Since the foundational work in victimology at the turn of the 20th century, researchers have acknowledged a relationship between victims and offenders (or, differently stated, victimization and offending). Indeed, many victims were observed to be offenders and many offenders turned out to have experienced victimization. Early work in this area was mostly descriptive or correlational in nature suggesting that similar people have similar experiences with violence as both victims and offenders. In the latter half of the century, scholars began to address why it is that offenders tend to also be victims and vice-versa. More sophisticated analyses and longitudinal studies were brought to bear on this “overlap” of experiences indicating that a host of individual factors (such as sex/gender, age, self-control, and genetic predisposition) and situational factors (such as living in a dangerous neighborhood, having poor relationships with parents, and associating with delinquent peers) led to an increase in the risk of both offending and victimization. In other words, individual personalities and exposure to dangerous environments put people at risk of both committing delinquency and becoming the victim of a crime. This so-called “victim-offender overlap” has become one of the most empirically supported and established findings in the field of criminology leading researchers to consider this phenomenon in crime prevention and intervention efforts.
Systematic Overviews and Summaries of the Victim-Offender Overlap
Several systematic reviews, summaries, and tests of foundational overarching themes have been conducted on the victim-offender overlap over the past forty years—and the past ten years in particular. Some of these efforts include chapters/entries by criminologists such as Berg and Felson 2016, Jennings 2016, and Schreck and Stewart 2011 which summarize the recurring themes on the victim-offender overlap and Moore 2013 which explores victim identities as both victims and offenders. Jennings, et al. 2012 provides a systematic review of the relevant literature testing the existence of the victim-offender overlap and its etiology through recent years. Two articles, Singer 1981 and Widom 1989, provide early empirical and theoretical evidence of the cycle of violence which laid the foundation for future research on the victim-offender overlap such as Lauritsen and Laub 2007 and Entorf 2013. Cuevas, et al. 2007 provides an excellent overview of the overlap among adolescents aged ten to seventeen.
Berg, M. T., and R. B. Felson. 2016. Why are offenders victimized so often? The Wiley handbook on the psychology of violence. Edited by Carlos A. Cuevas and Callie Marie Rennison, 49–65. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
This entry covers a wide range of theoretical work on the victim-offender overlap including how situational and individual differences contribute to the relationship between victimization and offending. The authors use a social psychological perspective to understand the overlap and identify gaps in the current literature.
Cuevas, C. A., D. Finkelhor, H. A. Turner, and R. K. Ormrod. 2007. Juvenile delinquency and victimization: A theoretical typology. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 22:1581–1602.
Using a national sample of one thousand youth aged ten to seventeen from the Developmental Victimization Survey, Cuevas and colleagues uncover three distinct types of delinquent-victims. They name these groups: (1) bully-victims, (2) delinquent sex/maltreatment-victims, and (3) property delinquent-victims. A nice review and typology of the victim-offender overlap that should be read by anyone interested in the topic.
Entorf, H. 2013. Criminal victims, victimized criminals, or both? A deeper look at the victim offender overlap. IZA Discussion Paper No. 7686. Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
This paper covers many theoretical explanations of the victim-offender overlap with particular attention paid to economic explanations. Economic analyses indicate that victimization depends on prior offending but not vice-versa. A nice theoretical introduction and analysis for those interested in the economic perspective of the victim-offender overlap. See pp. 1–38.
Jennings, W. G. 2016. Victim-offender overlap. In The encyclopedia of crime and punishment. Edited by Wesley G. Jennings, 1278–1281. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.
This entry is an excellent overview of victim-offender overlap theory and research. The entry covers historical research as well as contemporary research. The entry concludes with a look at the future of scholarship on the victim-offender overlap.
Jennings, W. G., A. R. Piquero, and J. M. Reingle. 2012. On the overlap between victimization and offending: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior 17:16–26.
This paper provides the most comprehensive and systematic review of research on the victim-offender overlap. A must read for any student or researcher interested in the empirical work on the victim-offender overlap.
Lauritsen, J. L., and J. H. Laub. 2007. Understanding the link between victimization and offending: New reflections on an old idea. Crime Prevention Studies 12:55–76.
This chapter is an excellent review and evaluation of the existing research on the victim-offender overlap. The findings presented in the chapter are in line with previous research which the authors suggest indicates that victims and offenders are often drawn from the same population pool.
Moore, C. 2013. Beguiling Eve and her innocent counterpart: Victim-offender identities in the criminal justice process. Global criminology: Crime and victimization in a globalized era. Edited by K. Jaishankar and Natti Ronel, 289–313. Boca Raton, FL: CRC.
This book chapter reviews some of the problematic issues that arise when victims are questioned about their involvement in their own victimization. In particular, victims’ identities are discussed in relation to their behaviors and provocations that lead to their subsequent victimization.
Schreck, C. J., and E. A. Stewart. 2011. The victim-offender overlap and its implications for juvenile justice. In The Oxford handbook of juvenile crime and juvenile justice. Edited by B. C. Feld and D. M. Bishop, 47–70. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
This chapter reviews the theoretical foundation of the victim-offender overlap with attention to longitudinal analyses of the overlap. Careful attention is paid to how the victim-offender overlap can inform juvenile justice and crime intervention. A great source for those interested in how the overlap can assist in developing prevention and intervention programs.
Singer, S. I. 1981. Homogeneous victim-offender populations: A review and some research implications. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 72:779–788.
This paper presents seminal work on the victim-offender overlap. Singer presents early findings on the relationship between offending and victimization finding a significant relationship between the two. He uses subcultural theory to highlight the link between offenders and victims setting the foundation for future theoretical work on the overlap.
Widom, C. S. 1989. Does violence beget violence? A critical examination of the literature. Psychological Bulletin 106:3–28.
This seminal piece on the so-called “cycle of violence” provides an overview of the research on the consequences of abusive home environments on children. Widom concludes that the lack of research in this area hinders a definitive conclusion on the cycle of violence and provides a framework for future research to clarify the issue.
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