Use CPTED to Reduce Repeat Victimisation


Reducing repeat victimisation offers a cost-effective path to crime reduction

A challenge for Community Safety and crime prevention professionals is to reduce crime as much as possible with the limited resources available.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is typically the most cost-effective approach.

CPTED can be even more effective, however, when targeted on repeat victimisation.

(Note: For more information on repeat victimisation, a central figure is Professor Ken Pease OBE who has published extensively in this area since the 1980s.)

Repeat Victimisation

Repeat Victimisation occurs when crime happens more than once to the same victim (or location) .

Some individuals or properties are subjected to repeated crimes.

A large proportion of crime happens to a small proportion of victims and properties.

  • Over 50% of the total property crime is inflicted on only 29% of households, and 10.3% are subjected to 25% of property crime (Mukherjee & Carcach, n.d)
  • 19% of the population in Australia reported being victims of 2 incidents of crime per year, and 13 % reported 3 or more separate crime incidents in one year (Johnson, 2004).
  • 19% of victims of assault reported experiencing 3 or more assaults or threats within one year (Johnson, 2004)

Repeat offense levels (Weisel, 2005):

  • Sexual Assault 46%
  • Assault 41%
  • Robbery 27%
  • Vandalism to vehicle 25%
  • Theft from vehicle 21%
  • Vehicle theft 20%
  • Burglary 17%

(Actual levels of repeat victimisation are expected to be much higher than these data due to difficulties collecting repeat victimisation information and only a proportion of crime incidents are reported.)

The best predictor of repeat victimisation is the occurrence of a crime. Put another way,

The biggest single predictor of future crime is that a crime has already occurred.

Crime prevention resources are limited. Therefore, providing crime prevention support preferentially to victims of crime improves effectiveness in reducing crime.

 Police in the UK working on Domestic Violence have found focusing on repeat victimisation led to greater effectiveness in outcomes (Farrell & Buckley, 2008).


To reduce crime cost effectively, target CPTED on victims and locations suffering repeat victimisation

Repeat victimisation halo effect

Traditionally, the assessment of repeat victimisation has focused on single specific victims.

However, research has indicated there is also a halo affect in which repeat victimisation occurs on similar victims or properties. For example:

  • Theft from a particular make of car is a predictor of similar thefts from similar cars;
  • Burglary of one house on a street raises the risk of burglary on similar houses nearby;
  • Sexual assault on a person in a particular location is a predictor of similar crimes against other persons in that location;

 Factors creating Repeat Victimisation

 There are two traditional theories of repeat victimisation:

  1. That something about the victim or the property attracts the attack
  2. That offenders gain learning from a successful attack that makes the same target appear ‘easier’ compared to other targets. 

Research and experience, suggest two additional (and new) explanations:

  • Social communication risk driver: offenders tell offending friends of their success, which increases the risks for that target and similar targets
  • Routine Activity risk driver: offenders identify opportunities for repeat victimisation from the routine activities of victims and their own routine activities.

In general, the factors that influence an offender to choose the same or similar target as a repeat victim include: experience of success, ease of undertaking, low risk, high return, improved knowledge of the target, habit of crime operation – whatever, the repeat victimisation target becomes seen as low hanging fruit compared to other targets.

CPTED methods to reduce Repeat Victimisation

CPTED can reduce repeat victimisation risks by making changes to the victim situation.

From experience, however, small changes that do not look visually more secure or different do not appear to be ineffective in reducing repeat victimisation. We suggest:

To reduce repeat victimisation requires that the target is made strongly visually different and more secure to be a significantly less attractive target for crime

CPTED methods can be used in reducing repeat victimisation risks as follows.

Target hardening

Central to addressing repeat victimisation is investment in target hardening to increase actual security and make offending against that target more 'costly' for the offender than other targets.

 Why is this important? Firstly, the offender has actually already demonstrated to themselves that they can defeat the existing target hardening security defences. Secondly, they have also gained considerable insider knowledge and learning about the situation that gives them considerable advantage in reoffending in the same situation.

 In the case of assault, target hardening may involve the victim being elsewhere and in a more secure location, or may require other forms of increased protection. For example, in case of sexual assault in a location, target hardening may require security patrols to provide on-location protection.

