XII. Comparative and International Victimology

A. Comparative Victimology

The study of victimology in the United States is generally considered to be narrower in scope compared with the broader nature of victimizations on which many scholars in the international community focus. Around the globe, there are serious forms of personal victimization on which researchers, policymakers, and advocates focus, including terrorism, war crimes, genocide, and femicide (the systematic killing of women). Other international offenses, such as cybercrime and human trafficking, frequently cross the borders of different countries.

B. International Sources of Victimization Data

Many countries across the globe measure victimization within their borders. Organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization contribute to our understanding of victims and their plight. Two sources of international victimization data—the BCS and the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS)—are among the most widely known.

1. British Crime Survey

The BCS is a nationally representative survey of residents of England and Wales that measures victimization, levels of crime, public fear of crime, and other criminal justice issues from year to year. Begun in 1982, the BCS is conducted by the British Market Research Bureau Limited on behalf of the Home Office. The survey was first administered in 1982 and included Scotland, which has since adopted its own crime survey, the Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey. The BCS was also administered in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, and has since been conducted every year.

One household resident age 16 or older from selection households is interviewed about victimizations he or she has experienced in the year prior, as well as detailed information about each incident (e.g., victim–offender relationship). Topics within the BCS include fear of crime, workplace victimization, and illegal drug use. Trends in the BCS indicate that overall victimization in England and Wales peaked in 1995 and has since declined to BCS launch levels (1982; Jansson, 2008).

2. International Crime Victims Survey

The ICVS is designed to measure victimization experiences and other crime-related subjects across the globe, with 30 countries participating in the latest wave and a total of 78 countries participating across the life of the survey. The ICVS was first administered in 1989 and was subsequently administered in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2005, and 2009.

One of the goals of the ICVS is to allow for international comparisons of crime and victimization across countries. Official statistics cannot be easily used, because legal definitions of crimes vary across countries and because so much crime is never known to authorities. The ICVS collects information on a variety of crimes, including theft of cars, theft from cars, motorcycle theft, bicycle theft, burglary, personal larceny, robbery, sexual offenses, assaults and threats, consumer fraud, corruption, hate crimes, and drug-related crimes. Overall victimization trends indicate a peak in victimizations in the mid-1990s and a decline since (Van Dijk, 2008).

3. International Violence Against Women Survey

The International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS) was developed to research the victimization of women around the world, in particular in developing countries. The IVAWS generates estimates of violence perpetrated by men against women, including physical assault; sexual assault; psychological/emotional abuse; and other crimes, such as human trafficking, femicide, and female infanticide. The IVAWS also measures the impact of violence on women and the steps taken after victimization to seek help. The survey methodology was developed on the basis of the one used by the ICVS with the goal of making international comparisons of the prevalence and risk factors of violence against women. Methodological issues include cultural differences between countries, translation issues, interviewing methods, and subjectivity (e.g., what is a sexual assault in one country may not be considered as such in another country). Data were collected from 2003 through 2004 in 11 countries, including Australia, Costa Rica, Italy, the Philippines, and Poland (Johnson, Ollus, & Nevala, 2007).

C. World Crime

Risks of violent victimization around the world are clustered among countries within certain regions of the globe. Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and eastern Europe have the highest homicide rates in the world. On the basis of information from 110 countries, the countries in which one is most at risk for homicide are Swaziland, Colombia, and South Africa, with the lowest risks being enjoyed by Myanmar, Cyprus, Morocco, and Israel (Van Dijk, 2008). Compared with other countries, the United States is in the middle range for homicide risks, but if only developed nations are examined, it quickly rises to the top of the list.

For the crime of assault, the most dangerous region is Africa, with North America and Oceania (Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia) as distant contenders. The most risky countries for assault are South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland, with Mexico, the Philippines, and Turkey being the least risky. Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Nigeria, and India are ranked the most risky countries for women to be sexually assaulted, whereas Azerbaijan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines are the least risky. Violence against women by intimate partners is estimated to be the most prevalent in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia (Van Dijk, 2008).

For property crimes, the places in the world that are most at risk are not generally the same as for violent victimization. Car theft occurs most often in England and Wales, New Zealand, and Portugal, with residents of Austria, Japan, and Germany experiencing it the least. Risks of motorcycle theft are highest in Italy, England and Wales, and Japan, and lowest in Mexico, Luxembourg, and Bulgaria. Risks for having one’s bicycle stolen are greatest in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland. Burglary risks are highest in England and Wales, New Zealand, and Mexico and lowest in Sweden, Spain, and Finland. The risk of being a pickpocketing victim is highest in Greece, Estonia, and Ireland and lowest in Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand (Van Dijk, 2008).

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