TCU study finds thieves target 'deviant' victims more often

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on November 21, 2012 at 8:44 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 21 at 10:24 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas – Researchers at Texas Christian University found criminals are more likely to target people they consider to be 'deviant' or 'reckless.'

“It’s easier for the thief to rationalize their own behavior and justify it,” said TCU criminologist Michael Bachmann, who co-authored the new study titled, “Getting Hosed,” along with Patrick Kinkade and Ronald Burns.

“When you steal from someone who lives a bad life himself, it’s easier to justify taking something from such a victim,” he said.

The team staged an experiment at car washes across Fort Worth to see if certain factors increased the risk of theft. They left a large amount of loose change clearly visible inside a generic SUV and took it to 30 full-service car washes.

At half the car washes, there was nothing out of the ordinary inside the SUV. But at the other half, the researchers tossed inside the car a 'Maxim' magazine (known for its racy image and pictures of scantily-clad women) and a couple of crushed beer cans.

Bachmann wanted to leave “the impression of a deviant lifestyle” inside the SUV.

“We tried to create the impression of a driver who is living a borderline-legal lifestyle himself,” he said.

All other factors remained the same: the driver, his clothes, the SUV, the amount of change.

Initially, Bachmann didn’t expect the magazine or beer cans to make much of a difference. After all, he reasoned, criminals would simply be drawn to the easy target (the loose change) no matter who owned it.

“I was shocked,” he said of the findings.

Turns out, the cans and magazine made a big difference. The study found that the cash was twice as likely to be stolen from cars with the racy items. Also, the car wash attendants took far more money, compared to the SUV without the provocative props.

“It is much easier for the thief to prey on someone who is seen as an indecent human being,” Bachmann said.

The researchers concluded that the criminals weren’t indiscriminate and perhaps even have a conscious, explaining why they were more likely to steal from people perceived as 'deviant.'

Of course, truly innocent people are victimized all the time. Yet, Bachmann said the experiment shows there are subtle factors at work when criminals choose their victims.

“If you portray the impression of living a decent, ethical life yourself, then that might have benefits for you that you might not be aware of," he said.

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