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Listening to Victims of Crime: Victimisation Episodes and the Criminal Justice System in Scotland: An Examination of White and Ethnic Minority Crime Victim Experience - Research Findings

DescriptionOne of the principal aims of the study was to gain a better appreciation of how criminal episodes affect the health, well-being, and behaviour of victims.
ISBN0 7480 5489 8
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998

Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 13 (1996)

Listening to Victims of Crime: Victimisation Episodes and the Criminal Justice System in Scotland:
An examination of white and ethnic minority crime victim experience
Malcolm D. MacLeod, Robert G. W. Prescott & Lloyd Carson

ISBN 0-7480-5489-8 Publisher The Scottish Office Price £5.00

Extensive interviews were conducted with 255 victims of crimes reported to the police during 1991/1992 from the cities of Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. The sample included 35 ethnic minority victims. One of the principal aims of the study was to gain a better appreciation of how criminal episodes affect the health, well-being, and behaviour of victims; and the extent to which victims' attitudes towards crime and the criminal justice system are affected by their experiences. In doing so, this study provides a valuable perspective on the experiences of victims of crime in Scotland. The sample covered a wide range of crime types and outcomes but juvenile victims and victims of sexually motivated crimes were excluded.
Main findings
  • Victims who had a previous experience as a victim were more likely to report feeling depressed or upset. Those for whom this was their first experience as a victim were more likely to feel shocked or surprised and scared and helpless.
  • In 7 out of 10 cases, victims reported that the police had arrived within 1 hour of being called to the incident and in 8 out of 10 cases the police arrived within 3 hours.
  • Six out of ten victims said that they had not been informed about the outcome of police enquiries and most said they would have wished to be kept informed. Of those who were kept informed, 8 out of 10 were satisfied with the outcome.
  • Under half of the victims said they had been informed about whether their case was to go to court, and most of those who had not, said they would have wished to know.
  • Ethnic minority victims in the study were less satisfied with police action than a similar group of white victims from the study.
  • For 1 in 5 victims, the most upsetting aspect of the incident was the feeling of having been let down in some way by the criminal justice system.
  • More than 8 out of ten victims felt that some change was desirable in the criminal justice system. Four out of ten victims felt that punishments for offenders should be more severe.
  • One in five victims said they were still preoccupied in some way with why the incident had happened to them although it had occurred at least 12 months previously.
  • Two thirds of the victims reported behavioural changes as a result of the incident. Most of these were about becoming more security conscious, although some were about becoming more irritable and distrustful of others.
  • Although 7 in 10 victims felt the offender was motivated by weakness of character, greed, or drugs, at a more general level over 4 in 10 victims blamed unemployment, deprivation and poor education for crime.
Although recent research carried out under the auspices of The Scottish Office has provided valuable insights into particular aspects of criminal victimisation such as the informational needs of victims (MVA Consultancy, 1995), and the effects of crime on people in terms of monetary cost, worry and severity of injury (see Anderson & Leitch, 1994; Kinsey & Anderson, 1992), such research generally does not provide the contextual and victim-relevant information that would permit a more detailed analysis of how victimisation episodes affect people in terms of their health, well-being and behaviour; and their attitudes towards crime and the criminal justice system.
Arguably, it is this kind of information which we need to collect and take into account if we are to make real improvements to the services offered to victims of crime.
To this end, extensive structured interviews were undertaken with 255 victims of crime who had previously responded to an invitation from the police to participate in the research.
The sample was derived from incidents reported to the police in the cities of Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow during the period 1991-92. Interviews were carried out during the period 1992-1993. In addition to a detailed inspection of victimisation experiences and victims' interactions with the criminal justice system, this study also includes a comparative analysis of 35 white and 35 ethnic minority victims of crime.
Emphasis has been placed throughout the study upon the victim's perspective. In some cases, victims may have been factually incorrect about police investigations and criminal court procedure. However, for these victims, their reported experiences and feelings were no less valid for being factually incorrect and therefore merit attention. If victims of crime do misunderstand the workings of the criminal justice system, it is important to know what these are and to take steps to improve comprehension.
Limitations of the data
An interview study of this magnitude represents an important body of information about victimisation, and is comparable in size to other major studies of victims of crime (e.g., Shapland, et al., 1985). However, there are a number of limitations which should be borne in mind when considering the current data:

a) Unlike the Scottish Crime Survey, the present study has not been designed to be representative of all victims of crime. Rather, it is restricted to victims of reported crime and also specifically excludes sexually-motivated crimes and crimes against juveniles.

b) Twenty-two per cent of those who were sent an invitation by the police to participate in the study responded positively. While this response rate is disappointing, it is comparable to other studies which have employed similar methods of accessing victim samples from police records (e.g., MVA Consultancy, 1995).

c) The potential effect of self-selection pressures upon the composition of the sample should also be considered. 76% of victims reported altruistic motives for having taken part.

d) Some of the analyses are based on small numbers of victims and particular care should therefore be taken in the interpretation of data. The strength of such analyses, however, lies in the insights that can be provided about victims' experiences. It is particularly important to note that the issue of ethnic minority victimisation and the extent of racially-motivated crime can only be properly addressed through a larger scale survey.

