Robbery: A Definition

In April 1987, Steven R. Schlesinger, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, made the following statement in a Special Report on Robbery Victims:

"Robbery ranks among the most serious and feared criminal offenses because it involves both threatened or actual violence and loss of property to the victim. It also occurs much more frequently than either rape or homicide. Although many robberies do not result in physical harm to the victim or extensive loss, fully 1 in 3 involve actual injury, ranging from bruises and black eyes to life-threatening gunshot or knife wounds, and 1 in 8 involve thefts of $250 or more."

ROBBERY -- The unlawful taking or attempted taking of property that is in the immediate possession of another, by force or threat of force.

This information is re-printed from the US Dept. of Justice Web-site, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/

Robbery, a form of theft, is usually distinguished from the less serious crime of larceny by two elements: First, in robbery, possessions are taken from a person by the use of threat or force. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in its Uniform Crime Report defines robbery as the "taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force, or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear" (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996). Robbery is thus not just a property crime, but also a crime against the person -- a crime that might result in personal violence. The use or threat of force must be such that it would make a reasonable person fearful. In that sense, the line between theft/larceny and robbery is sometimes thin (Reid, 1988). For example, if an offender grabs a purse, billfold or other piece of property from the victim so quickly that he or she cannot offer any resistance, in some jurisdictions the crime will be classified as larceny, not robbery. In others, it will be considered robbery because of the possibility of force. If there is a struggle between the victim and the offender, it will more likely be classified as a crime of robbery. Second, robbery may be further classified according to the degree of force used or threatened; thus, a jurisdiction might consider armed robbery a more serious crime than robbery without a weapon.

Robbery has become one of the most feared crimes in our nation, as it not only entails loss of property, but also the threat -- or actual use -- of violence. Robbery occurs more frequently than either rape or homicide. Even when victims do not sustain extensive injury or loss, they are often forced to suffer threats of violence and bodily harm at the hands of their assailant. Both property and personal safety are placed at substantial risk during a robbery. The victim encounters the robber face-to-face; therefore, a person who is robbed is immediately aware of a total loss of control. When a weapon is involved, this loss is even more acute, and these circumstances can cause both short-term and long-term crisis reactions for the victim (Bard & Sangrey, 1986).

This information is re-printed from the National Center for Victims of Crime web-site: http://www.ncvc.org

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The Offender

Unlike victims of rape or other assaults, robbery victims are less likely to know their assailant. Perpetrators are acquaintances of their victims in only twenty-six percent (26%) of completed robberies (Reiss & Roth, 1993). Of all violent crimes, robbery is the most likely to be committed by more than one offender: in 1990 about 48 of every 100 completed robberies involved co-offenders. About eight percent (8%) of robberies involve groups of four or more offenders (Reiss & Roth, 1993). A specific racial, gender, age or economic group does not account for all robberies, yet some data has shown that a significantly disproportionate number of robberies are committed by men. The Federal Bureau of Investigation states that ninety-one percent (91%) of all robbery arrestees in 1995 were male, and sixty-four percent (64%) were under the age of 25. In addition, thirty-nine percent (39%) of those arrested were white, fifty-nine percent (59%) were black, and the remaining two percent (2%) of arrestees were represented in all other races (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996). Between 1991 and 1995, the arrest of juveniles rose eighteen percent (18%), and there was a fifteen percent (15%) decrease in the arrests of persons over 18 years of age (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996).

This information is re-printed from the National Center for Victims of Crime web-site: http://www.ncvc.org

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The Circumstances

The circumstances under which a victim is robbed may vary. The aggressor may enter the victim's home, accost him/her on the street -- either in or out of the view of others -- or occasionally in commercial establishments, parks, on public transportation, etc. In 1995, more than half (54%) of all robbery offenses were committed on streets and highways. Twenty-one percent (21%) of all robberies occurred in commercial establishments, and robberies at residences accounted for eleven percent (11%) of all robberies (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996). Contrary to popular belief, not all robberies occur at night. In fact, the number of robberies that occurred in full or partial darkness accounted for only a little over half of the robberies in a one-year period (Harlow, 1987). Between 1992 and 1993, there was a one percent (1%) increase in robberies in rural counties and a three percent (3%) decrease in suburban counties (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996).

