Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Violent Crime and the Crime of Stalking

Violent crime dropped in the first half of 2008, says the FBI in its semiannual UCR. The report is chalk full of evidence showing the continued drop, from 2007, in violence throughout the U.S.

Each of the four violent crimes (murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) experienced a decrease nationwide. Murder declined 4.4 percent, aggravated assault declined 4.1 percent, forcible rape decreased 3.3 percent, and robbery decreased 2.2 percent.
But, the media being the media, the focus is only on this little blurb in the press release.
However, cities with less than 10,000 inhabitants posted the largest increase (9.8 percent) in the number of murders.
Now let's look at a few headlines from around the world of Big Media:

FBI: More Murder in Small Towns.

Some Crime Rates Decline.

No Stranger to Violent Crime.

And so on. The headline in the Athens paper this morning is particularly egregious. What the writer fails to realize is that in many of these small cities and rural areas, a change of one or two violent crimes can produce a statistical "jump" of major proportions. If Athens, for example, has one homicide one year and two homicides the following year, we had a "100% increase in homicides." That's statistically misleading and patently alarmist, but whatever "sells soap," right?

In other crime news, the BJS's National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) released a study concerning the crime of stalking, which is difficult to measure and does not routinely show up in the FBI's report.
An estimated 3.4 million persons identified themselves as victims of stalking during a 12-month period in 2005 and 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. About half of these victims experienced at least one unwanted contact per week from the offender and 11 percent had been stalked for five or more years.

The most common types of stalking behavior reported by victims were receiving unwanted phone calls from the offender (66 percent), receiving unsolicited letters or email (31 percent), or having rumors spread about them (36 percent). Nearly a third of victims reported that offenders were equally likely to show up at places with no reason to be there or wait for the victim at a particular location.

Nearly 75 percent of victims knew their offender in some capacity, and about one-tenth of all victims were stalked by a stranger. Stalking victims most often identified the stalker as a former intimate (22 percent) or a friend, roommate, or neighbor (16 percent).
According to more in-depth demographic data from the NCVS, stalking is more likely to happen to young persons (18-24), the divorced, separated and single, and those in the lower socioeconomic statuses. Stalking seems to be racially neutral (equal numbers in virtually every category), and is almost as likely to happen to men as does women.

The financial costs to this kind of crime are also staggering.
About 130,000 victims reported that they had been fired or asked to leave their job because of the stalking. About one in eight of all employed stalking victims lost time from work because of fear for their safety or to pursue activities such as getting a restraining order or testifying in court. More than half of these victims lost five days or more from work.
I haven't read through the entire report, but it already seems to be a valuable contribution to victimization studies and adds to the murky literature on the crime of stalking. If these numbers are accurate, stalking is much more prevalent (and sinister) than previously thought.

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