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.

NIBRS Compared to UCR and NCVS

Since the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) does not provide national coverage, it is reasonable to ask whether the patterns found in its records are consistent with those of true national data sets. In particular, it is worth considering how closely NIBRS patterns match equivalent patterns derived from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system and National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), both of which are nationally representative. The presence of parallel data would suggest the degree to which the NIBRS jurisdictions are consistent with overall national patterns.

UCR tallies only the total number of crimes known to police, tracking a selected set of "index" offenses, including homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. With the exception of homicide, it assembles no information on the details of crime incidents. While UCR and NIBRS cannot be compared on specific victim characteristics, their relative counts can be matched, revealing that the relative numbers of index crimes reported in 1997 by UCR and NIBRS are generally proportionate (table 1). The relative underreporting of robbery and motor vehicle theft by NIBRS compared to UCR may reflect the absence of large urban areas among the NIBRS reporting jurisdictions. The greater relative frequency of larceny in NIBRS statistically compensates for the underreporting of these offenses.

Crime victimizations reported in NCVS also share similarities with patterns present in the NIBRS data. NCVS collects detailed information on incidents and victims, allowing more focused comparisons with NIBRS than are possible with UCR. For example, a comparison of the relative number of adult and juvenile victims for violent crimes known to police yields notable parallels (table 2). "All violent crime," "robbery," and "assault" have quite similar proportions of adult and juvenile victims in both data sets. Only forcible sex offenses show differences between the two, with the proportions of adult and juvenile sex victimizations more equal in NIBRS than NCVS.

The correspondencies found in both of these comparisons suggest that, while NIBRS data cannot be assumed to be nationally representative, they nevertheless exhibit important similarities to national crime victimization patterns.

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Characteristics of Crimes Against Juveniles Juvenile Justice Bulletin June 2000