Ambivalence About Risk Taking

Ambivalence About Risk Taking

Contradictory messages permeate American cul- ture on the subject of risk taking. On the one


Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

hand, the prevailing entrepreneurial ideology extols the financial risk taking of investors, espe- cially daring “venture capitalists.” Similarly, popu- lar heroes go beyond their comfort zones and boldly take on daunting challenges: pioneers, explorers, inventors, private detectives, secret agents, soldiers of fortune, high-stakes gamblers, and other adventurers. Adolescence by definition is a period of experimentation, and risk taking is part of growing up.

On the other hand, middle-age and middle-class values emphasize order, stability, predictability, and control over one’s destiny. This leads to prudence in the face of danger. Conscientious, responsible,

“mature” adults plan, build, save, and invest so that they are prepared for adversity, illness, retirement due to old age, accidents, or devastating losses inflicted by criminals. They prize safety, peace of mind, insurance, and protective devices.

The ambivalent attitudes toward risk taking in American culture are mirrored by contradictory responses to victimization. Some readily rush to the defense of victims while others impulsively crit- icize them as reckless people who have failed in their gambits. Their suffering evokes sympathy, but it also invites second-guessing about what might be altered in their attitudes, daily routines, and lifestyles to avoid future troubles.


When victims ask, “Why me?” victimologists sug- gest explanations that range far beyond the notions of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fate, or just plain bad luck. Explanations that raise the possibility that the victim, along with the offender, shares some degree of responsibility for what hap- pened are the subjects of bitter debate.

Victim-blaming arguments focus on facilitation through negligence, precipitation due to reckless- ness, and provocation because of instigation. Victim blaming insists that injured parties must change their ways if they want to live safer lives. Victim defending either places the entire blame for what happened on lawbreakers (offender blaming) or finds fault with social institutions and cultural values that shape the lives of both offenders and victims (system blaming).

Differential risks are largely determined by rou- tine activities and lifestyles that result in more or less exposure to dangerous individuals in the vicinity of hot spots for illicit behavior. Involvement in illegal activities with criminally inclined persons surely heightens risks, according to the equivalent group hypothesis. Some people do not learn lessons from the misfortunes of others or from their own brushes with trouble and are not deterred from high-risk behaviors, so they face higher risks of becoming repeat victims.

Each person must perform a cost–benefit anal- ysis about precautions in everyday life and expen- ditures for risk-reduction measures, and determine on an individual basis just how safe is safe enough.

One final note needs to be emphasized. All the precautions listed in the boxes above to avoid rob- bery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and identity theft are recommendations from police detectives and other justice professionals based on past experi- ences. These experts and professionals look at the way criminals operate and they scrutinize the appar- ent mistakes victims have made. That is how these victimization prevention tips were derived. But what seems to be plausible, reasonable, sound advice needs to be carefully researched. Victimolo- gists have to conduct studies to determine whether or not each of these tips and recommendations really work as touted and as intended. For example, do alarms actually scare off car thieves or at least cut short their attacks? Does it pay to install a burglar alarm and then incur the unending expense of monthly monitoring fees? If timers turn lights on and off at night to make a home look like it is occupied, does that actually deter burglars from attempting to break in? If a person rejects simple passwords that are easy to remember and conscien- tiously devises and changes strong passwords rou- tinely, does that really help to stave off attempts at

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Copyright 2016 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. WCN 02-200-203

identity theft? Crime conscious people need to know if these tactics do any good and if these expenses are worthwhile investments. Only careful research can answer these tough questions. Until

then, “how safe is safe enough” is a very difficult question to answer because evidence-based support for various common sense tips and recommenda- tions is not yet available.

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