The analysis above of murders, robberies, burglar- ies, auto thefts, and identity thefts uncovered some strengths and weaknesses of both victim blaming and victim defending. Contrary to sweeping char- acterizations made by some victimologists, victim blaming is not inherently an exercise in scapegoat- ing, an example of twisted logic, or a sign of cal- lousness. It depends on which crime is the focus of attention, who the victims are, and why some peo- ple condemn their behavior. Similarly, victim defending is not always a noble enterprise engaged in by those who champion the cause of the down- trodden. Certain victims deserve to be criticized.

Victim blamers are not necessarily liberal or conservative, rich or poor, young or old, or male or female. Sometimes they switch sides and

become victim defenders—depending on the facts of the case, the nature of the crime, and the parties involved. Individuals are not consistent; nearly everyone blames certain victims and defends others.

The strengths of victim blaming and victim defending lie in their advocates’ willingness to scru- tinize specific criminal acts and reconstruct real-life incidents. The two clashing perspectives dissect in great detail who said and did what to whom and under what circumstances. Victim-blaming and victim-defending arguments bridge the gap between theoretical propositions and abstractions on the one hand, and how people genuinely think and act on the other.

The most serious drawback of both perspec- tives is a tendency to be microscopic rather than macroscopic. Victim-blaming and victim- defending arguments get so caught up (or bogged down) in the particular details of each case that they tend to ignore the larger social forces and environ- mental conditions that shape the attitudes and beha- viors of both criminals and victims. Thus, whenever partisans of the two perspectives clash, they inad- vertently let the system—with its fundamental insti- tutions (established ways of organizing people to accomplish tasks) and culture (way of life, traditions)—off the hook. Yet these outside influ- ences compel the actors in the drama to play the well-rehearsed roles of offender and victim and to follow a well-known script in an all-too-familiar tragedy. Policymaking often swings back and forth between attempts to control the behavior of either would-be predators or their potential prey—but not their larger social environment, which is what a system-blaming analysis of social institutions would recommend.

Clearly, transcending the analytical confines of both victim blaming and victim defending requires that the researcher go beyond criminology and victimology and into the broader realm of social science: sociology, anthropology, psychology, eco- nomics, and political science. Only then can the effects of the social system on shaping the thoughts and actions of specific offenders and their victims, and on creating the vested interests that have grown


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

up around the problems of burglary, vehicle theft and identity theft, be appreciated and understood. Doling out the proper mix of exoneration and blame to just two people is of limited value because the influences of outside forces are eliminated from consideration.

As for murders, system-blaming would center on the glorification of violence in the media as a source of entertainment, from murder-mysteries to movies to video games. Resorting to physical force is also widely accepted as a means of conflict reso- lution, not only on the meanest streets of poverty stricken neighborhoods where young men immersed in a subculture of violence congregate, but also in policy-making circles at the highest levels of government where plans to go to war are developed. The reliance on deadly force is also encouraged by the firearms industry through the manufacture of increasingly powerful weapons, with easy access to them due to lax laws regulating gun purchases.

As for robberies, system-blaming would start out by pointing out the longstanding and now growing gulf between the well-off and the desper- ately poor, and the over-importance of material possessions in a consumer-oriented society.

In the case of burglary, system-blaming would emphasize the organized nature of fencing as an incentive to thievery. Imagine if burglars had to peddle their stolen stuff on the street themselves, rather than cashing it in at some fencing operation that accepts “second-hand goods,” no questions asked.

In the case of identity theft, system blaming would stress how the numerous data breaches (esti- mated at almost 650 per week in October 2014) expose personal data to thieves regardless of the efforts by conscientious customers to protect their secrets by regularly changing their passwords. From January 2005 up to October 2014, nearly 570 mil- lion records containing sensitive personal informa- tion were exposed because of over 4,850 security breaches. These breaches compromised the names, social security numbers, financial account informa- tion, medical records, and email addresses and pass- words kept in the files of banking, finance, credit,

educational, government, military, and medical organizations (ITRC, 2014c). These data breaches, not individual acts of carelessness, are often the basis for identity thefts. In 2011, one in every five per- sons who received data breach notification letters later became a victim of at least one subsequent fraud. In 2012, that victimization rate rose to one in every four. By 2013, one out of every three customers who got a warning later got into finan- cial trouble in some way. Almost half (46 percent) of all consumers with breached debit cards from banks discovered that their accounts were drained. About 15 percent of all persons whose Social Security numbers were taken eventually were defrauded, according to an annual survey (Javelin, 2014).

