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Alcohol and Crime: Behavioral Aspects - Studies Of Criminal Events

percent victim drinking victims

Both drunkenness and the commission of a crime are events rather than conditions. Most of the empirical literature on alcohol and crime merely reports the percentage of criminal events in which alcohol was present either in the perpetrator or the victim. These figures come from studies of prisoners and jail inmates, surveys of victims, police reports, and official statistics. North American studies find that 55–60 percent of U.S. homicide offenders and 35–40 percent of Canadian homicide offenders were drinking alcohol prior to the crime. In Finland, Norway, and Sweden, countries with low homicide rates, alcohol is present in 65–80 percent of offenders in assaults. The corresponding share of drinking victims is also relatively high, about 45–50 percent (Pernanen, 1996).

In many violent offenses, both the offender and the victim have been drinking prior to the offense. The presence of alcohol in both parties appears to be associated with social interactions that increase the probability of violence. In 26 percent of the homicides studied by Wolfgang, the victim had precipitated the homicide by being the first to commence the interplay or resort to physical violence. Alcohol use was associated with victim precipitation: Alcohol was present, in either the victim or the offender, in 74 percent of the victim-precipitated events compared to 60 percent of other homicides. The victim was drinking in 69 percent of the victim-precipitated cases and in 47 percent of other cases (Wolfgang). Given that victims and perpetrators are often drinking together before the event, disentangling the role of alcohol in the two parties can be difficult (Pernanen, 1991).

For some interpersonal crimes, alcohol is more directly involved in victimization. For example, the vulnerability of drunken persons to robbery by "jackrollers" has long been recognized. People who are drinking are attractive targets: they are less able to protect themselves and to exercise sound judgment (Collins and Messerschmidt). Alcohol as a "victimogenic" factor is a relatively unexplored aspect of the alcohol and crime question, a limitation that probably reflects ideological concerns: establishing that victims are often drunk might diminish their perceived blamelessness (Miers).

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