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David Nussbaum

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Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective Chapter 7: Violent Offending: General Violence and Homicide
Copyright © 2011 Pearson Canada Inc. 138
CHAPTER 7: Violent Offending: General Violence and Homicide
1. Review the prevalence and characteristics of violent offending as well as
consequences for victims.
2. Cover some of the major theories of aggression.
3. Introduce some of the key assessment instruments used to estimate risk of violent
recidivism and examine their predictive accuracy.
4. Examine the effectiveness of treatment in reducing violent recidivism.
5. Review the prevalence and characteristics of homicide and describe different types of
multiple murder.
CHAPTER SUMMARY: General Violence
Violence is relatively rare in Canada. The rate of violent crime has generally decreased
since the early 1990s. Only about one-third of violent incidents are reported to the
police. Being young, being single, often going out in the evening, and living in cities
are associated with higher rates of violent victimization.
Hostile aggression is an impulsive reaction to some real or perceived provocation or
threat, whereas instrumental aggression is premeditated and ultimately aimed at
achieving some secondary goal. Hostile and instrumental aggression may be best
viewed as opposite ends of a continuum along which acts of aggression can fall.
Four key approaches to risk assessment are unstructured clinical judgment, empirical
actuarial, mechanical, and structured professional judgment. Actuarial risk-assessment
instruments (e.g., VRAG, SAQ) are generally more accurate at predicting violent
recidivism than structured professional judgment instruments and unstructured clinical
In violence risk assessment, different predictive errors have different consequences.
False positives result in unnecessarily restricting offenders’ liberty and wasting scarce
resources, whereas false negatives result in harm to those who are victimized by the
offender. The optimal balance between the two types of errors will vary depending on
the relative costs and benefits of each outcome.
Researchers generally find lower violent recidivism rates among treated compared to
untreated offenders, and programs that follow the general principles of effective
corrections appear to be more effective than programs that do not. Although these
seri_ch07.QXD 11/21/09 6:10 PM Page 236
findings are very encouraging, debate continues about whether the lower rates of
violent recidivism associated with treatment actually demonstrate that it is effective
because the research methodology used in most studies leaves the results open to
alternate interpretations.

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Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective Chapter 7: Violent Offending: General Violence and Homicide
Copyright © 2011 Pearson Canada Inc. 139
Homicide rates are quite low in Canada compared to many other countries.
Perpetrators and victims are more likely to be male than female. Victims are most
likely to be killed by someone they know. Multiple murders, such as mass murder,
spree murder, and serial murder, are exceedingly rare.
1. Introduction:
In this chapter we will review the prevalence and characteristics of
violence in Canada.
We will also present some theories of violent behaviour, the major
approaches to risk assessment, some of the more established risk
assessment instruments, and research on the predictive accuracy of these
Research on the effectiveness of treatment programs for violent offenders
will also be reviewed.
Finally, homicide, the most extreme form of violence, will be examined.
2. Defining Aggression And Violence:
Aggression researchers have provided useful definitions of aggression and
The terms have a considerable degree of overlap, but they are not
Human aggression has been defined as “any behavior directed towards
another individual that is carried out with the proximate (immediate) intent
to cause harm.
the perpetrator must believe that the behavior will harm the target, and that
the target is motivated to avoid the behavior”
Violence has been defined as “aggression that has extreme harm as its goal
(e.g., death)”
Prevalence of Violence
Violent crime accounts for approximately one in eight criminal incidents
in Canada
The rate of violent crime reported to the police (Uniform Crime
Reporting Survey) in 2007 was 930 per 100 000 people.
This rate has decreased since the early 1990s.
in 2007, the lowest rate was in Ontario (5228 per 100 000 people) and the
highest was in Saskatchewan (13 225 per 100 000 people)
Robbery is often considered a violent offence because it involves at the
very least an implied threat of violence.
The robbery rate for Canada in 2007 was 90 per 100 000 people.
In 2007, 11 percent of all robberies in involved a firearm, whereas 60
percent involved no weapon. Of all Canadian provinces, PEI had the
lowest rate of robbery in 2007 (11 per 100 000 people) and Manitoba had
the highest (179 per 100 000 people).

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Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective Chapter 7: Violent Offending: General Violence and Homicide
Copyright © 2011 Pearson Canada Inc. 140
Robbery rates have decreased since the early 1990s - This is the case for
armed robbery involving a firearm or some other weapon.
robbery without a weapon has increased slightly.
In contrast to decreases observed in other types of crime, violent crime by
youth (aged 12 to 17) has increased fairly steadily over the past 20 years -
the rate of violent crime reported by youth in 2007 was 6811 per 100 000
Crime reported to the police is an underestimate of the actual number of
violent incidents.
For a variety of reasons, some violent incidents do not come to the
attention of the authorities.
The General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization reflects reports from
the Canadian population aged15 and older on their criminal victimization.
According to the most recent GSS (2004), only 33 percent of violent
incidents were reported to the police
The reporting rates were highest for robbery (46 percent), followed by
physical assaults (39 percent) and sexual assaults (8 percent).
There are a number of reasons why victims may or may not report violent
Reporting to the police was more likely in incidents involving physical
injury (47 percent) compared to no physical injury (28 percent), and for
incidents involving weapons (53 percent) compared to no weapons (25
The most common reasons given for not reporting crimes were that:
1. the victim dealt with the incident in another way (60 percent),
2. it was not important enough (53 percent),
3. did not want police involved (42 percent),
4. felt it was a personal matter (39 percent),
5. did not think police involvement could help (29 percent), or
6. for fear of retaliation from perpetrator (11 percent).
The rates of violent victimization did not change dramatically from the
preceding GSS, administered in 1999, to the most current
Victim Characteristics
The rates of violent victimization were quite similar for men and women:
111 per 1000 men versus 102 per 1000 women in 2004
differences between men’s and women’s victimization become apparent
when the type of violence is taken into consideration.
Men were more likely to experience non-sexual violence than women (91
physical assaults per 1000 men versus 59 per 1000 women; 13 robberies
per 1000 men versus 8 per 1000 women), whereas women were more
likely to experience sexual violence than men (35 sexual assaults per 1000
women versus 7 per 1000 men).
Excluding spousal violence, approximately half (51 percent) of the violent
crimes reported were committed by someone known to the victim (e.g.,
friend, acquaintance) and 44 percent were committed by strangers
(Gannon and Mihorean 2005).
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