Race/Ethnicity and Victimization

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Editors: Bonnie S. Fisher and Steven P. Lab
Date: 2010
Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 4
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Page 705

Race/Ethnicity and Victimization

This entry describes the empirical relationship between governmental statistics on crime victimization and the federally defined categories of race and ethnicity. Extant research suggests that criminal victimization in the United States varies with regard to officially established racial and ethnic categories in much the same way as with other issues such as employment, housing, income, wealth, health and education, and criminal offending. Official statistics collected by various federal agencies indicate that Blacks/African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately overrepresented as victims of both violent and property crimes.

Definitions of Race/Ethnicity

The concept of race has generated considerable debate throughout our history. Definitions have ranged from a distinct objective biological taxonomy to the more social-cognitive approach. The latter approach understands race as a flexible and political social–cultural construct that treats physical differences as socially or culturally meaningful distinctions within and across historical contexts.

In the history of the United States, this racialization of the population was originally accomplished by dichotomizing citizens into categories of “White/Nonwhite” (i.e., English/non-English). After considerable iterations during the past 300 or 400 years (e.g., Asian Indians were considered as “Hindus” in censuses from 1920 to 1940, as “White” from 1950 to 1970, and as “Asians or Pacific Islanders” in 1980 and 1990), the U.S. government through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) now recognizes a minimum of five nonscientific categories for race: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. In addition, respondents can select one or more of these racial categories to allow for multiracial selfidentification. As of January 1, 2003, all current federal surveys must comply with the above 1997 revisions.

The concept of ethnicity typically refers to differences across groups in the form of cultural factors, such as language, religion, and nationality. Ethnicity is best defined as existing when a group of individuals are perceived by others as culturally different, while the group also perceives itself as culturally different and expresses these differences through shared cultural activities.

The federal government in Public Law 94-311 of June 16, 1976, established the necessity for the collection of information on ethnicity with regard to persons of Spanish origin or descent. Except for the 1930 census where “Mexican” was designated as a racial category, prior to 1980, those of Spanish origin and descent were generally categorized as “White.”

As adopted on May 12, 1977, in Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting, the bifurcated categorization of ethnicity of Hispanic (a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of Page 706  |  Top of Articlerace) and non-Hispanic was initiated. This practice was modified in October 1997 with the requirement that ethnicity be represented by the minimum categories of Hispanic or Latinoand Not Hispanic or Latinowith no changes necessary to the definition.

Criminal Victimization Data Sources

Criminal victimization in the United States is principally examined by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) through the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Information on homicide victimization is collected by the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The first national victimization survey in the late 1960s was a pilot study that examined 10,000 households and was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the behest of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.

In 1972, the National Crime Survey was instituted but was redesigned and renamed the NCVS in 1992. The survey publishes trend data on criminal victimizations (1972–2006) for the population as a whole based on a varying nationally representative sample of households. In 2003, the NCVS complied with the 1997 OMB guidelines for collecting data on race and ethnicity as part of government surveys, and it used the following racial categories: White only, Black only, other race only (American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, and Pacific Islander if only one of these races is given), and two or more races (all persons of any race indicating two or more races). In regard to ethnicity, individuals are now asked directly if they are Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino. This self-identification of whether they are of Hispanic ethnicity is asked before being questioned about their race.

The FBI’s SHR initiated in the 1960s collects data on murder and non-negligent manslaughter. Authorized by Title 28, Section 534, of the U.S. Code, these data rely on law enforcement agency submissions and include approximately 91% of homicides reported in the Uniform Crimes Reporting (UCR) Program and are often weighted to account for this discrepancy. Data in which a victim’s death is caused by negligence, suicide, or accident; justifiable homicides; and attempts to murder are not included or are independently analyzed.

Race/Ethnicity and Violent Victimization

NCVS estimates of violent crime in 2006 indicate that the rates vary with racial categories. The ratio of White to Black violent victimization is 1 to 1.38, whereas the ratio of White to other races (American Indian, Eskimo, and Asian, Pacific Islander) is 1 to 0.79. When Whites are compared with the category of “Two or more races,” the rates are 23.3 to 66.3 per 1,000 persons 12 years and older, which is a ratio of 1 to 2.85. Although the 2006 survey rates are not comparable because of methodological changes, the patterns noted in 2006 are similar to patterns exhibited in prior years. Estimates indicate that Hispanics report a slightly higher violent victimization rate compared with Non-Hispanics (27.7 to 24.2, respectively).

In 2006, SHR indicated that most of the 14,990 murder victims were Black (7,421). Whites represented approximately 46%, whereas “Other races” made up 2.7% of murder victims. In about 1.4% of the cases, the race of the victim was “unknown.”

When homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault victimizations are combined, BJS (2008) reports that adjusted rates reflect since 1993 a ratio of Black to White serious violent victimization from a low in 2001 of 1.51:1 to a high of 2.09:1 in 2005. Trend data with regard to homicide victimization rates per 100,000 were highest in 1993, when the Black rate was 38.7, whereas the White rate was 5.3 and the “Other” rate was 5.5. From this point until 2005, rates for all three groups declined with a 2005 rate of 20.6 for Blacks, 3.3 for Whites, and 2.5 for “Other.” Despite the decline, the rate of Black homicide victimization is disproportionately higher than the rates of both Whites and “Other.”

Race/Ethnicity and Property Victimization

As is the case with violent victimization, property crimes tend to vary with the race of the head of the household. The rate of property victimization in 2006 was higher for Black households (185.6 per 1,000 households) relative to a rate of 156.7 for White households (1.18 to 1). “Other races” reported a lower rate (137.7) than both Whites and Blacks. The newly created racial category of “Two or more races” had the highest rate at 254.3 per 1,000 households.

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Of the estimated 18,915,740 property crimes in 2006, approximately 16,247,000 were reported by Non-Hispanics. However, the rate of property victimization for Hispanic households was 211.7 compared to a rate of 154.7 for Non-Hispanics. This pattern held for all categories of property crime victimization with the exception of “completed theft less than $50” (rate of 31.2 for Hispanics and 32.7 for Non-Hispanics).

Race/Ethnicity and Bias-Motivated Victimization

The FBI and NCVS also collect data on hate crimes. In the late 1970s, lawmakers responded to a perceived escalation in hate- or bias-motivated crime. Recognizing the aggravated nature and potential for social disruption when violence is motivated by bigotry, the passage of federal hate crime legislation treated bias-motivated offenses as a special class with enhanced penalties.

Hate crime refers to a criminal act committed against persons or property that is motivated by an offender’s bias against the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. An ordinary crime is classified as a hate crime when offenders select victims on the basis of a characteristic or affiliation and announce their motives either verbally or with recognizable symbols of group prejudice.

The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 authorized the FBI UCR Program to collect national data on bias-motivated crimes reported to police. The NCVS provides another source of national data on hate crime victimizations. Primary sources of hate crime data are summarized in the annual UCR Program publications of Hate Crime Statisticsand the BJS supplemental report on Hate Crimes Reported by Police and Victims.

The UCR Program collects data on single-bias and multiple-bias hate crimes. In 2006, participating law enforcement agencies reported 7,722 hate crime incidents involving 9,080 offenses. Hate crimes require that one or more perpetrator(s) commit crime(s) violence against a person or place the victim in reasonable fear of physical injury. Corroborating evidence of the offender’s intention or prejudice is required for hate crime designations. For example, derogatory language used by the offender in crimes of racial or ethnic intimidation and violence are needed to classify victimizations as hate crimes. In cases involving the destruction, damage, or vandalism of property, hate symbols and messages would provide supporting evidence of bias.

An analysis of single-bias hate crimes offenses in 2006 indicates that 52.2% were motivated by racial bias relative to 13.6% that were motivated by an ethnic or national origin prejudice. Of the 4,737 racially biased incidents reported to law enforcement agencies, 66.2% were motivated by an anti-Black bias, whereas 21.3% were motivated by anti-White sentiments. With regard to the 1,233 offenses committed based on perceived ethnic/national origin of the victim, 62.3% were directed at Hispanic victims, whereas 37.6% targeted victims of other ethnic/national origins.

The BJS report, Crime in the United States, from 2006 indicates that most hate-motivated crimes were against persons (60%), whereas about 39.4% were crimes against property. Bias-motivated destruction/damage/vandalism of property constituted 31.1% of all hate crime offenses. Of the hate-motivated offenses against persons, 46% were intimidation, 31.9% were simple assaults, 21.6% were aggravated assaults, and 0.2% were homicides and/or forcible rapes.

Crime in the United States indicates that most (81.1%) of the 3,593 hate-motivated property crimes were acts of destruction, damage, or vandalism. The remaining property offenses (19%) consisted of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and other crimes.

E. Britt Patterson and Laura A. Patterson

Further Readings

Anderson, M., & Fienberg, S. E. (1999). Who counts: The politics of census-taking in contemporary America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2006). Crime in the United States, 2006. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2006). Survey methodology for criminal victimization in the United States, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cvus/cvus06mt.pdf

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Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2008). Victim characteristics. Retrieved from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict_v.htm

Harlow, C. W. (2005). Bureau of Justice statistics special report: Hate crimes reported by victims and police. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Office of Management and Budget. (1995). Standards for the classification of federal data on race and ethnicity. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/race-ethnicity.html

Office of Management and Budget. (1997). Revisions to the standards for the classification of federal data on race and ethnicity. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg/1997standards.html

Takaki, R. (1993). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America. New York: Back Bay Books.

U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2006). Hate crime statistics, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2006/index.html

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1959800252