Public Release: 

Young offenders and victims of crime are often the same people

Economic & Social Research Council

Programmes aiming to change young offenders and those that support victims need to be re-thought because they are often the same people, according to new research sponsored by the Economic & Social Research Council. This latest in a series of reports tracking 4,300 young people who started secondary school in Edinburgh in August 1998, shows that victimisation and offending are closely linked.

The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, led by Professor David Smith and Dr Lesley McAra, School of Law, Edinburgh University, shows that boys offend only slightly more often than girls at the ages of 13-15, if every kind of offending is included. Girls are more likely to smoke and drink than boys are by the age of 15. Yet the study reveals considerably higher levels of serious offending in boys compared with girls.

Professor Smith said: "These findings suggest there is something about males, or a risk factor to which males are prone, that is implicated in serious offending but is not identified by our current research."

Being a victim of crime at the age of 12 is one of the most powerful indicators that a child will offend at 15. Likewise, offending at age 12 brings a strong possibility of victimisation at 15. One explanation of this link is that young offenders tend to group together and commit offences on each other. Another is that young people who get into risky situations together - such as late-night clubs or amusement arcades - end up both committing offences and being victims of crime. A third point is that personality traits such as being impulsive and taking risks lead both to offending and victimisation.

Finally, people may bounce backwards and forwards between offending and victimisation, as when they have their possessions stolen or trashed when in prison. Victims may be traumatised, leading to later offending or simple retaliation.

Dr McAra said: "Few youngsters are specialists in violent offending, instead certain lifestyles provide opportunities for getting involved in various kinds of trouble. The study shows that violent boys are very similar as people to those who are not, suggesting that the phenomenon is a normal expression of masculinity for teenaged youths.

"By contrast, violent girls are very different from both other females and aggressive boys. They are much more likely to be drug users, gang members, truants, and from a lower class background."

A fifth of 15-year-olds were members of gangs, although only five per cent belonged to a gang with a name and a saying or sign. Offending was higher among gang members than others. Members of organised gangs were typically male, from broken families, and lower-class backgrounds. Gangs provided moral support, encouraging and excusing violence and criminal activities.

Social class and household income were found to be only slightly related to offending in terms of individual families, but where a neighbourhood was deprived, this was strongly linked to the local crime rate.

Findings suggest that police may be repeatedly targeting particular groups of younger teenagers or 'usual suspects'. Those most likely to be pulled up at the age of 12 were male and lower class. At 15, it was those already known to the police because they had been picked up before who were most likely to be picked up again. It was a similar group who were drawn into the Children's Hearing System, Scotland's equivalent of juvenile justice.

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For further information, contact:

Professor David Smith on 0131-650-2027 (work), or 0131-557-8754 (home), e-mail: david.j.smith@ed.ac.uk

Or Lesley Lilley or Anna Hinds at ESRC, on 01793-413032/413119

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The research report 'The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Professor Smith is at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh, EDINBURGH EH8 9YL.

2. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £53 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://www.esrc.ac.uk

3. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at http://www.regard.ac.uk.

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