Victim outcomes
Victims who had a previous history of victimisation were more likely to report feeling depressed or upset (18%), and feelings of resignation (8%) compared with victims of a single incident (3% and 1% respectively). In contrast, victims for whom the target incident had been their first experience of victimisation were more likely to feel shocked or surprised (23%), and worried, scared or helpless (17%) in comparison with those who had been victimised before (12% and 8% respectively).
Although the most upsetting aspect for victims was the various negative feelings aroused by their victimisation (60% of concerns), 19% of all expressions related more to the outcome of the case or investigation rather than to the aftermath of the incident. Specifically, these victims reported that they were most upset by the feeling that they had been let down by the criminal justice system.
Almost a fifth of all victims reported that they were still, to varying extents, preoccupied with why the incident had happened to them even though the target incident had occurred 12 months or more prior to interview.
Sixty-three per cent of all victims reported behavioural changes which were attributed directly to the victimisation episode. Most of these victims felt that they were now more security and safety conscious but some reported negative changes such as mood swings, irritability, and distrust of other people.
Victims and the police
In 72% of cases, victims reported that the police arrived within one hour, and in 83% of cases that they had arrived within three hours of having called them. The great majority of victims (86%) were satisfied with the time the police took to respond.
When asked about why they were satisfied with the police action, 49% of these victims said that they felt that the police had done all they could; 15% were impressed with the promptness and depth of investigation; and 7% were satisfied because of the generally sympathetic and helpful attitude of the police officers.
Forty-five per cent of victims who experienced incidents of violence or threat of violence, however, felt that the police viewed the target incident 'less seriously' than they had done. This perception increased to 64% of victims of property theft, and 75% of victims of vandalism.
A majority of victims in the sample (57%) reported that they had not been informed as to the outcome of police inquiries. Ninety per cent of these victims expressed the wish to have been kept better informed and 45% stated that they were unhappy about not having been kept informed. Forty-three per cent expressed the view that they were not greatly perturbed at not having been kept informed, and a further 10% simply accepted it.
Of those victims who had been informed, 78% said that they were 'satisfied' with the outcome.
Of the total victim sample, only 5% stated that they would not report a similar incident if it were to happen to them in the future.
Victims and the courts
Fifty-five per cent (140) of victims in the sample reported that they had not been told formally whether or not their case was to be taken to court. Of these, 93% said that they wished that they had been informed. Twenty-two per cent of these victims felt that they had a right to be kept informed about the status of their case; 37% simply expressed the view that they wished to know who the offender was. Other victims (23%) would like to have been informed in order to know if anything was being done about their case and whether the offender(s) was being prosecuted.
Of those victims whose case did not go to court or who were not told whether it had, 59% said that they would have liked their case to have gone to court so that justice could be seen to be done and so that the offender could be punished. A further 15% wanted their case to go to court to act as a deterrent.
Sixty-eight per cent of the 44 victims who were called to attend court had to wait up to three hours before being called or discharged, with 32% having to wait between 3 and 7 hours. Most of these victims (59%) felt that this was a 'long' or 'very long time' to wait. Two thirds of victims called to attend court were not asked to give evidence as witnesses and 27% were not told of the decision of the court.
Almost two thirds of those victims who knew what decision the courts had made did not agree with the decision. Most of these victims (55%) felt that the offender should have been more severely dealt with by the court.
Approximately one third of victims who attended court thought that there was an adequate level of provision for witnesses but most felt that there should have been separate waiting areas for offenders and victims as many felt intimidated sitting in the same room as the accused and their families.
Ethnic minority victims
Fourteen (39%) of the 35 ethnic minority victims interviewed said that they were not satisfied with the action taken by the police in comparison with 18% of the white matched sample. Similarly, one third of ethnic minority victims believed that the police could have done more in their investigations in comparison with 21% of white victims. A quarter of ethnic minority victims felt that the police viewed the incident as 'not at all serious' whereas 9% of the white matched sample felt this to be the case.
Half of the ethnic minority sample (48%) said that they held favourable attitudes towards the police in comparison with 85% of white victims. Similarly, 79% and 54% of white and ethnic minority victims respectively said that they were satisfied with what the police had achieved in relation to the incident.
