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UI Researcher Finds Gender Gap Narrowing Among Victims Of Certain Crimes

Although the gender gap among victims of homicide and robbery has remained relatively stable over the last 30 years, the gap has closed significantly for aggravated and simple assault because male rates of victimization have declined faster than female rates.

That is one finding of a first-of-its-kind study presented by researchers Karen Heimer of the University of Iowa and Janet Lauritsen of the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Friday, Feb. 16, at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco. The study examined data from the National Crime Victimization Surveys to compare trends in violence against women and men over the past three decades.

The research provides the first detailed description of how the gender gap in violent victimization has changed over time, according to Lauritsen and Heimer.

Regarding the aggravated and simple assault findings, the researchers noted that they were unable to determine why male victimization rates for some types of violence have declined faster than female rates.

The study revealed several overall trends:

-- The risks for robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault -- as well as homicide -- have declined substantially for both males and females since the early 1970s.

-- Declines in robbery and aggravated assault against males began before the decreases of the 1990s, while the decline in violence against females did not begin until approximately 1993 to 1994.

-- Declines have occurred in stranger and non-stranger violence, as well as intimate partner violence.

The study also showed gender differences in violent victimization levels:

-- Male victimization rates have remained higher for stranger and non-stranger homicide, stranger robbery, stranger aggravated assault, and stranger simple assault.

-- Female rates of victimization have remained higher for intimate partner homicide and non-lethal intimate partner violence.

-- Differences in male and female rates of robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault committed by non-strangers have become minimal.

Lauritsen and Heimer said that the study is distinct from others because past studies of trends in male and female victimization have been restricted to homicide, or in the case of non-lethal violence, to data from more recent years (1992 to the present). One of the study's strengths is its comparison of male and female rates, thereby viewing violence against women as part of the larger picture of nationwide violence, rather than as a phenomenon detached from violence against men.

The study suggests that future researchers of violence against women should consider how explanations focused on offender motivations and constraints -- such as changes in the economy and increases in imprisonment -- may be related to changes in women's victimization. They also suggest that studies of crime trends should consider how efforts to reduce victimization against women and children (such as increases in domestic violence resources, protection services, as well as improvements in women's economic status) might be related to some of the observed changes in overall rates of violence.

Lauritsen and Heimer's talk, "Gender, Violence, and Victimization: Female and Male Patterns Over Time," was part of an AAAS session on "The Crime Drop and Beyond: Explaining U.S. Crime Trends."

Karen Heimer is professor and director of graduate studies in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology. She earned her doctorate in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her major areas of interest are criminology, sociology of criminal punishment, and gender. She is currently conducting research on trends in violence against women, women's crime and changes in imprisonment in the United States. Her book (co-edited with Candace Kruttschnitt), "Gender and Crime: Patterns of Victimization and Offending," was published by New York University Press in 2006.

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