The Choice Theory View

Choice theories, on the other hand, begin with the criminal act and, as we will show, are able to specify that victimization is an idea with inherent qualities and natural consequences. Thanks to the assumption of a hedonistic and calculating human nature, people can independently anticipate these consequences—whether they are the offender or a potential target—and act accordingly. Further, victimization becomes an idea with effects felt throughout society. Crime, to the choice theorist, has definite meaning, being an act of force or fraud committed by someone in the pursuit of self-interest (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This definition makes clear that the inducement to crime exists only for the offender. Implied in this definition is that crime is an interaction so one-sided that no human will voluntarily consent to being someone else’s victim, which is why offenders find it necessary to employ force or fraud to achieve their ends. One can develop from this the idea that victimization has distinctive and universal qualities, materially shaping the actions of potential targets, would-be offenders, and broader society.

Whereas victimization has no meaning in substantive positivism, in choice theory its essential quality is that it is all pain, administered at the hands of someone else. This pain is instantly recognized by the recipient as illegitimate because it was not voluntary, had no valid cause, and because it produces no redeeming or foreseeable benefit. This pain, moreover, violates the right to one’s own body and property, and so produces feelings of fear, danger, or uncertainty. Given that aversion to pain is natural among humans, we can infer that the dislike of being or becoming someone’s victim is found everywhere. Adapting the sanctioning systems of Bentham (1970 [1789]), the perspective allows that the pains of victimization can be variable in type (physical, emotional, financial, social), degree (from trivial to lethal), and duration, but the fact that the offender had to resort to force or fraud exposes any claim that humans are inherently indifferent to then own victimization. Whether one acknowledges an incident using the word “victimization” is also irrelevant to this fundamental dislike, and neither does it matter to the victim whether such acts are officially legal or illegal, whether the person inflicting it is a loved one or not, and irrespective of culture or time period. Neither does acceptance of the fact of victimization, or later rationalization of an incident, imply that victims wanted it or would appreciate experiencing it again. Consistent with Feinberg (1984), the idea of victimization excludes voluntary acts of self-harm, or pretending or seeking injury for the sake of personal, economic, or political advantage. Also excluded are incidents of “passing unpleasantnesses” that only provoke hurt feelings, disgust, and anger but no tangible injury or feelings of fear, danger, or threat. Trivial affronts, while having validity as an interpersonal grievance, are soon forgotten among reasonable people.

Victimization is more than simply disliked. The hedonistic aspect of human nature suggests that people everywhere will act autonomously to try to avoid it just as they would any other painful thing, unless otherwise prevented. The inducements of safety-mindedness certainly seem to be compelling. Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) analysis of the nature of crime makes it clear that the pain of being a victim is far greater than the pleasure of being an offender. A murderer removes a pest, which is of trivial and ephemeral benefit, but the outcome for the victim is rather more serious and permanent. A burglar pawns goods for pennies on the dollar; however, the victim bears the cost of lost peace of mind, repair of doors and furniture, and the cost of replacement of stolen property. This asymmetry suggests that there is strong natural incentive for humans to avoid becoming a victim. Indeed, one may go as far as to call this “self-preservation,” and infer that this tendency is not only present but also more powerfill or consistent than the motivation to commit crime. This suggests why people leave lights on, put their valuables away, avoid dangerous areas, or lock doors far more often than they steal or hit others. Self-preservation means that, when a threat is detected or anticipated, decision makers will, without the necessity of prior antecedents, see the value of trying to prevent, resist, or mitigate the possibility or impact of their own victimization. And they will do so up to the point they are constrained by the courses of action available or by competing notions of self-interest.

The idea of victimization in choice theory also implies what effects being targeted will have on the victim and society. We noted above that feelings of fear, threat, and danger automatically follow from victimization. Evident in early classical theories (Beccaria, 1963 [1764]) is the notion that a natural byproduct of the threat and experience of victimization is diminished investment and participation in society, as interests suffer and people retreat to safety (e.g., Ferraro, 1995; Krulichova & Podana. 2018), in mm promoting Hobbesian chaos. Just as a rational and humane system of criminal laws is in the interest of society, so too is the protection of its members and mitigating the effects of their victimization.5 In recognition of this, choice theories are friendly to the idea that awareness of someone’s victimization causes other members of society to be concerned for the victim’s well-being. They will also worry about themselves, and desire to punish offenders and make them unwelcome. Applying this idea to individuals and their relationships, one thus arrives at social control theory (Hirschi, 1969; Sampson & Laub, 1993). On a larger scale, communities see victimization as a threat to prosperity and smoothly functioning interdependence and thus organize in part to facilitate keeping crime out (Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; Shaw & McKay, 1942). At the societal level, the state creates legislation and relevant institutions to protect its members (Beccaria, 1963 [1764]). Tire theorists explicating these conceptual schemes were concerned foremost with identifying the salient restraints upon the offender, so consideration of how these function to support the victim and preserve social trust naturally alters one’s view of these theories substantially. For instance, where there is debatable evidence that attempts to modify the criminal code can produce measurable deterr ent effects, widespread awareness of the enactment or execution of just criminal laws may nevertheless help reassure society that it is safe to continue collectively beneficial activity. Academic criminologists dispute the degree social bonds restrain crime (Hirschi, 1969; Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1995; Sampson & Laub, 1993), but the presence of reciprocal bonds of loyalty, trust, and affection—augmented by effective neighborhood organizations (Sampson et al., 1997)—may not only inspire mutually protective behavior (Schreck & Fisher, 2004; Schreck, Wright, & Miller, 2002) but help people manage fear and injuries from victimization. The supportive responsiveness of others to victimization preserves social relationships and feelings of collective efficacy. Conversely, society’s failure to act effectively to restore confidence after victimization fosters political disaffection, fear, distrust of others, reduced economic output, poorer physical and mental health, greater expenditure of time and resources on protective behavior, and broken personal relationships. Unlike in substantive positivism, choice theory takes the position that victimization does not promote or represent an alternative expression of society; on the contrary, victimization is the destroyer of society.

The idea of victimization, in choice theory, has obvious implications for shaping the actions of the offender. Offenders also value self-preservation. For the offender, crime is only attractive when it brings clear and definite advantage or relief from pain at little risk or effort. Unlike in substantive positivist theory, where the offender boldly acts with cool assurance and indifference to danger and victims are barely a challenge, choice theory conceives that the would-be offender is often anxiously mindful of the intended victim and the perils of the immediate situation. Almost all of the tune, a cursory assessment of the situation reveals that a crime committed now would probably be a terrible choice. Thanks to the target’s actions and local circumstances, a successful crime would take far more effort and at far greater immediate risk for physical and legal danger than the offender finds worthwhile. The idea of victimization is usefill because, since an amoral human nature implies that crime ought to be out of control, it helps solve Matza’s (1964) embarrassment of riches problem without violating internal logical consistency. People want advantage, but, at the same time, self-preservation is advantageous. If opportunities for crime are too plentiful to quantify with accuracy (Gottfredson, 2011), so too are casual decisions people are inclined to make that substantially increase its difficulty, danger, and inconvenience. Crime instead happens in a moment of human weakness for shortsighted judgment with temptation nearby, and with the unpleasant consequences seeming far off and unlikely. The actions of the victim in providing an opportunity for another person to give in to weakness are therefore obvious and of gr eat theoretical interest to the choice theorist, and thus the idea of victimization seamlessly feeds into the idea of vulnerability.

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