminality which she did not report to the police. All we know is that on 33 occasions she did report events, and the police recorded the fact. There are other reasons why a police officer responding to a call for service from a multiple victim fails to recognize the fact and extent of prior victimization. Historically, an inability to trace the same people or addresses in police data systems has been a further way in which multiple victimizations has been underrepresented in police data, although this may be declining with improvements in police information technologies. However, we should contrast the experience of those calling the police with the experience of calling large commercial concerns. Over the last 30 years, citizens calling commercial concerns have come to expect the person responding to the call to be able quickly to bring up on screen the caller’s address, history as a client, and possibly the brand of toothpaste they use! During this same period of 30 years, however, it seems that the experience of someone calling the police has changed far less.

Police awareness of victimization history remains the key practical information. In a wider sense, knowledge of how chronic victims contribute to the extent and shape of the “crime problem” is equally important as providing a motivation to act. For this purpose, the victimization survey has come to take center stage. It provides a measure gleaned from asking representative samples of the adult population what they have experienced by way of crime over a specified recall period (usually 6 months or 1 year). A key aim of such crime victimization surveys has been to reveal the extent and nature of unrecorded crime. It would reasonably be concluded that victimization surveys would provide a good idea of the extent and nature of levels of chronic victimization. Analyzed in one way, they do. Analyzed in the conventional way, they do not.

In the writers’ view, the central obstacle to putting in place routinely a mode of analysis of victimization surveys that adequately represents levels and distribution of multiple victimization has been the central concern of state funders of (expensive) victimization surveys, to see how and where statistics of crime known to the police coincide and where they diverge from statistics of crime which citizens say they have suffered. To do this, certain conventions are adopted which, taken together, have the effect of air-brushing chronic victims from the picture. The one described below is probably the most important and is described fully elsewhere (Farrell and Pease 2007). The example is taken from the British Crime Survey (BCS), but the practice is standard and accounts of the situation in the USA (together with a recent recognition of how the conventions distort the resulting picture of victimization) can be found elsewhere. It should be explained that series crimes are repeated crimes of the same type, committed in the same circumstances, and probably by the same person. It will be obvious to the reader that crimes of violence will be more solidly attributed to the same perpetrator. The BCS Training Notes (Budd and Mattinson 2000) comprise the principal reference point for present purposes. Pages 59–65 of the Training Notes contain the exact SPSS syntax (the software commands) used. The syntax contains the line:

Multiple Victims and Super Targets Research Paper

which, translated, means: If there are five or more incidents in a series of crimes reported on a victim form, only five of them are included in the calculation of the crime rates. Simply put, nobody in the UK is allowed to experience more than five crimes in any one series. A woman beaten daily by her partner is counted as having suffered five assaults. Why is this apparently bizarre de-emphasis of multiple victimizations chosen? The BCS Training Guide explains capping as follows:

For ‘series’ incidents the number of incidents is capped at 5. Therefore if someone reports 10 incidents in a ‘series’ only 5 are counted. The limit is to avoid extreme cases distorting the rates. (Budd and Mattinson 2000, p. 32)

Let us consider the interesting use of the word “distortion” here. Does it mean that chronic victims are presumed to be lying? If so, the belief remains unstated although hinted at. When frequency distributions are examined for particular types of crime, the frequency of crimes said to have been suffered clusters around easy decimal system reference points: 10, 20, 30, 40 incidents, and so on, a phenomenon found elsewhere (Rand and Rennison 2005). There is also some indication of clustering around monthly reference points: 12, 24, and 36. These patterns are to be expected, and almost certainly reflect a tendency of respondents and interviewers to round, or approximate, to easy reference points (Rand and Rennison 2005). If interviewers suggest they were victimized “about” once per month, then an interviewer who is encouraged to report precise numbers would record 12 incidents. Analytically, such clustering is not a problem as discrepancies would be expected to be normally distributed around the cluster values. Any suggestion that this use of easy reference points compromises the veracity of victims is offensive. If you have been assaulted 47 times, rounding to 50 does not make you a bad person. So what is the “distortion” alleged to result from taking crime victims at their word? What it really means is that the overall incidence of crime would be more variable if it allowed chronic victims to be represented properly. Chronic victims being (thankfully) relatively uncommon, the crime incidence yielded by the survey would depend substantially on how many chronic victims were sampled. This would make the comparison with police statistics more problematic.

In short, the capping of series crimes at five events is a flagrant example of statistical convenience taking precedence over an accurate understanding of the distribution of human distress. As noted above, there are alternative approaches, for example the use of the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality and has been applied to crime victimization (Tseloni and Pease 2005). There has been a recent modest attempt to move toward the position advocated above by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) (Lauritsen et al. 2012). It states the Bureau’s intention as follows.

Given the findings from this research, BJS will enumerate series victimizations using the victim’s estimates of the number of times the victimizations occurred over the past 6 months, capping the number of victimizations within each series at a maximum of 10. This strategy for counting series victimizations balances the desire to estimate national rates and account for the experiences of persons with repeated victimizations while noting that some estimation errors exist. (p. 3)

While applauding the direction of movement, the objection in principle remains, with the stability of national estimation being given equal status with the facts about people whose lives are blighted by suffering multiple crimes, thereby becoming “super targets.” The extent of the resulting difference in estimates of national crime incidence, particularly for crimes against the person, is evident from Fig. 1 below.

Multiple Victims and Super Targets Research Paper

The “fat” tail of the victimization distribution arguably contains the bulk of the problem of crime and of the suffering inflicted upon its victims. There is an unanswerable case for crime counts and policing responses to reflect this. In fact, and to our collective shame, statistical and methodological convention has hitherto served to deflect attention from this fundamental truth.


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