Overall, more ethnic minority victims who gave racial explanations for the incidents reported that they were 'seriously' or 'very seriously' affected, than were victims who either rejected racism as an explanation or who made no reference to racism at all.
An analysis of the white matched sample also indicated that victims who employed immutable features of their person or circumstances (i.e., aspects of their identity or lifestyle which could not be changed) as explanations for their victimisation tended to report higher levels of distress.
Victims' attitudes
Seventy per cent of the total sample of victims held a favourable attitude towards the police.
Almost a fifth of the sample, however, said that their view of the police had changed as a result of the target incident. Of these victims, almost a third said that their attitude towards the police had become more positive. Reasons for this included the police having caught the offenders, and the sensitive and sympathetic attitude shown towards the victim. The remainder said that their attitude had become more negative.
Almost half of the reasons given for this negative attitude change was because of the perceived negative attitude of the police. The remaining half were concerned with perceived police inactivity and a failure to keep the victim informed.
The majority (86%) of victims felt that some change to the criminal justice system was desirable and/or necessary. The largest category of changes suggested were those relating to the need for harsher punishment of offenders (39% of victims).
A further 11% of accounts pinpointed the role of the judiciary as requiring change. The need for a standard tariff of sanctions for specific offences was a main theme. A substantial number of accounts (19%) referred to the need for a general review of the system; the need for reduced bureaucracy; more access to information for victims; and less costly access to justice for litigants.
Causes of crime
When asked specifically about the offender's motivation for the incident, almost 70% of all explanatory statements elicited were of the kind which referred to the offender's moral badness, weakness, drugged state, and enviousness. Almost 62% of victims offered an explanation in terms of situational factors (e.g., bad luck, opportunity) for why they thought the incident had happened to them personally.
Victims generally did not see themselves as playing any part in their victimisation. The majority of respondents (53%) also denied that any one group of people in society were more likely to be victimised than others. The targets of crimes and incidents tended to be perceived as relatively random and unselected.
If crime targets were seen as random and blameless, they were not seen as rare. Victims were asked to rate on a scale how frequently they thought the target incident about which they had been interviewed happened to 'people like them'. Most people (81%) selected the 'very frequently', 'frequently', or 'fairly frequently' options.
When victims were asked to account for crime in general, the largest category of explanation was structural in the sense that they were concerned with unemployment, deprivation, poor education, the recession, etc. (46% of all explanations).
Thirty-five per cent of all causes referred broadly to moral issues, either in an individual context or in terms of a widespread decline in society's values. Drugs accounted for 27% of these 'moral malaise' type explanations. The largest single category of suggestions for reducing or preventing crime given by respondents was also structural. Victims wished to see unemployment reduced, education improved and social inequalities redressed (35% of the 435 suggestions generated). A further 9% of ideas specified the need for welfare services to be enlarged, particularly for young people, and particularly to tackle the drug problem.
This Research Findings paper is based on research carried out by Malcolm D MacLeod, Robert G W Prescott and Lloyd Carson of the School of Psychology, University of St Andrews. Copies of the full report Listening To Victims Of Crime: Victimisation Episodes And The Criminal Justice System in Scotland are available from HMSO at a cost of £6.00 each.
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Further free copies of this Research Findings, or information about the Central Research Unit's Research programme, can be obtained by contacting:
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List of Previous Research Findings
1. The Scottish Crime Survey 1993: First Results
2. A Fine on Time: The Monitoring and Evaluation of the Pilot Supervised Attendance Order Schemes
3. Use of Controlled Drugs in Scotland: Findings from the 1993 Scottish Crime Survey
4. Live Television Link: An Evaluation of its use by Child Witnesses in Scottish Criminal Trials
5. Information Needs of Victims
6. Public Interest and Private Grief: A Study of Fatal Accident Enquiries in Scotland
7. An Evaluation of The Scottish Office Domestic Violence Media Campaign
8. Does CCTV Prevent Crime? An Evaluation of the use of CCTV Surveillance Cameras in Airdrie Town Centre
9. Making Our Cities Safe: Evaluating the Safer Cities Programmes in Scotland
10. Proactive Policing
11. Foreign Language Interpreters
12. Grounds of Appeal in Criminal Cases