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Statistics: Costs of Crime - Direct Costs Of Crime

victims property estimates offender

Estimates of the direct costs of crime are relatively clear. Criminal activity generates expenses for victims and occupies an offender's time, time that could be spent in other resource-generating activities. Such costs are relatively easy to assess.

Costs borne by victims fall into four categories. First, there are out-of-pocket expenses, such as property damage and loss and costs of medical care. For example, national crime surveys indicate that approximately one-third of all violent crimes result in some property loss or damage, with the average violent crime resulting in a loss of approximately $137. Although insurance often covers partial or full restitution for such costs, victims can still be required to pay insurance deductibles and face higher premiums when renewing their insurance.

Second, victimization often results in physical injury, particularly in the case of violent crimes. Almost one-quarter of all victims of violent crime sustain some physical injury, of which almost 7 percent incur some form of medical expense and almost 5 percent receive hospital care. Injury during property crime is much rarer as much property crime involves no physical contact between victims and offenders. Compounding these expenses, a considerable proportion of victims has no healthcare insurance. At the same time, victims of crime often experience decreased productivity or lost wages due to absences from work. Time away from work is typically short, between one and five days, yet sometimes extends into weeks and even months.

A third category of costs stems from psychological trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its symptoms are well-recognized consequences of criminal violence. Research on behalf of the National Institute of Justice found that one-quarter of all crime victims experienced a related PTSD, including nervous breakdowns, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts. Not surprisingly, victims of crime often seek assistance from various mental health services. Research indicates that almost half of all victims of sexual assault and approximately 5 percent of victims of assault and robbery incur costs for mental health services.

Finally, there are also less tangible costs, such as those stemming from pain, suffering, and reduced quality of life. As there is no established market value for intangible costs, estimation is more complicated. The most common strategy for estimating intangible costs is to base estimates on jury awards to crime victims and burn victims. Typically, these estimates are based on the portion of the jury verdict designed to compensate the victim for pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life.

Various works summarize the components to estimate the overall personal costs of crime. For example, the 1994 National Academy of Science report Understanding and Preventing Violence estimates that the average sexual assault costs victims approximately $68,800, while assault and robbery cost approximately $21,100 and $24,400, respectively. Although estimates of homicide are typically much greater and estimates of property and vice crimes are typically much lower, such work provides clear evidence that the personal costs of crime are substantial.

While less obvious, there are also costs incurred or hypothetically incurred by the offender. For example, both property and personal crime often involves the use of tools and weapons that may have been purchased by the offender. In addition to this, the labor and energy that offenders devote to criminal activity could hypothetically be put to more productive uses. In this regard, offender-related costs stem from the lost productivity of engaging in crime rather than other more normative activities. Finally, offenders often do not emerge unscathed from criminal interactions. Victims may injure offenders in the course of defending themselves. Offenders may be forced to abandon property, tools, and weapons, or have their vehicles damaged when fleeing crime scenes. While such costs may seem just, they still contribute to the overall costs of crime. To date, there have been few attempts to estimate offender-related costs comprehensively.

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