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The violent crime gender gap.

IN RECENT YEARS, TWO NATIONAL crime patterns seem to be converging to create a disturbing trend in which American women may be increasingly at risk of attack by strangers. The first pattern is that violent crime victimization rates for women are rising while rates for men are falling; the second pattern shows that crimes by strangers against women are also on the rise. The trend is of serious concern not only to the women it affects but also to those individuals who have a duty to protect them.

Numerous lawsuits have been brought by crime victims against third parties whose supposed negligence in premises security contributed to the occurrence of an attack. Hotels and residential apartments have become hot spots for cases involving accusations of inadequate security.(1) Workplace crime, particularly in parking facilities, is also a developing concern.

In the past, men have been victimized more frequently than women. From 1979 to 1987, men were nearly twice as likely as women to be subjected to violent crime, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice. The difference between men's and women's victimization rates slowly decreased between 1973 and 1987. In most violent crime categories, the rates per 100,000 men declined while the rates for women either remained constant or declined less than those for men.(2)

Similarly, crimes committed by strangers as opposed to crimes committed by people acquainted with their victims increased from 17 percent of all murders in 1963 to 32 percent of all murders in 1975, according to national crime data.

No clear trend can be determined from the fluctuating stranger versus nonstranger rates since 1975, but it is reasonable to assume that women, because of changing life-styles, are increasingly susceptible to crimes perpetrated by strangers.

Women are spending more time in public places or alone where they are more susceptible to attack. A greater number of women are active in the work force. More women attend college. More women live alone. Almost 35 percent of business travelers nowadays are women, and they account for nearly six million business trips each year.(3)

As the social roles of women begin to parallel the social roles of men, their victimization patterns also tend to become similar. Women, however, are uniquely vulnerable to such crimes as rape and are more likely to be injured if robbed.(4) Their vulnerability calls for a serious consideration of security measures in place to protect them.

As America's courts have increasingly pointed out, a special relationship often exists between innkeeper-guest, landlord-tenant, employer-employee, and business owner-invitee. Where a crime against a guest, for example, can reasonably be foreseen, the innkeeper has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent that crime from occurring.

Hotels and motels. Hotel and motel guests are vulnerable to crime for a number of reasons. Because they are generally strangers to the facility, guests have no way of knowing if people they encounter on the premises belong there. Guests often carry cash, may tend to imbibe if on vacation, and generally expect their host--the innkeeper--to be looking after them.

Women share all of these vulnerabilities, and they are also targets of sexual aggression. In addition, women are often less able to defend themselves than men.

In response to these factors, any existing emergency systems and security measures should be explained to women when they check in. Women should be escorted to their rooms if they so desire. Obviously, any hotel employee who may be placed in the position of escorting female guests should have been properly screened prior to hiring. Front desk staff must pay particular attention not to announce room numbers and names of guests, male or female. Emergency numbers should be posted on all telephones.

If practical, consideration should be given to the method by which female guests are assigned rooms. If occupancy permits and the woman desires it, a woman traveling alone may be given a room close to elevators rather than in isolated areas such as those at the ends of hallways.

In a motel, women's rooms should be closer to the front desk or in a line of sight with the front desk if the building design permits. This allows for natural surveillance of the guests' front doors and serves as a deterrent to criminals.

Along the same lines, parking lot and hallway lighting may need upgrading, and an access control system to the building should be considered. In many new, inside-hallway, budget hotels, for example, the building can only be entered either by using a room key to open an outer door or by going through the front lobby where a clerk is on duty.

Naturally, motel doors should be solid core, self-locking, and have wide-angle peepholes and at least one-inch dead bolts. Safety chain locks on the doors may make guests feel more secure, particularly if there is any question of inadequate key control by the innkeeper. Sliding glass doors and doors to adjoining rooms should have secondary locking devices.

Some hotels have women-only floors with a highly visible security officer posted exclusively to that area. Others have found women uncomfortable with the idea. At some sites, CCTV with motion detectors and electronic locks in all stairwells are a part of the security package.

No one set of security precautions for hotels and motels is clearly preferable to another set. Those mentioned above are not necessarily required at all properties, and other options exist. The point is that innkeepers should be aware of the particular security needs of their female guests and take reasonable steps under the circumstances of the property to meet those needs.