Studies of robbery indicate that, compared with other robbers, those who carry a gun are more likely to complete their robberies without experiencing victim resistance and without injuring the victim. However, because gun injuries are so much more likely to be lethal, the fatality rate for gun robberies -- four per 1,000 -- is about triple the rate in knife robberies and ten times the rate in robberies with other weapons (Cook, 1991). During 1994, the National Crime Victimization Survey reported that the victim sustained some physical injury in thirty-two percent (32%) of robberies (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997).

Studies of personal robberies suggest at least one reason other than lethal intentions as to why some robbers use guns -- to enable them to attack certain types of victims, such as businesses and groups of teenage males, who would otherwise be relatively invulnerable. Guns are used more often to rob these types of victims than to rob women and the elderly, who are considered more vulnerable. (Roth, 1994).

Empirical studies of robberies indicate that people differ significantly in the probability that they will be victimized by robbery . Chances of becoming a robbery victim decrease with age and substantially increase with unemployment. Ironically, as income increases, the chances of being victimized by robbery decrease (Reid, 1988). However, evidence on school crime and other studies suggest that attempted and completed robberies of children under age 12 -- and of school children at all ages -- are quite common (Reiss & Roth, 1993).

This information is re-printed from the National Center for Victims of Crime web-site: http://www.ncvc.org

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The Loss

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one robbery occurs every 54 seconds. During 1995, the average value of property loss for a single robbery was $873, with the dollar loss ranging from $400 during a convenience store robbery to $4,015 during a bank robbery (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996). The overall losses to victims and society are sizable. The average cost of a robbery is $19,200. About fifteen percent (15%) of these costs are financial -- victims' monetary losses, society's costs for lost productivity and emergency response to the crime. Roughly eighty-five percent (85%) reflects values imputed for nonmonetary losses, such as pain, suffering, the risk of death, psychological damage, and reduced quality of life. Responses to such violence by law enforcement, criminal justice and private security agencies add additional costs (Reiss & Roth, 1993). Most property lost in robberies is never recovered. In addition, victims of robbery can sustain severe physical injuries such as gun or knife wounds, broken bones, unconsciousness or even rape (Harlow, 1987). This loss does not account for the intense short-term and long-term emotional trauma suffered by the victim of a robbery.

This information is re-printed from the National Center for Victims of Crime web-site: http://www.ncvc.org

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Emotional Trauma of Robbery Victimization

Typical victim responses to a robbery can include such reactions as: Shock; Anxiety; Numbness; Anger; Disbelief; Despair; Fear; Depression; Confusion; Humiliation; Helplessness; Shame; Denial; and Guilt. Victims' old assumptions about the world have been shattered producing intense feelings of anxiety and helplessness, and a preoccupation with fear of a recurrence of the crime. In addition, there is rage at the offender, sadness over the losses involved, discomfort because of a new sense of vulnerability, fear of loss of control, discomfort over aggressive impulses (especially thoughts of revenge), guilt about not having been able to prevent the crime, humiliation, rejection by others, the belief of others that the crime was somehow partially the victim's fault, and an increased suspicion of strangers.

Robbery victims may experience recurrent and intrusive thoughts and dreams of the incident and may also be hyper-alert, startling at little noises or abrupt actions. Changes in eating and sleeping habits are also common. A robbery can be a violent, life-threatening situation and for the victim can incorporate issues of one's own death and fears of leaving loved ones behind.

How victims react to violent crimes such as robbery varies from person to person and is affected by individual factors such as how they usually handle stress and what kind of support systems they have in their lives. Intervention and support after a victim endures a robbery are beneficial for recovery from this crime and its violation of both property and personal safety (Manton & Talbot, 1990). In 1991, an estimated 86,000 robbery victims (4% of all reported robbery victims) were treated by mental health care providers (Miller, Cohen & Wiersema, 1996).

Although robbery victims may feel as if they are the only ones who are experiencing these feelings and that no one else can understand what they are going through, these reactions are a normal response to an abnormal event. Some reactions may continue for some time or resurface after being triggered by another event. Resolution of crisis reactions after a violent crime is a healing process. It is important for the victim to give him/herself permission to heal at their own pace. Just as everyone reacts to a crisis differently, not everyone recovers from a crisis in the same manner or within the same time frame. Realizing and accepting that these reactions are normal are the first steps to recovery. Another critical step in recovery for the victim is being able to talk about the experience and any crisis reactions in order to validate feelings and fears. As victims talk about the robbery and their reactions, over time the incident will begin to be put into perspective and be integrated into their life.

