Originally, under common law, burglary was defined as the nighttime breaking and entry of a dwelling or mansion house to commit any other crime; though, “under many modern statutes, the act of breaking and entering into any building at any time with the intent to commit a felony (or, in some states, a felony or petit larceny and, in other states, any crime) therein” (“Burglary,” 2010) constitutes burglary. Victims of burglary, according to Maguire (1980), feel the psychological effects months after, including the sense of a lack of security in one’s own home. Belk (1988) and, later, Ferraro, Escalas, and Bettman (2011) examine the link between the sum of our possessions and our image of self-worth initially proposed by William James in 1890. Both Belk and Ferraro, Escalas, and Bettman acknowledge that some possessions tend to have stronger links to self-worth than others, and some people may value similar possessions differently, thereby making it very difficult to assume the emotional value of any person’s particular possession.
While burglary alludes to theft, it may also involve a threat to the occupant(s) of the dwelling entered. Many burglaries result in the death or injury of the dwelling occupants, and this adds to the fear and insecurity. Therefore, in addition to the loss of possession, the fear of real or potential injury adds significantly to the emotive response of burglary victims. As victims tend to perceive the psychological losses greater than the financial losses, it is not difficult to understand at this point how victims of burglary might require a lengthy time to recover, and this recovery may actually alter the type of person a victim was, which is especially true for women living alone (Belk, 1988).
Victim impact statements allow the victims of violent crime to confront their attacker in open court (or, in some cases to the judge directly) and become an integral part of the process. The first use of a victim impact statement in the United States occurred in 1976 in Fresno, California, though victim impact statements have their origins in English Common Law (Yun, Johnson, & Kercher, 2005). According to the National Center for Victims of Crime (1999), over 80% of victims find a high level of importance in providing a victim statement at sentencing and at parole hearings. An excellent example of a victim impact statement can be found in Remsberg’s (2010) account of Officer Jennifer Moore of the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department as she confronts the assailant who shot her during a routine traffic stop. In this example, the assailant was sentenced to 115 years after the eloquent victim impact statement was made.
When it comes to the agenda of the criminal justice system, a victim impact statement (VIS) provides valuable information that can be utilized for making informed decisions by justice officials. For instance, information on the emotional and psychological impact of crime on victims can be best expressed by only the victims themselves. No one knows better than the victim how the crime has affected his or her life. Even when a victim suffers no loss of limb or financial suffering, he or she may still have to undergo considerable emotional agony. Victim impact statements can capture such sufferings that often cannot be measured by objective criteria. Accurate and comprehensive information directly provided by a victim can help a judge render a better-informed disposition or restitution order…. The VIS can help to determine if special conditions should be imposed on an offender. In the past and to some extent today, the criminal justice system has given disproportionate weight to offenders’ rights while sometimes losing sight of victims’ rights. By incorporating victim impact statements into justice proceedings, a sense of balance and equity can be established. (Yun, Johnson, & Kercher, 2005, p. 4)
Yun, Johnson, and Kercher’s (2005) study of VIS found that burglary victims had a much lower propensity (4.7%) to submit a VIS than victims of more heinous crimes, such as murder (15%), aggravated assault (16.7%), robbery (19.7), or sexual assault (33.9%). This data is based on the Texas criminal justice system where the VIS is prepared in form and returned to the courts. This study also reviewed the psycho-emotional impact of violent crimes by indications of 14 measures elicited on the VIS form: loss of sleep, loss of concentration, fear of strangers, nightmares, fear of being alone, anger, loss of trust for anyone, anxiety, crying all the time, feeling family not as close, depression, wanting to be alone, feeling suicidal, being helpless. The psycho-emotional impact of burglary showed to be just over 4 out of 10, identical to that of robbery. Interestingly, however, attempted murder showed to be only 1 out of 10. Though these numbers are difficult to interpret, they do provide a sense of the persistence of victims of certain crimes to want to move on towards regaining their sense of normalcy.
Victim impact statements afford the victim or their families the ability to confront their attacker. Often times, this promotes the psychological healing necessary of victims of violent crime. This choice, however, should be left to the individual victim. However great the victim impact statement effects the prosecution’s efforts of detaining criminals, the choice should remain the victims. The criminal justice system should find the simplest means of allowing and offering victim impact statements in any case of violent crime to assist in the psychological healing of the victim by allowing them an active role in the criminal justice system. Many times, the victim just wants to have his or her voice heard and consideration made on their behalf.
Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139−168. doi:10.1086/209154
Burglary. (2010). Webster’s New World Law Dictionary. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Ferraro, R., Escalas, J. E., & Bettman, J. R. (2011). Our possessions, our selves: Domains of self-worth and the possession–self link. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 169-177. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2010.08.007
Maguire, M. (1980). The impact of burglary upon victims [Abstract]. British Journal of Criminology, 20, 261-275. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/abstractdb/AbstractDBDetails.aspx?id=70788
National Center for Victims of Crime. (1999). Victim impact statements. Retrieved from http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32515
Remsberg, C. (2010, August 18). Examining one cop’s remarkable victim impact statement. PoliceOne.com. Retrieved from http://www.policeone.com/officer-shootings/articles/2472277-Examining-one-cops-remarkable-victim-impact-statement/
Yun, I., Johnson, M., & Kercher, G. (2005). Victim impact statements: What victims have to say. Crime Victims’ Institute. Retrieved from http://www.crimevictimsinstitute.org/documents/vis.pdf