Apartments. In general, rapes are either planned or perpetrated as an adjunct to another crime, such as in a burglary where the criminal happens to encounter a victim. Landlords must take steps not to contribute to this type of scenario.

In selecting a target, most burglars consider accessibility, as well as the extent to which a unit is overseen and observable by neighbors or passersby. Accessibility indicates how easily the residence can be entered and how well the site is protected.(5)

Landlords must consider the extent to which trees, shrubbery, and other landscaping provide hiding places for burglars. Privacy fences--tall board or masonry structures that block off a patio--provide ideal cover for a burglar intent on breaking in a sliding glass door.

There should be room between the fence slats for a passerby to detect movement inside the fence so a burglar does not have total privacy as he or she forces open a door. Outside lighting levels at night should allow a resident to distinguish facial features of an approaching individual from 20 feet away.(6)

A unit is considered relatively accessible if it is garden level; has windows unsecured by a burglar bar, dowel, or pins; and is located behind some sort of visual cover such as bushes. Doors are also susceptible if equipped with only a key-in-knob lock. Women living alone may be particularly vulnerable if that status becomes known to the wrong people. These limited security precautions, however, are equally relevant for male tenants.

Although landlords have long known not to place women's full names on mailboxes, they have not been so circumspect in otherwise protecting the privacy of female tenants. In recent years, criminals have broken into the property manager's office at apartment complexes to find tenant files indicating whose names are on the leases. Criminals learn the apartment numbers of single females, then break into the key repositories kept by management and take the uncoded keys corresponding to their victims' units.

Obviously, tenant information must be more closely guarded, and keys to apartment units must be both secure and coded. People with access to a female's apartment must be carefully screened for background problems before they are hired, and key control must be stringent. As more women move alone into multiple housing, locks, alarms, visibility, and confidentiality become more important.

The workplace. As the role of women in business expands not only in numbers but also in the range of occupations open to them, their security in the workplace must be considered. Employees whose jobs include the delivery of passengers or goods, out-of-town travel, and face-to-face public dealings in connection with work, particularly at irregular hours, are at a higher risk of victimization than other employees.(7)

As more women become cab drivers, traveling salespeople, and convenience store clerks, they encounter not only the risk inherent in those jobs but also the risk of being a female in a vulnerable situation. A total of 71 women were murdered on the job in California between 1979 and 1981, with those in service occupations having the highest rate per 100,000.(8)

At least 20 of those victims worked in professional or office-related positions, which leads one inevitably to question how well office buildings are protected.

The answer to this question is important both to security managers and trial attorneys. Creative legal theories have allowed plaintiffs to sue their employers for negligent and intentional torts when employees are injured by criminals.

Various states allow for workers' compensation of occupational risks and reject compensation of personal risks. However, states' attitudes toward the compensation of neutral risks, which may be crime related, may well depend on the circumstances of each case and the security measures considered necessary but not provided.

Generally, security of an office building begins with access control, which includes some method of keeping track of visitors. Stairwells and out-of-the-way corridors can provide hiding places and should be monitored or otherwise controlled. Rest rooms should be locked, except where compliance with local ordinances requires other action. Service and maintenance personnel should be questioned to determine the validity of their mission.

Even fellow workers can develop violent tendencies and erratic behavior that should be reported to a supervisor or to the head of human resources. Passenger elevators, the interiors of which may not be completely visible when the doors are open, should include mirrors to make the entire elevator interior visible to employees and other passengers outside the elevator. Regular building patrols and CCTV can be used not only to reassure workers but also to demonstrate management's concern for the safety of its employees.(9)

Again, these security measures are not all-inclusive, nor are they necessary at every building site. Depending on the degree of foreseeability of criminal attack, however, juries might expect to see a number of these measures present.

Parking facilities. A common problem facing women when they work, shop, and move about a metropolitan area is the security of parking facilities. Whether a parking garage or an outdoor lot, these locations can attract crime and should be secured to a degree commensurate with the threat of criminal attack.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10 percent of rapes by strangers take place in parking lots or garages.(10) The actual percentage is probably higher due to the vague nature of the other location classifications (near a friend's home, on school property, in a park, on the street).

