Victimisation and trust in the system

Project period

1995 – 1998

Project staff

Prof. Dr. Ute Gabriel

Eberhard Mecklenburg

Prof. Dr. Thomas Ohlemacher (Project manager)

Prof. Dr. Christian Pfeiffer



Project description

In autumn 1995/1996, the EMNID Institute in Bielefeld was commissioned by the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN) to conduct a survey funded by the Volkswagen Foundation of 7,900 business owners of German and other ethnic origin using telephone-based and postal questionnaires. The study involved restaurateurs of the following nationalities:

  • German
  • Italian
  • Greek
  • Turkish

The survey comprised two mutually independent parts with a standardised interview by telephone (N=4,393) and a written questionnaire (N=3,489).

In addition to questions regarding experience of victimisation in connection with general crime, respondents were interviewed on the subjects of corruption and extortion. In the telephone interviews, respondents were asked about their most recent experience of ‘secondary victimisation’ (e.g. ‘do you know anyone who…’). Only in the written questionnaires were they were asked about their personal experience of victimisation.

As a second area of focus, statements were collected regarding trust in the police, the courts, the constitution and the notion of democracy. In addition to sociodemographic variables on respondents and their businesses, a range of psychological variables such as locus of control were also surveyed.

One particular methodological challenge with this study was the difficulty in reaching the target audience and their reluctance to respond. Despite the most intensive efforts, not enough information was obtained to provide a representative outcome or provide a general insight into victimisation rates. The project group then went on the offensive and tried to solve the issue by surveying perceived victimisation rates (same ethnic group, same business sector, same town or city). The perceived rates were validated using victimisation rates from other studies. The main finding can be described as follows: despite low response rates, a sample of respondents can result in usable results when it comes to the occurrence of particularly sensitive offences if it has (a) sufficient quantitative basis, (b) the same structure as the overall survey, and (c) the catalogue of questions contains questions concerning respondents’ perceptions of the occurrence of the offences in their immediate environment. In this specific instance, interviewees were not able to verify the exorbitant rates of blackmail and corruption alleged in the public debate in recent years.

Comprehensive methodological reports and descriptive analyses were published during the course of the project cycle. When the project was completed, in addition to the final report sent to the Volkswagen Foundation, two monographs were presented to outline and assess the main issues covered by the project from both a sociological and psychological perspective.

In his sociological analysis, Thomas Ohlemacher is unable to confirm the core hypothesis of the project proposal in which extortion and corruption damage victims’ trust in Germany’s legal and political institutions. Although there is some dissatisfaction and distrust in respect of specific actors and their actions, trust in democracy and the state monopoly on the use of force remain intact. Sociological systems theory is used to try to explain this unexpected outcome of the analysis.

In her work, Ute Gabriel looks at how victimisation and locus of control affect both fear of crime and punitivity among victims. In her psychological doctoral thesis submitted at TU Berlin, Gabriel comes to the conclusion that experience of criminal victimisation increases fear of crime. This effect is not influenced by the individual’s belief that it is possible to prevent the occurrence of criminal victimisation. General perceptions of control affect the fear of crime independent of any experience of victimisation. Punitivity cannot be predicted based on an individual’s victim status.

Following further comprehensive documentation on the part of KFN, including the accompanying methodological texts, the dataset used for the study was sent to the Central Archive for Empirical Social Research (ZA) at the University of Cologne.


Project related publications