Robbery victims are not alone. In most communities, there are victim assistance programs, caring professionals, and support groups comprised of other victims of violent crimes all of whom are there to help by providing assistance, services and referrals. To contact crime victim services in your area, check in the front of your local phone book under "Community Services Numbers" or "Emergency Assistance Numbers," or call your local county/city prosecutor's office.

This information is re-printed from the National Center for Victims of Crime web-site: http://www.ncvc.org

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Reducing the Risk of Assault or Robbery

  1. Avoid, as much as possible, being alone on foot at night or in isolated places, even during the day.
  2. If out at night, stay in well lighted public places.
  3. Carry a non-lethal protection device (e.g., whistle).
  4. Lock car doors. Don't hesitate to use the horn, loudly, when danger is sensed.
  5. Follow your instincts. If a situation "doesn't feel right," get out, get help, get among people.
  6. Remember, many larger stores have security guards. Enter one quickly if danger is sensed. See nearest clerk.
  7. Keep doors locked when home alone. Don't open door to strangers. Use peepholes, not chain.
  8. Practice being conscious of who is in proximity and of a place to quickly go in event of emergency.

This information is re-printed from the US Dept. of Justice Web-site, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/

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What Victims of, or Witnesses to, Burglary, Robbery and Assault Should Do

    • Get a good description of the offender.
      • Carefully observe and remember as much as possible about appearance and behavior.
      • Try to memorize details of the person's physical identity (age, height, weight, color of eyes and hair). A good way to determine height and weight is to compare the person to yourself or someone you know, or to note the person's size and build relative to an object or a doorway located where the crime is occurring.
      • Look for distinguishing personal characteristics, such as scars, tattoos, hair style, or other prominent features.
      • Observe the person's clothing (style and colors), jewelry, gait and manner of speech.
      • If a car is involved in the incident, note the make, model, color and license number.
    • Call the police emergency number immediately to make a crime report. The sooner you report the crime, the more likely it is that the police will be able to collect important evidence and apprehend the offender.
    • If the crime occurred in your home or neighborhood, it is a good idea to notify your neighbors and/or the landlord so that they may take extra precautions.
    • Make use of the services that are offered to assist crime victims and their families and witnesses to crime. Crime victims often suffer psychological stress, financial losses, and other problems related to being victimized. Victims and witnesses to crime need information about the legal process and assistance dealing with police and court procedures. There are many agencies that offer help. Contact the police department, Victim-Witness Programs in the District Attorney's Office or the City Attorney's Office, or the office of your legislative representative for information about the services available.

This information is re-printed from the US Dept. of Justice Web-site, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/

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How to Help the Victim of Burglary, Robbery or Assault

It is important, when addressing the needs of the victim of a robbery, assault or burglary, for the you to not minimize the extent of trauma to the victim, the victim's family or his/her friends and neighbors. In light of the intensity of some other crimes, one might be tempted to minimize these crimes, particularly if the offense is not aggravated (involving the use of a weapon).

However, this time of victimization involves many of the same dynamics as are found in other crimes which might be considered more major. The sense of violation and loss always accompanies these crimes. A woman victim of a burglary, who came home and found that her personal clothing items had been rifled through, said that she was now unable to wear any of these items. It is the invasion of private space that is so offensive.

Also there is usually a material loss. Since these types of crimes, unless aggravated, are lower on the priority of law enforcement, there is often just a report made for insurance purposes and nothing more. The victim is re-offended by the casualness of some law enforcement personnel regarding the apprehension of the offender. The attitude that "the insurance will take care of it" often disturbs the victim. It is important that you as the victim's supporter assist with any insurance problems that may occur; however, do not reinforce an "insurance will take care of it" attitude. Insurance does not make it right. Often there is the loss of items which are not of much material value, but are priceless from the standpoint of treasured mementos and photographs. These are irreplaceable.

Then there is the safety factor. Anyone who has suffered a robbery or a burglary is concerned about its repetition. If the theft has been from a car the victim will probably from then on, without fail, always lock the car. If it is from the home, increased security measures are taken. This type of crime always leaves the victim less free and more cautious, often in a way that may seem overly cautious. If the counseling agent becomes concerned about the victim becoming paranoid, it is important that he/she not minimize the reason for this caution, and deal with it gently with understanding.

Of course, aggravated robbery involves the threat of major injury or even death, and all of the symptoms akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may be exhibited...shock, fear, anger, nausea, sleeplessness, "unreasonable" fear of others, inability to go to or be in certain places, reliving of the event, etc. It is well for you as a support to the victim to suggest psychological counseling, or the victim's participation in a trauma support group.

