Crime Victimization and the Stages of Childhood
Childhood is a period characterized by dramatic developmental changes, so generalizations about all juvenile victims must be tempered by a recognition of the effects of age differences. Crimes need to be analyzed as to how they are distributed across the various stages of childhood, an exercise elsewhere called "developmental victimology" (Finkelhor, 1995). This Bulletin uses the year-by-year age categories available in NIBRS to capture these different patterns.
Substantially more crime is reported for teenagers (youth ages 12 to 17) than for preteens (youth ages 11 and younger) (figure 6). Teenagers account for 78 percent of all juvenile crime victimizations reported by NIBRS jurisdictions. However, it is not certain to what extent teenagers are actually more victimized than younger children. Many self-report studies, including the NCVS, show uniformly high rates of victimization for younger (ages 12-14) and older (ages 15-17) teenagers, and some studies show rates nearly as high for children ages 10 and 11 (Finkelhor, 1998). Thus, the association between victimization and age shown in figure 6 may be an effect of the less frequent reporting of crimes involving younger victims to the police. NCVS data clearly show that older teenagers are more likely than younger teenagers (and presumably preteens) to report crimes to the police (Finkelhor and Ormrod, 1999). Combining this with the finding that overall crimes against juveniles are less likely to be reported to police than crimes against adults suggests that police data in general and NIBRS data in particular are not good indicators of the true burden of crime victimization by age group, but only the relative proportions of these victimizations that police are likely to encounter.
From this reported-crime vantage point, some crimes, like kidnaping, have a relatively large number of preteen victims (57 percent). Others, like robbery, have relatively few (14 percent). Figure 7 suggests that there are three broad patterns of police-reported juvenile crime victimization that emerge when NIBRS data are examined by the victim's age group. There are crimes that are reported almost exclusively by teenagers and rarely by preteens (less than 10 percent), what might be called the "teen-exclusive" pattern, motor vehicle theft being the classic case. There are other crimes, such as kidnaping, that are reported across all stages of childhood with both teens and preteens, including many preschoolers, experiencing substantial levels of victimization, what might be called a "transchildhood" pattern. Finally, there are crimes that are reported disproportionately among teens but also to some modest degree (more than 10 percent) among preteens, what might be called a "teen-predominant" pattern, which would describe the pattern for simple and aggravated assault.
Individual sex crimes can also be characterized with these patterns (figure 8). Statutory rape is a teen-exclusive pattern crime. Forcible sodomy, sexual assaults with objects, forcible fondling, and incest all appear to be transchildhood pattern crimes, with substantial proportions of victims ages 6 to 11 and even younger. Forcible rape conforms to the teen-predominant pattern, with approximately 24 percent of victims younger than age 12. Of course, these patterns are not necessarily illustrative of the true distribution of crime because they reflect patterns of reporting and may also be influenced by the way crimes are defined or classified.