Approximately 20 percent of lawsuits for negligent security reported by the American Trial Lawyers Association involve parking lots.(11) Even scholars who question whether parking lots are particularly dangerous places acknowledge that they can be scary places.(12)

Parking facilities become particularly scary and dangerous when the lone woman suddenly realizes there is virtually no other foot traffic in the lot except for a few strangers. This constitutes what criminologists call a critical intensity, in that there are not enough people around to deter a criminal, but just enough to serve as his or her victims.(13) For these reasons alone, any operator of a parking facility should consider the likelihood of attack at the facility and plan accordingly.

Shopping centers have been labeled crime magnets because many opportunities for crime are available. Any criminal who wants to steal a fancy car, shoplift clothes, or attack a woman knows those opportunities are present at virtually any shopping center at any time during business hours. At night, criminals need only wait until closing to attack female clerks leaving their places of work.

Other criminals may choose to prowl hospital parking lots, because so many women employees work in staggered shifts and leave after 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm.

Security managers responsible for these parking lots should consider whether three common measures to secure such lots are in effect.(14) Is there any access control to limit foot or automobile traffic into and out of the lot? Is lighting adequate? Is surveillance or patrol of some sort present, such as CCTV, natural surveillance, or vehicle patrol?

After conducting a formal security survey, the parking lot operator should know whether he or she has a low-, moderate-, or high-risk facility. Depending on the degree of risk, security measures could include CCTV, convex mirrors, scream detectors or two-way intercom systems, panic buttons, glass-fronted elevators and open stairwells, perimeter grating or fencing, and accentuated floor marking systems.(15)

While those who own and manage property cannot guarantee the safety of people on their property, they can, with adequate security measures, diminish the chances of criminal attacks by strangers and better defend themselves in court against charges of negligence when incidences do take place.

Daniel B. Kennedy, CPP, PhD, is professor and chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice and Security Administration at the University of Detroit Mercy. He is a member of ASIS.

1 Lawrence Sherman and Jody Klein, Major Lawsuits Over Crime and Security: Trends and Patterns, 1958-1982 (College Park, MD: University of Maryland, 1984), p. 34.

2 Caroline Harlow, Female Victims of Violent Crime (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 1991), p. 1.

3 The Lodging Executive's Guide to Security/Safety Management (Port Washington, NY: Rusting Publications, 1985), pp. 9-12.

4 Caroline Harlow, Robbery Victims (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 1987), p. 1.

5 Paul Cromwell, James Olson, and D'Aunn Avary, Breaking and Entering: An Ethnographic Analysis of Burglary (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1991), pp. 35-37.

6 Detroit Police Department, Basic Crime Prevention Course (Detroit: Detroit Metropolitan Police Academy, no date).

7 James Collins and Brenda Cox, "Job Activities and Personal Crime Victimization: Implications for Theory," Social Science Research, 1987, Vol. 16, pp. 345-360; James Lynch, "Routine Activity and Victimization at Work," Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1987, Vol. 3, pp. 283-300.

8 Jess Kraus, "Homicide While at Work: Persons, Industries, and Occupations at High Risk," American Journal of Public Health, 1987, Vol. 77, pp. 1,285-1,289.

9 Ed San Luis, Office and Office Building Security (Boston: Butterworth Publishers, 1973); Walter Strobl, Principles of Physical Security (Knoxville, TN: Training Consultants Inc., 1977); and Michele Wolf, "How Safe Are You at Work?" Good Housekeeping, February 1992, pp. 211-212.

10 Caroline Harlow, Female Victims of Violent Crime, p. 12.

11 Larry Sherman and Jody Klein, p. 33.

12 Wilbur Rykert, Public Crime-Civil Justice: A Study of Crime and Liability Issues in Parking Facilities (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, 1990), p. 123.

13 Daniel B. Kennedy, "Facility Site Selection and Analysis Through Environmental Criminology," Journal of Criminal Justice, 1990, Vol. 18, pp. 239-252.

14 The Parking Executive's Security Primer (Port Washington, NY: Rusting Publications, 1990).

15 Mary Smith, "Security and Safety," Parking Structures, (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989), pp. 90-110.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:women's susceptibility to crime
Author:Kennedy, Daniel B.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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