A Statistical Exploration of Factors Important to Victims when Judging Crime Seriousness
: Investigating Victim-Selected Factors to Construct a Crime Seriousness Index Through Regression Analysis

  • Timothy Roebuck

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The measurement of the seriousness of crimes has been explored for more than half a century. Most often, its origins are attributed to the seminal work of Sellin and Wolfgang (1964). The Sellin-Wolfgang scale relied on public, practitioner and student judgements of crime seriousness as its basis. Since then, many different approaches to crime seriousness measurement have emerged. Most notable in recent years is a trend toward utilising sentences passed (ONS, 2016) and sentencing guidelines (Sherman, Neyroud & Neyroud, 2016) as proxy measures for seriousness. Very rarely have victim judgements of crime seriousness been seriously considered as an alternative measurement (Ignatans & Pease, 2016).
Studies that investigate victim judgements largely do so in comparison with non-victims (Pease, 1988; Wolfgang, Figlio, Tracy & Singer, 1985). Despite being uniquely positioned to give the most comprehensive judgement of the seriousness of a crime, victims are routinely overlooked in the literature in favour of other measurements of seriousness.
The present thesis analyses victim judgements of crime seriousness captured in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) to explore their ability to provide unique insights into the seriousness of crimes and, ultimately, to be used as the basis of a crime seriousness index. Victim judgements present the opportunity to measure the qualitative differences between crimes. A framework of understanding seriousness to support this is developed by reviewing current sentencing guidelines (Sentencing Council, 2012). Factors that modulate the seriousness of an offence in sentencing are found to be mostly unique to offence types. This leads to a framework that dictates the seriousness of crimes be measured within
offence groups and not compared between them. Victim judgements from the CSEW are then analysed through a number of statistical tests designed to identify factors within victimisations that reliably affect their seriousness. The results are compared to the sentencing guidelines for assault and vehicle-related theft offences. Findings indicate a victim’s low economic status, low educational attainment and lack of cohabitants contribute to the seriousness judgement given, though are absent in the sentencing guidelines. This prompts the proposal for a matrix of victim employment and living circumstances to be incorporated into sentencing guidelines to aid in the formulation of a sentencing starting point.
A survey of non-victim judgements of crime seriousness is used for comparison with victim judgements in the CSEW. Results support previous findings of differences between the two groups (Pease, 1988) and demonstrate differences in factors considered important in determining seriousness. Finally, regression models of victim judgements of crime seriousness are used to construct a crime seriousness index for assault victimisations. Though successful in producing seriousness calculations that correlate with the original judgements of crime seriousness present in the dataset, the index includes victim characteristics which reduce the seriousness of the victimisation. For this reason, the index cannot contribute to sentencing decisions or any other practical application of seriousness and is instead dependent on further research.
Date of Award6 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDainis Ignatans (Main Supervisor) & Melanie Flynn (Co-Supervisor)

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