Numerous studies have documented a relationship between criminal offending and violent victimization. That is, people who commit criminal behavior are also more likely to be victimized. As such, criminological theories traditionally used to explain criminal behavior have now been applied to explain victimization. The current study examines whether Agnew’s general strain theory can explain the offender-victim overlap using a nationally representative sample of males. Results show that vicarious strain is positive and significant in predicting both victimization and perpetration. Anticipated strain was found only to be significant and positive in predicting victimization, but not perpetration. The study’s limitations and future research are discussed.
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There are several limitations in using cross-sectional data, such as directly testing the causal relationship between strain variables and the dependent variables. We talk about this concern further in the discussion section of the paper.
The primary investigators compared characteristics of the schools that participated to schools that did not participate (across variables such as region, grades offered, enrollment size and public/private), as well as comparing characteristics of their municipalities (such as population size, race/ethnicity, age and gender distributions, educational attainment, income, employment, poverty, and crime). No significant differences were found, with one exception: there was a slight difference in the upper age distribution that does not appear consequential for our study (Sheley & Wright, 1998).
The primary investigators report a response rate of 45%, indicating that surveys were sent to about 1,630 students. Most schools were unable to conduct followup mailings or reach truants or dropouts, so there is a potential “good boy” bias to the sample (Sheley & Wright, 1998). To test this possibility, the primary investigators administered the same survey to random comparative samples at three schools in the original school sample. These onsite respondents showed more problematic responses than the original sample in the areas of school performance, shooting and beating victimizations off school grounds, using knives to threaten others, ownership of automatic or semiautomatic handguns, gun carrying outside of the home (ibid). Although this suggests a possible “good boy” bias in our sample, problems with deviance are still evident, as the two samples did not vary regarding victimizations on school property, victimizations involving knives, arrest history, theft, burglary, armed robbery, assault with a gun or knife, drug use or sales, gang membership, or ownership of regular rifles, automatic or semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, sawed-off shotguns, and revolvers (ibid).
Some readers might question whether being threatened and actually experiencing victimization should be combined together. The dependent variable is constructed to capture all types of victimization—as those who are at the receiving end of a threat generally consider themselves as victims (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). In some states, issuing a creditable threat towards a person is an arrestable offense and several studies have found that threats are a precursor to physical victimization (Alsaker, Kristoffersen, Moen, & Baste, 2011; Outlaw, 2009; Follingstad, Rutledge, Berg, Hause, & Polek, 1990).
Experienced strain is not tested in the current study. Previous studies have traditionally measured experienced strain by asking respondents about their own personal victimization—one of the study’s dependent variable. This omission should not be a major concern, as Agnew (2002) has pointed out that the majority of studies testing general strain theory have concentrated heavily on personal experiences (i.e. whether the respondent has been or currently being treated in a negative manner by others). This has led many criminologists to neglect the role of anticipated and vicarious strain on criminal behavior, including physical victimization and perpetration (see, Baron, 2009; Lin et al., 2011; Agnew, 2002; McGrath et al., 2012).
Although the data are cross-sectional, it was possible to control for prior delinquency. Respondents were instructed to indicate whether they had committed any of the listed acts of delinquency and to indicate their age at which those acts were committed. The ages of which most delinquent acts occurred ranged from 9 to 14 years old, while 97% of the survey’s respondents were 16 years or older (for more details see, Sheley & Wright, 1998; also see Agnew, 2002).
To determine the impact of clustering, we examined the intra-class correlation (ICC) for the sample for each dependent variable. If all variation in the sample across the dependent variables were due to grouping in schools, the ICC would equal 1. Conversely, if none of the variation in the sample were due to clustering in schools, the ICC would equal 0. For perpetration, the intra-class correlation (calculated using the “loneway” procedure in Stata) was 0.043, indicating that less than 5% of the variation in the sample is attributable to individual’s grouping in schools. For victimization the ICC is 0.097, indicating that less than 10% of the variation in the sample is attributable to school grouping. Although both values are quite low, we addressed this grouping methodologically by using the “robust” and “cluster” options for Stata to produce logistic regression models with standard errors that are adjusted for the clustering of students in schools. Compared to models that did not address clustering, results for the theoretical variables remained unchanged. However the significance of some of the control variables was impacted. For the model predicting victimization, gang membership became non-significant. For the model predicting perpetration, Hispanic and Other Race became significant predictors.
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Zavala, E., Spohn, R.E. The Role of Vicarious and Anticipated Strain on the Overlap of Violent Perpetration and Victimization: A Test of General Strain Theory. Am J Crim Just 38, 119–140 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-012-9163-5
- Victim-offender overlap
- General strain theory
- Vicarious strain
- Anticipated strain