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Interview with Janet L. Lauritsen, Ph.D. - Violent Repeat Victimization: Prospects and Challenges for Research and Practice

This interview followed the presentation "Violent Repeat Victimization: Prospects and Challenges for Research and Practice" given as part of NIJ's Research for the Real World Seminar Series by Janet L. Lauritsen, PhD, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.


What is the National Crime Victimization Survey?

Janet L. Lauritsen The National Crime Victimization Survey is a nationally representative survey of victims in the United States that's designed to provide estimates of victimization that are representative of the population for persons ages 12 and older in the U.S. The survey interviews people for a maximum of three and a half years at six-month intervals, so the same person is interviewed multiple times. The questions that are asked use common language and a variety of cues to get respondents to remember their victimizations and the type of crime. The types of crimes that they report are then coded into different categories following the interview. There are special types of crimes that the survey measures. One of those is called "series victimization." These are the kinds of events that involve repeated incidents, and often to the case where a victim can't remember the details of each incident. So instead of asking the respondent to provide the details of all incidents, instead of burdening them with that, we ask them to report about the most recent incidents and characteristics of that, and then ask general questions about whether or not that incident was similar in nature to the other ones that they experienced. We also ask them to estimate how many times it occurred in a six-month period.

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Why is it so difficult to predict the likelihood of repeat victimization?

Lauritsen One of the things that we find when we use the NCVS data to analyze revictimization patterns is that most victims of violence are not revictimized in the subsequent period and that, generally speaking, violent victimization is a statistically rare event. This makes the challenge of estimating repeat victimization especially hard. An equivalent example would be trying to predict the likelihood that someone will have a heart attack in the next six-month period. For that kind of case, the most important predictor, or the strongest predictor we might have, is whether they had recently had a heart attack. If we knew that about the person, we would know that their chances for a heart attack are likely to be greater than someone who had not had a recent heart attack. The same is true in victimization. Victimization, generally speaking, is rare, but the fact that we know someone was recently victimized is one of the strongest predictors we have for determining whether or not they are likely to be revictimized in a subsequent time period.

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How should victim service providers be evaluated?

Lauritsen I think one thing that would be a mistake is for victim service providers who provide mental health services to do so with the expectation that it will necessarily reduce the risk of revictimization. I don't think such programs should be judged on that basis. I think they should be judged on the basis of the quality of the mental health services they deliver and not on anything else. What we've learned from the research on prevention programs, is that it's very difficult to prevent revictimization, because, typically, it's the case that the victim, and all the predictive factors that went into the first victimization, are still present and almost a constant in their life. So we've had difficulty making large dents in revictimization. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to provide victim services, and those victim services should not be judged on their ability to reduce revictimization. They should be judged on their ability to provide good mental health services to victims who are suffering the consequences of victimization.

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  • Playlist of the complete three-part interview with Janet Lauritsen
  • Part 1: What is the National Crime Victimization Survey?
  • Part 2: Why is it so difficult to predict the likelihood of repeat victimization?
  • Part 3: How should victim service providers be evaluated?

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NIJ Research for the Real World Seminar
April 2012
Janet L. Lauritsen, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Research tells us that a relatively small fraction of individuals experience a large proportion of violent victimizations. Thus, focusing on reducing repeat victimization might have a large impact on total rates of violence. However, research also tells us that most violent crime victims do not experience more than one incident during a six-month or one-year time period. As a result, special policies to prevent repeat violence may not be cost-effective for most victims.

Dr. Lauritsen summarizes existing research on repeat violent victimization, both here in the United States and abroad. She provides new findings from the National Crime Victimization Survey about the potential impact that reducing repeat victimization might have on rates of violence in the U.S. She discusses possible factors that can be used to predict whether victimization is likely to be repeated and suggest how such information can inform policy and practice. She also discusses several factors, such as persistent exposure to offenders, that appear to be unique to repeat victimization and most relevant to developing effective policies and practices.

We also captured an interview with Dr. Lauritsen in which she discusses in three short segments:

  • What is the National Crime Victimization Survey?
  • Why is it so difficult to predict the likelihood of repeat victimization?
  • How should victim service providers be evaluated?

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Date created: April 12, 2012