Most jurisdictions now have victim and witness assistance programs either in connection with prosecutor's offices or law enforcement. Make yourself aware of these programs and assist the victim in making contact. These offices provide information on compensation for loss, as well as on psychological and support programs.

This document was last updated on January 16, 2000. This information is re-printed from the US Dept. of Justice Web-site, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/

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Vulnerability of the Elderly

Three primary injuries which victims may suffer during the course of a burglary, assault or robbery are: (1) physical injury, (2) financial injury, and (3) psychological injury.

1. Physical Injury

Increased physical frailty and decreased physical ability are both part of the aging pattern. These, of course, add to an older person's vulnerability to physical injury.

Older people often have a fear of falling because of their self-awareness of the fragility of their bones. If an older woman is injured during a purse snatch, it may result in permanent disability, even though the injury would have been for a younger person relatively minor -- a broken hip, arm or wrist.

Ann Carter,* age seventy-three, was knocked down in a purse snatch. Her hip was broken in the fall. She was in a hospital for a month and then sent to a nursing home. She never recovered sufficiently to return home.

When Gerald Anderson's house was burglarized while he was sleeping, the burglar not only took the television but threw Gerald's glasses on the floor and broke them. Gerald, age sixty-nine, was left unable to read his daily paper or watch television. He became depressed and tried to take his own life.

2. Financial Injury

Financial vulnerability is another by-product of aging. Older people are often condemned to live on fixed incomes, which do not reflect rising costs of living. When inflation is taken into account, some estimate that as many as 36 percent of the elderly do not have enough income to survive by themselves.

To these, the financial impact of burglary, assault or robbery can be devastating. The larceny of $50 may mean that an individual goes without food, or medication, or even forfeits his/her apartment because of lack of rent.

When Eunice Ladd's purse was snatched, she lost $100. Her heat and lights were cut off in the following month, because she had not been able to pay her utility bills. She remained without heat and lived in candlelight for three additional months because of the extra charges she would have to pay to reconnect the utilities.

Burglaries and vandalism cause untold damage and require repair and replacement. One would argue that such impact can be ameliorated by private insurance; in fact, even if people could afford it, such coverage is rarely adequate. Not only do most insurance policies have heavy deductibles which require the insured to pay the first $100 - $500 worth of damage, but the actual reimbursement rate is likely to be far less than the replacement value of the damage or loss.

Mary and John Travis' home and furniture was so destroyed by the vandalism that accompanied their burglary that they could not afford to clean or repair it. They were forced to move from the house in which they had lived for thirty-five years. They ended up living a lonely life in an apartment far from their friends and their neighbors.

3. Psychological Injury

Some gerontologists have suggested that the single most critical age-related difference in physiology is a diminishing ability to respond to stress (physical and emotional) and to return to the pre-stress level.

Crime is an extraordinary trauma. Most victims suffer some discomfort and stress as a result of even the smallest kind of crime. Some have suggested that 20 percent of all victims seem to exhibit severe stress reactions. And 5 percent of all victims are likely to go into emotional crisis. Elderly victims are among those types of victims who are viewed as high crisis risks following crime.

The elderly victim may have already been trying to deal with a growing sense of dependence and helplessness. Mildred Stone was so upset after being robbed that she began to calm herself through the use of alcohol. She became afraid of leaving her home. She found she couldn't concentrate on day-to-day events in her life and began to stay in bed for most of the day. She didn't go out, didn't see friends, didn't talk to anyone. One day a friend came to see her and found her so ill from malnutrition and alcohol abuse that she had to be hospitalized at once.

*All names of victims mentioned in this section have been changed to
preserve confidentiality.

This information is re-printed from the US Dept. of Justice Web-site, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/

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Bank Robbery Victims

The type of individuals injured, killed or taken hostage during violations of the Federal Bank Robbery and Incidental Crime Statute, 18 USC 2113 (1994) are as follows:

Type of Victim Injuries Deaths Hostages Taken
Customer 23 0 45
Employee 88 2 84
Employee Family 0 0 3
Perpetrator 25 16 n/a
Law Officer 16 2 0
Guard 12 3 9
Other 3 0 11
Total 167 23 61*
*These hostages were taken in 36 separate incidents.

