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Situational Factors and the Victim-Offender Overlap

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2012, $426,181)

One of the strongest empirical associations in the criminological literature is between offending and victimization. Yet not much is known about the mechanisms that produce the victim-offender overlap. Largely absent from this literature is research on the situational context of disputes. Much can be learned about the etiology of the overlap by examining why offenders are more likely to be victimized in disputes. The current research examines explanations for the victim-offender overlap using data obtained from computer assisted surveys of recently admitted male prison inmates, a demographically similar community sample and a sample of male college students. The inmate sample will include those who have a history of violent offenses and those who have never committed a violent offense. They will be asked about incidents that occurred before they were incarcerated. The study will employ three different designs, two of which are based on situational analyses of incidents.

The Respondent as Victim Design. Respondents will be asked to describe their last serious verbal dispute and to indicate whether they were physically attacked during that dispute. It is expected that violent offenders are more likely than non-violent offenders and non-offenders to have been assaulted by their adversaries. The researchers will then examine the situational factors that mediate the effect, emphasizing the behavior of the respondent during the dispute. For example, respondents will be asked about their verbal and physical aggression, whether they engaged in remedial actions, their drinking, and their involvement in illegal activity during the incident. The investigators will then examine whether violent offenders were more likely than the other respondents to have been assaulted because of their behavior during the dispute. The researchers will also investigate third party mediation and instigation during the incident and the behaviors of the antagonist.

The Antagonist as Victim Design. The focus in this design is whether the respondent's antagonist has a criminal record, and whether their antagonists are victimized. For this design the investigators will gather information on disputes that inmates have with people they know. Since inmates know their adversary, they will be able to indicate whether the adversary has a criminal record or not. The researchers can then examine whether adversaries with a criminal record are more likely to be assaulted during their dispute with the respondent and, if so, why. Respondents will be asked to describe two types of disputes: one that ended peacefully and one in which they engaged in violence (where the adversary was victimized). The emphasis in these analyses is on the behavior of the adversary during the incident; the investigators also ask about the respondent's own behavior and the behavior of third parties. For example, criminal adversaries may be more likely to be victimized during a dispute because they are likely to be intoxicated or less likely to engage in remedial actions. These analyses will be based on a multi-level design that treats the incident as the unit of analysis, and that controls for individual factors through within-individual comparisons. The design allows for an examination of how the characteristics of disputes involving criminal adversaries are different and how these differences can increase the adversary's risk of victimization by the respondent.

The Individual Frequency Design. Here the investigators examine mediators of the relationship between the respondent's frequency of violent offending and victimization at the individual level. Mediating variables include frequency of drinking, involvement in illegal activities, frequency of disputes, and typical behavior of third parties during conflicts. For example, the researchers can examine how often respondents become involved in disputes, and the extent to which this or predatory violence accounts for the overlap.ca/ncf

Date Created: August 27, 2012