Much of the research examining predictors of interpersonal violence risk has focused on factors that increase the likelihood of risk for perpetration. In some instances, these factors also have been shown to increase the likelihood of interpersonal violence victimization, although in other cases distinct risk factors for victimization have been identified. Overall, there has been less research focused on prediction of victimization in part because such research could be seen as attributing blame to the victim. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that a number of distinct risk factors increase the likelihood of victimization, particularly with regard to subtypes of violence including bullying, community violence, sexual victimization, dating violence, and intimate partner violence. These risk factors can be divided into four major categories: (1) individual demographic factors such as age, gender, and ethnicity; (2) developmental and psychosocial factors such as history of victimization; (3) situational factors such as alcohol and drug use; and (4) contextual factors such as living in poor communities. These categories also correspond with ecological frameworks of interpersonal violence risk that emphasize individual and contextual factors and how they interact over time.
Individual Demographic Predictors
Statistics reveal differences among interpersonal violence victims based upon individual predictors such as age, gender, and ethnicity. The National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS), conducted annually in the United States by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reports that for the year 2004 approximately 54 of every 1,000 youths ages 12–24 and 22 of every 1,000 adults ages 25 and above were the victims of aggravated assault, suggesting that youth is a risk factor for assault victimization. Gender-based differences in crime victimization documented in the NCVS reveal that females were the victims of 99.5% of all sexual assaults reported in 2004. However, males are more likely to be victims of violent crime as a whole. In 2004, 56 out of every 1,000 males were the victims of violent crimes as compared to 39 of every 1,000 females. Thus, being male increases risk for victimization overall, with the exception of sexual assault victimization, which is almost exclusively associated with being female. With respect to ethnicity, 28 out of every 1,000 Blacks in the United States were victims of interpersonal violence in 2004 as opposed to 21 out every 1,000 Whites.
Developmental and Psychosocial Predictors
Early victimization and history of abuse, exposure to domestic violence, emotional distress, and psychological problems are among the developmental and psychosocial predictors of victimization. The most well documented predictor of interpersonal violence victimization is childhood victimization. When children are maltreated early in life, they are also at greater risk for suffering from emotional distress and other psychosocial disorders that further increase the risk of victimization. For example, a 20-year prospective study showed that children who were exposed to domestic violence between parents were also at high risk for victimization of any type of interpersonal violence later in life. It appears that early violence exposure, either through direct maltreatment or indirectly through observation of family violence, is a significant risk factor for subsequent victimization. The effects of early violence exposure on subsequent interpersonal violence victimization may also be linked to corresponding emotional distress and psychological maladjustment.
Alcohol and substance use are among the most frequent situational predictors of interpersonal violence victimization. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heavy alcohol and drug use is considered a risk factor for intimate partner violence. The CDC also notes that women who use drugs and/or drink heavily in high school are at greatest risk for victimization of sexual assault while intoxicated. More specifically, a study of rape victims revealed that 51% of all participants reported substance use immediately before victimization by rape.
The National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the likelihood of victimization increases as an individual’s income decreases. In 2004, 51 out of every 1,000 individuals with an annual household income of less than $7,500 were victims of violent crime compared with 18.5 out of every 1,000 individuals with annual incomes over $75,000. Sociological studies examining the influence of neighborhoods and communities on victimization suggest a relation between low income and victimization, particularly in communities with a high concentration of poverty and limited opportunities. As violence and victimization in a community increase, these contexts become increasingly dangerous. Residents and businesses may move to safer communities, buildings and community spaces may deteriorate, and the willingness of neighbors to intervene to stop violence victimization may decrease.
Interpersonal violence victimization also occurs in specific settings where individuals have repeated contact over time. Schools and workplaces are two important settings where interpersonal violence victimization occurs. Although extreme violence such as school shootings is rare, studies have found that bullying and fighting are relatively common in schools. For example, although the BJS reports in 2004 a declining trend in incidents of violence in U.S. schools, 13% of all high school students ages 12–18 recently surveyed reported involvement in a physical fight while on school grounds, 18% reported being threatened with violence at school, and 7% reported being the victims of bullying on school property. Thus, the context of being in high school can carry an increased risk of victimization of interpersonal violence. The workplace is another setting where violence is common. The BJS reports that an estimated 18% of all violent incidents in the United States between 1993 and 1999 occurred in the workplace. Correctional officers, taxi drivers, private security guards, and bartenders are the occupations at the greatest risk of violent victimization in the workplace.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). Understanding intimate partner violence fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv-factsheet.pdf
- Ehrensaft, M., Cohen, P., Brown, J., Smailes, E., Chen, H., ; Johnson, J. G. (2003). Intergenerational transmission of partner violence: A 20-year prospective study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 741–753.
- S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2004). National crime victimization survey. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv03.pdf