Financial institutions experienced the following types of violations:

Institution Robberies Burglaries Larcenies
Commercial Banks 5,964 218 66
Mutual Savings Bank 310 14 2
Savings/Loan Assn 429 14 2
Credit Unions 325 25 2
Armored Carrier Companies 1 0 12
Total 7,029 271 84

The preceding statistics and charts are from the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bank Crime Statistics, Federally Insured Financial Institutions, January 1, 1994-December 31, 1994, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 1995.

Uniqueness of Bank Robbery Victims

Victims of bank robbery can include bank customers, bank employees (tellers, managers and security guards), law enforcement officers, as well as other members of the community. A common reaction by the largest group affected by bank robberies -- the tellers -- is a tremendous amount of self-blame. Bank tellers, in the aftermath of a bank robbery, feel that they should have been able to do something to stop the crime. While generally bank robbery is not considered a personal crime, but a crime against the bank, most tellers take it very personally. In some instances, tellers are injured, taken hostage, or even killed.

In addition, tellers must return to the scene of the crime -- their place of employment -- in order to keep their job. They often fear the return of the perpetrator, until told by a law enforcement officer that a suspect has been apprehended. Often their family and friends will encourage them to quit their job and find a safer job, but many like their work and do not want to seek other employment.

Because bank robberies occur in all jurisdictions -- large, urban communities and small, rural towns -- victimized bank tellers are left with the fear that there is no "safe place" to move to reestablish their sense of security. Many leave their jobs, due in large part to this fear and the resulting stress.

In addition, law enforcement officials and the employer may look at the teller suspiciously, or even fire the employee, if he or she did not give the perpetrator bait money or the dye packs that some banks employ to intercept bank robbers. Law enforcement may not understand crisis reactions to trauma where the victim may not remember or follow bank procedures in this area, rather, the victim responded in what he or she felt safe in doing at the time of the robbery. Thus, the teller may, in some cases, be viewed by law enforcement officials as a possible suspect "of an inside job."

While many banks are supportive of their employees in the aftermath of a robbery, some banks cause a secondary victimization, isolating the employee from other workers while the investigation is being conducted.

The Primary Victim

The "primary" victims are survivors of the violent crime of bank robbery, and the surviving family members of those killed in bank robberies. It is not unusual for victims of "property" crimes such as burglary, theft, and robbery to suffer from many of the same symptoms as those victimized by physical or sexual assault.

The crime of bank robbery, like many other crimes, usually has a rippling effect upon family members, coworkers and crisis responders, among others. There are primary victims -- the tellers -- or others who have been directly threatened with harm by either being on the fringe, such as customers or other personnel; to those arriving on the crime scene, like police, paramedics, and journalists. Even entire communities can be victimized. Family and friends of the primary victims can suffer victimization comparable to primary victims even if they were not present at the crime because of the emotional ties.

Common Reactions by Victim/Tellers

There are some re-occurring reactions expressed by victims of bank robberies, including:

  • Continuing fear that the robber will return either for retribution or to rob them again. This reaction persists until the suspect is caught and they are informed that a suspect has been apprehended.
  • Fear of any strangers who approach them in the bank. Some fears are so strong that tellers have refused to wait on customers -- especially in instances where clothing, glasses, bags, etc. are similar to that of the suspect.
  • Guilt that they are responsible for the monetary loss.
  • Difficulty handling daily tasks and decision making on the job or at home.
  • Identification of the robber especially on a face-to-face basis.
  • Feelings of intense vulnerability and feeling "trapped" in their positions.
  • The prevalent feeling that they are "going crazy." This comes from victims not recognizing they are reacting normally to trauma.
  • Anxiety about their part in the criminal justice process (particularly being a witness and facing the alleged robber in court).
  • Reluctance to share their feelings and concerns with co-workers or supervisors for fear of being judged unstable and losing their job.
  • Fear that they will be disciplined or even lose their jobs because they were robbed or allowed the robber to escape.
  • Thoughts about resigning as a teller and, in many cases, acting on this impulse. It is interesting to note that most exit interview forms do not cover robbery as a reason for an employee resigning his or her position.
  • Insecurity about being singled out by the robber provokes thoughts of being picked for other robberies.
  • Frustration at not being told by police or prosecutors that the suspect was apprehended or prosecuted.
  • Fear that requesting counseling paid under workers compensation will label them as a troublesome employee or employer.
  • Revictimization by insensitive employers.

Source: M. Gibson, Managed Health Network, January 1990.

This information is re-printed from the US Dept. of Justice Web-site, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/