The Victim on my Mind. Incorporating Victim Costs in the Rational Choice Decision Function of the Offender, Accounting for Egoism and Impulsivity

Dick Hessing, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Henk Elffers, NSCR

In this theoretical paper we propose a new conceptualization of the rational choice model of criminal behavior, incorporating on the one hand, victim costs, and on the other hand, elements from Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime. We distinguish two separate elements in the rational choice model, the unconditional cost/benefit balance of committing a crime, and the conditional costs of the crime, conditional on being caught and sanctioned, which remain zero if the offender is not caught. New in our approach is the introduction of 'victim costs' into the unconditional cost/benefit balance. We suggest that the amount of pain inflicted on victims of a crime influences people when considering the evaluation of the outcome of behavioral choices for themselves and therefore should be incorporated in what criminals perceive as costs. The second new element in our approach is our proposal to weigh (elements in) the two components of the rational choice evaluation function, since not all persons will be equally susceptible to conditional or unconditional costs. We propose to weigh the victim costs with a weighing factor dependent on the level of egoism of the individual and the unconditional costs with a weight dependent on the level of impulsivity.

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Updated 05/20/2006