The Choice Theory View

As we did with substantive positivist theories, we begin deriving an idea of vulnerability in choice theory by working from its source assumptions and developing the perspective of the person contemplating the crime (Felson, 1994; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). hr choice theory, offenders want pleasure and to avoid pain. Crime is one of many tools for achieving advantage, one that is simple and available to anyone, but in fact usefill only in limited circumstances (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Simply put, offenders want to escape the scene of the crime and enjoy then- rewards, and so are naturally responsive to the idea of victimization outlined earlier. Self-preservation is rarely far from the thoughts of would-be offenders, in that they tiy to anticipate how their actions might prompt resistance from targets, bystanders, and police. The common offender is not a martyr. Even if the opportunity for robbery presents itself, the prospect of not dying at the hands of the intended target or police does have its compensations. In this way, the offender is not forced to commit crime (Gottfredson, 2011), and indeed crime data show that offenders rarely do. Those persons who prioritize short-term advantage over long-term and uncertain negative consequences, which is to say those with low self-control, will tend to be the ones most susceptible when a superficial look reveals that the situation appears promising (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This means that offenders everywhere understand and respond to vulnerability intuitively, if not always accurately—it is anything about the victim and the setting that, from a quick glance, makes the task of committing crime seem easy enough and sufficiently rewarding, and that would make an attempt attractively risk-free.

Drawing from the idea of victimization presented earlier, one can reason that offenders are so rarely successfill because the target—no less than the offender—wants pleasure and to avoid pain, and so does not want victimization. Nevertheless, evidence shows that people

  • (1) have a variable and imperfect ability or willingness to anticipate offenders and take precautions reliably (e.g., Schreck, 1999), and
  • (2) have to navigate settings, over which they have incomplete control, settings that sometimes will permit the offender to act with impunity (Clarke, 1995; Felson, 1994). Both elements comprise the idea of vulnerability’ in choice theory and are consistent with its assumptions. As they pursue their agendas, people can act upon their immediate settings in ways that influence their vulnerability; however, the setting also acts upon them. Turning to the choices of individual victims, pioneering work on victimization sometimes pushed in this direction. Hindelang and his colleagues (1978) acknowledged that some victims might provoke their offender or else cause then own vulnerability. Gottfredson (1984), reporting results from London data, would argue that both victimization and offending appeared to be consequences of weak social control (see, also, Lauritsen et al., 1992). Evidence from a Finnish study of adolescents found that after accounting for selection, conceivably a proxy for decision-making, the association between routine activities and victimization was spurious (Felson, Savolainen, Berg, & Ellonen, 2013). These findings suggest a person’s own internal decision calculus veiy much shapes the structure of their immediate environment.
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