Image Management and Maintenance

Image Management and Maintenance have been successfully used as a general crime deterrent via the ‘broken windows’ hypothesis. They are particularly effective in reducing burglary and vandalism.

In stopping repeat victimisation, image management and maintenance have more specific roles:

  • They indicate the location is not un-owned;
  • They indicate the managers of the location have a reserve of resources, and energy that can be used to protect the location and defend against crimes;
  • Sudden visual changes to a location result in it being seen differently, i.e. it is no longer the same target;
  • For individuals, improved image and improved self-management can result in them no longer being included in the same target set .

Natural surveillance

Large improvements to Natural Surveillance result in increased risks to the repeat offender.

This makes the location or victim less of a target.

Natural Access Control

Making major changes to Natural Access Control after a crime incident changes the public understanding of acceptable access, particularly in semi-public spaces.

Semi-public spaces are those spaces that provide offenders with 'justifiable' access to conduct crime. They also provide offenders with ‘justifiable’ explanation of actions to others when planning or leaving a crime.

Natural access control limits what the public sees as appropriate behaviour. It reduces possibility of ‘excuses’ for pre-crime behaviours. This in turn makes the potential victim or location less of a target and reduces crime risks.

Territorial reinforcement

CPTED can be used to make visible different local aspects of territory in ways supported by law. For example, a garden fence makes it clear that trespassing occurs if that boundary is crossed.

Territorial reinforcement helps make visible the boundaries of private, semi-public and public space.

These boundaries can then be reinforced by target hardening, formal access controls or other natural access controls.

Implementing new visually obvious changes to these boundaries reduces the possibility of repeat victimisation by increasing the ‘costs’ and risks to the offender, and by making the target different to when it was previously successfully attacked.

Activity Support

Activity support is the encouragement of increased presence of law-abiding individuals in a location so they provide increased natural surveillance and potential defense against crimes.

To reduce repeat victimisation, activity support by itself does not provide obvious benefits. If the offender was successful last time under the same conditions of activity support then by itself activity support is not likely to reduce future risk.

Significantly and suddenly increased levels of Activity Support following a crime incident may potentially reduce immediate repeat victimisation crime risk. 

However, care is needed. For example, if the crime being addressed is theft from individuals and vehicles, then increased Activity Support can result in increased crime targets for a crime for which the offender is well experienced in achieving successful outcomes.

Routine Activity Analysis and Management

Routine Activity Analysis and Management is a practical CPTED method from the Design Out Crime and CPTED Centre. The approach focuses on identifying and/or changing the patterns of routine activities to reduce crime.

Managing routine activities helps reduce crime risks, especially of repeat victimisation.

Routine activities of victims enable offenders to better plan crimes.

Repeat victimisation risks can be reduced by significant changes to routine activities of potential victims.

Routine activities of potential victims improve offenders' predictions of best times to offend with least risk of apprehension. Additionally, offenders can use routine activities (going for a walk, cycling, enquiring about an address, etc.) as justification for pre and post crime behaviours.

 Following an offense, repeat crime victimisation risks can be reduced by the victim making significant changes to their routine behaviours.

 These changes to victim routine activities deny offenders the benefits of predictability and in turn that can reduce the risks of repeat victimisation.

Take Aways

1.     Focusing CPTED efforts on reducing repeat victimisation offers benefits in cost-effective crime reduction without increase in resources.

2.     Any offence is the best predictor of repeat victimisation.

3.     Risk of repeat victimisation is higher closer in time to the previous offence but its effect lasts for over a year

4.     Reducing repeat victimisation is helped by changes to victim security, appearance and routine activities as immediately as possible following a crime incident .

5.     CPTED methods including Routine Activity Management provide a practical basis for addressing repeat victimisation at minimal cost.


Farrell, G., Buckley, A. (2008) Evaluation of a UK Police Domestic Violence Unit using Repeat Victimisation as a Performance Indicator, The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice.

Johnson, H. (2005) Crime victimisation in Australia : key results of the 2004 International Crime Victimisation Survey. Research and public policy series no. 64. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

 Mukherjee, S., Carcach, C.(1998) Repeat Victimisation in Australia, Research and public policy series no. 15. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Weisel, D. L. (2005) Analyzing Repeat Victimization, Centre for Problem-related Policing Tool Guide No. 4.

Author: Dr Terence Love
(c) Design Out Crime and CPTED Centre January 2020


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