Learning About Situational Crime Prevention From Offenders: Using a Script Framework to Compare the Commission of Completed and Disrupted Sexual Offenses

Published date01 December 2019
DOI10.1177/0734016818812149
Date01 December 2019
Article
Learning About Situational
Crime Prevention From
Offenders: Using a Script
Framework to Compare
the Commission of
Completed and Disrupted
Sexual Offenses
Alana Cook
1
, Danielle M. Reynald
1
, Benoit Leclerc
1
,
and Richard Wortley
2
Abstract
The collective knowledge of offenders is one of the richest ways to advance understandings of crime
commission and effective crime prevention. Drawing on self-report data from 53 incarcerated
offenders in three Australian states and territories, the current article presents an innovative
method which, through a crime script framework, allows for a first-time comparison of completed
versus disrupted sexual offenses involving adult female and child victims at each stage of the crime
commission process. Findings (a) highlight the critical need to boost the efficacy of situational
prevention in the crime setup phase of the sexual offense script and (b) showcase how incorporating
a script framework in offender-based research can identify new directions for crime prevention
Keywords
sexual offending, crime scripts, script analysis, situational crime prevention, offender self-report
At the core of criminology lies the goal of better understanding crime and criminal behavior. To
learn about this social phenomenon, scholars have traditionally drawn on readily available sources
of information including administrative records, victimization surveys, and statistics collated
by government departments (Jackson, 1990). These data have been instrumental in providing
population-level changes in crime trends but are limited in that they only shine light on offenses
1
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
2
Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom
Corresponding Author:
Alana Cook, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Mt Gravatt Campus, Brisbane, Queensland 4111,
Australia.
Email: alana.cook@griffithuni.edu.au
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(4) 431-451
ª2018 Georgia State University
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DOI: 10.1177/0734016818812149
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that have been reported and recorded. They also have clear strengths in their contribution
toward descriptive accounts of event and victim characteristics but are not always as helpful
in revealing how offenders commit their crimes and the rationale for their decisions. This can
result in an incomplete understanding of crime events and how we respond to these events in
terms of prevention.
In light of these limitations, ethnographic research offers an alternative approach to data
collection. Ethnographic, or offender-based research as a specific example, seeks to elicit offen-
ders’ narrative accounts of crime commission through face-to-face interviews or self-report sur-
veys. This approach facilitates a significantly more comprehensive account of crime and criminal
decision-making as it provides the opportunity to learn from those who either curre ntly or previ-
ously identified as active offenders (Jacques & Wright, 2010). It is also a relevant data source for
crime prevention purposes, specifically situational crime prevention, as it is offenders who are
best placed to inform on which measures prevent or facilitate offending (Jacques & Bonomo,
2016). However, there is potential to further boost the benefits of offender-based research through
a systematic crime script framework that captures offenders’ behaviors across the entirety of the
crime commission process (Cornish, 1994). The main impediment is that currently, there are no
instruments which use a script framework for collecting data specifically for situational crime
prevention purposes. Addressing this represents a crucial step toward the evaluation of situational
crime prevention interventions in real settings. With this information, we can break down crime
commission to observe not only which situational crime prevention measures work and which do
not, but when in the script they are encountered.
This article presents a novel instrument incorporating a script framework for the purpose of
collecting data on situational crime prevention. Developed specifically to capture the perspectives
of adult male sexual offenders who have either engaged or had the intention to engage in a contact
sexual behavior, our work is an innovative step in identi fying how situational measures aimed at
preventing sexual violence and abuse function in practice. Analysis focuses on Australian data
collected from 53 incarcerated offenders who reported both a disrupted and completed sexual
offense against either an adult female or child victim. In providing this first-time comparison of
completed versus disrupted sexual crime events, we start to unpack key mechanisms responsible
for explaining why some sexual offenses are aborted while others are not. To begin the article, we
highlight the contribution that offender-based research has made in determining what can be done
from a situational perspective to restrict or prevent criminal opportunities in the first place. We
then focus, in particular, on the recent expansion of offender-based research to the study of sexual
crimes. Finally, we introduce the crime script framework as an innovative way forward in untan-
gling offender experiences of situational crime prevention, specifically in the context of sexual
violence and abuse.
Explaining Offender-Based Research
While not a new development in criminology (see Sutherland, 1937), the possibility of furthering
what we know about crime through the perspective of offenders has gained significant momentum
in recent years (Jacques & Bonomo, 2016). Facilitating this transition is the recognition that
traditional means of exploring crime patterns leave unanswered questions about why and how
individuals act in the ways they do. Victim self-reports, for example , do not capture the prepara-
tion of offenders before they get access to victims and the subsequent steps that occur postvicti-
mization. These sources are therefore unable to effectively tap into the dynamic nature of
interpersonal crime (Luckenbill, 1977). Offender-based methodologies seek to fill these gaps
by considering the decisions, and subsequent actions, of individuals throughout the entirety of
the crime event. Through the process of interviewing offender populations, offender-based
432 Criminal Justice Review 44(4)

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