Annual estimates of the incidence of crimes in the United States are provided by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports and the Bureau of Justice Statistics' Criminal Victimization in the United States. The statistics included in the former publication are based on offenses reported to law enforcement authorities, whereas those included in the latter publication are based on the results of interviewing a large sample of the U.S. population. Neither of these sources gives a completely accurate picture of crime in the United States, but taken together they provide useful information on the occurrence of various crimes and the demographic variables and other conditions with which they are associated.
Both arrests and victimization rates are highest in young adulthood and decrease as one ages. The rates are also higher for property crimes than for violent crimes, for men than for women, for blacks than for whites, and for people of lower socioeconomic status. The media pay more attention, in news, drama, and other stories, to murder and other violent crimes than to more common crimes such as alcohol-related offenses.
Despite the fact that they are victimized less often than younger adults, due to their greater vulnerability and lesser recuperative powers, elderly people are more afraid of crime than middle-aged and younger adults are. Elderly people are most likely to be victimized at night, on check day, if unaccompanied, if they are women, and if they live in central cities.
The causes of criminal behavior are complex. Motive and opportunity are important, but differential association with individuals in criminal subcultures and even biological factors also play a role. In any event, risk-taking, which is related to the greater speed, strength, and other athletic abilities possessed a by teenagers and young adults and associated with criminal behavior, declines with age. With maturity, the individual finds other, more legal, or at least more subtly illegal, ways of prospering.
The most popular punishment for crime commission is incarceration, but it is not terribly effective. Imprisoned criminals are not usually rehabilitated and, in fact, may become more schooled in crime by associating with other imprisoned criminals. However, society, which for its protection demands that criminals be locked up for a substantial period of time, is less concerned with prevention and rehabilitation than with its immediate safety.
Child abuse has also been of concern to society for many years, but only recently has elder abuse come to the forefront of attention. Elder abuse includes passive neglect, verbal or emotional abuse, physical abuse, financial or material exploitation, as well as institutional abuse and self-neglect. In such cases, the abuser is typically a relative, most often the spouse, of the abused person. Older adults in a variety of circumstances are also susceptible to consumer fraud: get rich quick offers, health gimmicks and new cures, attractive vacation tours, and useless insurance plans. Among the most inventive schemes for bilking the elderly are the "Bank Examiner Swindle," the "Pigeon Drop Swindle," and the sweepstakes or free-giveaway scheme.
War represents a legitimization of violence that has occurred almost continuously throughout human history. War may be limited or total, and external or internal. The most common motive for war is to acquire the property of another group or nation, but religion, retribution, and other factors have also played significant roles in instigating wars. Freud and certain other students of human psychology have emphasized the importance of an inborn aggressive instinct as a cause of war. Contemporary psychologists admit that human beings possess the neural circuitry for aggressive behavior, but they emphasis that its expression depends on the accurrence of instigating stimuli and public perception of threat in the interpersonal or international environment. The decision to go to war is usually a reasonable one from the standpoint of the aggressor, but it is a deceptive rationality. War has been romanticized as glorious and heroic, but for most combat soldiers it is a frightening, debilitating experience. This is especially true of prisoners of war who are subjected to inhuman conditions, as in the Vietnam War. Armament buildup by both sides in a conflict may serve to deter outright war for a time. but in the long run is likely to encourage it.
Repeated random violence is not limited to war; it also occurs in genocide, terrorism, and serial murder. The ultimate aim of terrorists is not murder per se but rather to frighten or terrorize people to accomplish a political purpose. Various strategies for dealing with terrorism, and hostage-taking in particular, have been implemented, but each has its drawbacks. Legal matters of particular concern to older adults—income maintenance, health, housing, autonomy, and so on—are collectively known as elder law. Procedures for determining competency and testamentary capacity, the issue of guardianship or conservatorship, and wills, probate, and taxes were discussed briefly at the end of the chapter. Concern over the payment of taxes on a estate has given rise to a number of inventive procedures for avoiding probate. Among these are setting up a legal trust or living trust, investing in life insurance, or giving away a large portion of one's cash and property to other people or organizations.
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