Also, surprising amounts of personal informa- tion are readily available in databases accessible through the Internet. The lax security measures of some businesses put their consumers at risk. Online stores, car dealerships, retail chains, and regional banks are rarely held accountable for unauthorized disclosures of confidential information about their customers, and are reluctant to publicly acknowl- edge intrusions into their files. Organizations often are not vigilant guardians of the records of their students, employees, or patients (Newman, 2004). Data brokers who sell personal information for commercial purposes need to take additional mea- sures to protect the public from raids on their files by cybercrooks and fraudsters who seek credit, debit, and ATM card account information (like PIN codes), Social Security numbers, and birth- dates. Stolen identifiers are for sale through global black market channels.

Most federal and state legislation passed to date focuses on deterring and punishing offenders. It offers little protection or relief in the form of gov- ernment compensation or restitution by offenders for those who lose money, and fails to hold accountable the commercial ventures whose care- less practices enable thieves to periodically swipe databases full of confidential data. Most state gov- ernments have passed laws to compel organizations that maintain databanks to notify people put at risk when a breach of security takes place. But Congress

158 CH APT ER 5

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

could pass stricter regulations that would impose higher internal security standards on the operations of agencies and companies that suffer breaches with infuriating regularity but only reluctantly admit that intruders broke into their record-keeping systems, office files, and computer databases. Thefts of personal data from supposedly secure repositories can endanger hundreds of thousands of people at a time (Editors, New York Times, 2005a; Sherman, 2005; President’s Task Force, 2007; and Consumer’s Union, 2008; and Acohido, 2014).

The system-blaming approach also questions the sincerity of the efforts made by the giant cor- porations (especially banks and credit card compa- nies) that ostensibly suffer losses when their customers fall prey to identity thieves. Even though this kind of fraud initially costs them bil- lions of dollars annually, ultimately they pass along most of these expenses to their customers by rais- ing rates and fees, just as large stores charge higher prices to cover “inventory shrinkage” due to sho- plifting and employee theft. Any remaining losses can be written off at tax time. It appears that top executives have calculated that it is better for their businesses’ bottom line to recoup money from honest customers than it is to spend more on fraud prevention or to pay more to pursue and help bring to justice impostors masquerading as someone else.

Sensing that this problem has become a deeply entrenched feature of the financial landscape, com- panies have discovered that every “crisis” presents an opportunity to make money by marketing credit monitoring services to detect suspicious activity and by selling a new form of insurance that repays pol- icyholders for expenses arising from misappropria- tions of their good names (May, 2002; Edwards and Riley, 2011; and Albanesius, 2011).

Many law enforcement agencies still lack experts in forensic computing and remain far behind the curve when it comes to detecting intru- sions, figuring out who did it, and gathering evi- dence that will stand up in court. The odds are in the thieves’ favor. Convictions take place in only 1 out of every 700 to 1,000 reported instances of identity theft (Katel, 2005).

In the case of car theft, victim-blaming and victim-defending arguments nearsightedly dwell on the actions of motorists and thieves. What is excluded from the analysis is as important as what is included. A comprehensive battle plan must take into account how sophisticated and organized com- mercial thievery has become, and how profitable the black market for “hot” cars and stolen parts continues to be. It must also grasp how the practices of insurance companies provide incentives for thieves to steal cars for parts, and how salvage yards make it easy to infiltrate stolen items into the flow of recycled parts to auto body repair shops (see Goodman, 2014) An effective anticrime strategy must also come to grips with the inadequa- cies in record-keeping and in the stamping of serial numbers on crash parts. These shortcomings, which have been known for years but are not yet been adequately resolved (see Karmen, 1980; NIJ, 1984), make it difficult for law enforcement officers to detect and prove thievery.

Even more important, it is necessary to go beyond victim blaming and victim defending to realize that the manufacturers bear responsibility for the ease with which their products are taken from their customers. Pros brag that they need just a minute or two (and an ordinary screwdriver or some shaved-down keys) to defeat standard anti- theft locks on the doors and ignitions of many makes and models (see Kesler, 1992; Behar, 1993; “Auto Theft Alert,” 1994; S. Smith, 1994; and McKinley, 2006).

Perhaps blaming victims for auto theft serves to distract attention from engineering issues. The most virulent victim blaming has emanated from auto- mobile industry spokespersons, insurance company representatives, and top law-enforcement officials. Who or what are they protecting? Certainly, they are not apologists for the lawbreakers, either the joyriding juveniles or the professional crooks. Apparently, condemning the motorists who left their cars vulnerable to thieves is intended to divert attention away from the automobile manufacturers who design and sell cars that are so easily stolen. Considerable evidence exists to substantiate the charge that until recently vehicle security (like


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

passenger safety) was assigned a low priority by automakers, probably because thefts stimulate new car sales (see Karmen, 1981a). Vehicle security is likely to remain a problem until manufacturers are compelled by law to post theft-resistance ratings from an independent testing bureau or government laboratory on new-car showroom stickers.

Place Your Order Here!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *