Preventing Repeat Victimization: A Systematic Review

Graham Farrell, University of Cincinnati
Brandon K. Webster, University of Cincinnati

The first published studies that recognized the extent of repeat victimisation were in the early 1970's (Johnson et al. 1973; Zeigenhagen 1976). The potential to utilize the phenomenon of repeat victimisation as a focus for crime prevention strategies was formally recognized with the publication of the Kirkholt burglary experiment that was conducted in the mid-1980's (Forrester et al. 1988, 1990). The basis premise of this approach to crime prevention is that, since victimisation is a good predictor of further victimisation of the same target within a short time, this fact can be used to locate crime prevention resources where they are needed. Targeting repeat victimization is a means of improving the efficient of crime prevention resource allocation.

With hindsight, it is now known that some crime prevention projects aimed to prevent repeat victimisation even though this was not necessarily formally presented as the initial basis for the intervention. For example, the Minneapolis domestic violence experiment and subsequent replications (SARP) (see e.g. Sherman 1992), aimed to assess the effectiveness of arrest in the prevention of repeated domestic assault. Although the initial driving force was the prevention of crime against women and an assessment of policing practice in this area, the projects also assessed a tactic for the prevention of repeat victimization. Similarly, there is evidence that some studies based upon the prevention of repeated abuse of children can be categorised as preventing repeat victimization.

The Kirkholt burglary experiment, evaluated with a quasi-experimental design, reduced repeat burglary to zero and produced a 70% fall in all burglaries in the test site. It spurred a set of replication experiments tackling residential burglary (Tilley 1993a; Webb 1997; Anderson et al. 1995; Chenery et al. 1997), commercial burglary (Tilley 1993b), and led to a prolonged research program in the UK on repeat victimization (reviewed by Laycock 2000). Research on repeat victimization has taken off in a number of countries and studies now exist that examine the phenomenon in countries including Australia, the Netherlands, England and Wales, the United States, Scotland. Cross-national comparative studies of rates of repeat victimization have also emerged, although not incorporating an evaluation of interventions. While there are now many dozens of studies of repeat victimization, the number that incorporate formal evaluations of preventions efforts is relatively small. Our ongoing review of the literature, following the systematic review process of the Campbell Collaboration, suggests that there are close to two hundred articles now published that relate to repeat victimization. The bulk of these have been published in the last decade as the subject area has mushroomed. Of these studies however, perhaps only two dozen incorporate an evaluation that utilizes and experimental design. Preliminary findings (which will be completed by the ASC in November) suggests that efforts to prevent repeat victimization which utilize strong preventive mechanisms and multiple interlocking situational crime prevention techniques, tailored to specific crime types and circumstances tend to produce more significant reductions in crime than those that do not.

While there is now growing evidence that it is often the same offenders who commit repeat victimization (Bennett 1995; Everson and Pease 2001), there appears to have been little evaluation of the potential to combine the prevention of repeat victimization with efforts to detect offenders who return to commit these offences. Similarly, while there is considerable evidence that repeat victimization is more prevalent in crime hot spots (Bennett 1995; Bennett and Durie 1996; Townsley et al. 2000), there appears to be little formal evaluation of the potential of the prevention of repeat victimization as a strategy to tackle crime hot spots. The review will incorporate a systematic review of such issues and their potential for preventing crime, following the protocol developed earlier in the review (Farrell and Webster 2001).

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Updated 05/20/2006