Routine activity theory

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A graphical model of the Routine activity theory. The theory stipulates three necessary conditions for most crime; a likely offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian, coming together in time and space. In other words: for a crime to occur, a likely offender must find a suitable target with capable guardians absent.

Routine activity theory is a sub-field of crime opportunity theory that focuses on situations of crimes. It has been developed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen,

The premise of routine activity theory is that crime is relatively unaffected by social causes such as poverty, inequality, and unemployment. For instance, after World War II, the economy of Western countries was booming and the Welfare states were expanding. Despite this, crime rose significantly during this time. According to Felson and Cohen, the reason for the increase is that the prosperity of contemporary society offers more opportunities for crime to occur; there is much more to steal.

Routine activity theory is controversial among sociologists who believe in the social causes of crime. But several types of crime are very well explained by routine activity theory; for instance, copyright infringement related to peer-to-peer file sharing[1] employee theft, and corporate crime.

Theoretical framework[edit]

Motivated offenders are individuals who are not only capable of committing criminal activity, but are willing to do so. Suitable targets can be a person or object that are seen by offenders as vulnerable or particularly attractive. The factors that render a particular target attractive are situational and crime specific.

The analytic Focus of the Routine Activities takes a macro-level view and emphasizes broad-scale shifts in the patterns of victim and offender behavior. It focuses on specific crime events and offender behavior/decisions. Routine Activity Theory is based on the assumption that crime can be committed by anyone that has the opportunity. The theory also states that victims are given choices on whether to be victims mainly by not placing themselves in situations where a crime can be committed against them.

Empirical evidence[edit]

The article, A Routine Activity Theory Explanation for Women's Stalking Victimizations, criminologists Mustaine and [5] conducted a self-administered study in the fall of 1996 to 1513 college university women who attended a four-year college. The sample was drawn from students who attended criminal justice and sociology classes. All respondents in the study were volunteers. The average age was 20; marital status was single and white. The students were asked about their everyday activities including the consumption of drugs and alcohol. The basis of the study was whether or not any of the victims had ever been a victim of stalking. Out of 861 women 90 said yes (10.5%). This finding was consistent with the study given in 1997 at another university with college females. Data revealed that persons who leave their home are more exposed to potential offenders and are more likely to be victimized. Women who lived on campus were less likely to be victimized than those who didn’t. The study showed that women who lived on campus are surrounded by more capable guardians and are less like to be stalked.

Holtfreter, Reisig and Pratt [1] found support for the prediction that self-control shortages produced victimization outcomes. Findings demonstrated that low self-control individuals perceived increased risk but demonstrated a decrease in strategies designed to protect and/or avoid Internet victimization. Theorists Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen [7] establishes that those who live alone are more likely to be out alone and to have little help in guarding their property, they probably face higher rates of victimization for both personal and property crimes. The 30.6% increase in employed and married female’s participation rates not only subjects these women to greater risk of attack to and from work, but also leaves their homes and car less guarded from illegal entry. The 118% increase in the proportion of the population consisting of female college students places more women at risk of attack when carrying out daily activities as students, since they may be less effectively protected by family or friends.

Pratt, Holtfreter and Reisig [6] clarified that where street/violent crime targeted and victimized younger minority males, those targeted for Internet fraud tended to be younger and better educated. The more important finding is that both violent crime and Internet fraud forms of victimization still share the same underlying causal mechanism associated with the routine activities of potential crime targets. Criminologist Theorist Lynch [4] uses the routine theory to explain that people at work was a major determinant of victimization risk among employed persons, even when dangerousness of the work area was held constant. Moreover, the specific attributes of activities pursued at work exposure, guardianship, attractiveness—were all related to victimization in ways predicted by activity theory. Victimization is usually attributed to the carelessness of the person performing a specific occupational role. These findings indicate that differences in the risk of victimization at work are determined more by the task performed than the person in the occupational role. Moreover, these findings identify specific attributes of occupations that could be modified to reduce the risk of criminal victimization at work. Victimization of workers at work will decline if mobility, public accessibility, and handling of money as part of the occupational role are reduced. Hawdon [4] notes in his research that Hirschi found that routine activities were the best predictors of serious crime. Individuals engaged in routine patterns faced little social control and have higher rates of crime. Involvement in routine pattern with mixed levels of visibility and instrumentally, social, and athletic patterns has little effect on delinquency.


Routine Activity Theory is mainly a macro theory of victimization. It tells us who is more likely to be victimized. But who are the offenders? There is a correlation between criminal victims and offenders[citation needed], thus patterns found by Routine Activity Theorists could be misleading.

Furthermore, crime rates are generally proportional to the number of motivated offenders, such as teenagers and unemployed people, in the population[citation needed]. Of course, motivation can be lowered when legitimate means are available for offenders to achieve their goals. Motivation can increase, when the option of crime is the only viable choice available for an offender to achieve their goals. Another deterrence that influences the routine activities that produces crime is the moral beliefs and socialization of the offender[citation needed]. If a person has been socialized to hold conventional beliefs, even in the presence of criminal opportunities, offenders would refrain from crime. Such is the strength of social bonds that serve as a buffer to counteract the lure of criminal activities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Towers, Alex "Routine Piracy: Digital Piracy & Routine Activity Theory", Kings Inn Student Law Review, October 2011

Further reading[edit]

  • Marcus Felson, Crime and Everyday Life. Insight and Implications for Society, Thousands Oaks : Pine Forge Press, 2002
  • Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson, « Social Change and Crime Rate Trends : A Routine Activity Approach », American Sociological Review, 44 (4), 1979, pp. 588–608
  • Ronald V. Clarke and Marcus Felson M., 1993, « Introduction : Criminology, Routine Activity, and Rational Choice », Advances in Criminological Theory: Routine Activity and Rational Choice, vol. 5, pp. 1–14
  • Franklin C.,& Franklin T.,& Nobles M., & Kercher G., (2012). assessing the effect of routine activity theory and self-control on property, personal, and sexual assault victimization. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 39(1296), 1296–1315. DOI: 10.1177/0093854812453673
  • Felson, M., & Cohen, L. (1980). social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach.Human Ecology and Crime, 8(4), Retrieved from ECOLOGY AND CRIME &hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=aQCkUPPQNrDmiwKRjoCQDg&ved=0CCkQgQMwAA
  • Hawdon, J. (1999). Society, 30(4), 395–415. 10.1177/0044118X99030004001
  • Lynch, J., (1987). Routine activity and victimization at work. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 3(4), 286–300. Retrieved from Routine Activity and Victimization at Work
  • Mustaine, E., & Tewksbury, R. (1999). Increased surveillance of sex offenders: Impacts on recidivism.violence against women, 5(1), 43–62. doi: 10.1177/10778019922181149
  • Pratt, T., Holtfreter, K., & Reisig, M. (2012). Routine online activity and internet fraud targeting: Extending the generality of routine activity theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(3), 267–296. 10.1177/0022427810365903
  • Felson, M., & Cohen, L. Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach.