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Criminal Justice System Responses to Black Victimization

Sep 19, 2022 | 5 min read


Between 2015 and 2019, Black people in Vermont were more likely than White people to experience violent crime victimization. This report uses Vermont Court Adjudication and National Incident Based Reporting System data to investigate victimization rates, victim characteristics, the circumstances of the offenses, and criminal justice system responses. The purpose of this study is to better understand the violent victimization experiences of Black people in Vermont and identify disparities in case processing. The results of this study can also inform program development and public policies.

Victimization Rates

Victimization rates are useful for comparing populations that differ in size. Two rate calculations are utilized in this report. The first is the rate per 1,000 of the population and the second is the relative rate. Black people experienced all types of violent offenses at a higher rate than White people in Vermont. Table 1 compares the Black and White rates per 1,000 for 5 offense categories: assault, homicide, kidnapping/abduction, robbery, and sex offenses. The rate shows how many people out of 1,000 experienced the offense between 2015 and 2019.

A comparison of the rate of Black victimization relative to White victimization illustrates the disproportionate impact crime has on Black people in Vermont. If Black people and White people experienced crime at the same rate, the relative rate would equal 1. Chart 1 shows that Black people in Vermont were more likely than White people to experience all 5 violent crime offenses. Notably, Black people were 5.6 times more likely than White people to be murdered. 

The Victims

During the study period (2015-2019), there were 965 Black victims with an average age of 29. A majority were male (59.79%), and 40.10% were female. Data were analyzed to determine if Black victims were commonly victimized in their town of residence or elsewhere. While most Black people were victimized in their town of residence, this was no true for Addison County where 40% of Black victims were not residents of the responding jurisdiction. 

The Offenses

The circumstances of the offenses were explored for the homicides, sex offenses, assault, robbery, and kidnapping/abduction. 

The homicides of Black people were different from the homicides of White people. Specifically, Black people were more likely to be male and killed by a friend or acquaintance, while White homicide victims were more likely to be females killed by intimate partners or family members. Homicides involving Balck victims occurred in a residence and in public settings. Of the 12 homicides involving Black victims, all but 1 were committed with a handgun. 

During the study period, there were 60 sex offenses involving Black victims, most of whom were women assaulted in a residence by people they knew. Personal weapons (e.g., hands, feet, teeth) were commonly used in the assaults. 

Of the 841 assaults against Black people that occurred between 2015 and 2019, 60% were committed against male victims. This is unlike assaults experienced by White victims which are typically female. Furthermore, Black men were 1.5 times more likely than White men to be the victim of intimate partner violence. Like sexual offenses, many (40%) assaults involved the use of personal weapons. 

There were 31 robberies experienced by Black victims during the study period. An overwhelming majority (90%) of the victims were men. Approximately half of the robberies were perpetrated by people known to the victim and the other half were committed by strangers. Black victims of robbery were commonly robbed in a residence, unlike White robbery victims who were victimized on a street or at a convenience store. 

Of the 21 kidnappings/abductions that occurred between 2015 and 2019, almost all victims were females over the age of 19. Seventy-five percent of victimizations occurred in a residence and involved the use of personal weapons. Firearms were used in less than 5 victimizations. 

The Criminal Justice System Responses

Overall, there were 965 violent crime incidents involving at least one Black victim. Ninety-five percent of these incidents did not have an exceptional clearance (i.e., the case was closed without an arrest for reasons like death, victim refusal to participate, State's Attorney declined to prosecute, etc.). Arrests were made in 60% of incidents. This is higher than the national average (48%) for clearance rates of violent crime. On average, it took 180 from the date of the incident to make an arrest. Black arrestees (50%) were significantly more likely to be taken into custody than White arrestees (37%).

Researchers matched NIBRS data into the Vermont Court Adjudication Database to explore what happened to arrestees following their arrest. Through this process, 302 individual dockets were identified. There were 214 guilty charges representing 162 dockets and 144 incidents. The conviction rate for the 144 incidents was 54%, which is significantly lower than the conviction rate (64%) for incidents involving White victims.


Black people in Vermont have an increased likelihood of being the victim of a violent crime when compared to White people in Vermont. Interestingly, the study revealed that violence against Black people looks different than violent victimization experienced by White people. Whereas White victims are more likely to be female, Black victims are more likely to be male. While crimes committed against Black people were prosecuted and cleared that the same rate as those against White people, there was disparity in the conviction rates. 

Given that most Black victims between 2015 and 2019 were male, violence prevention initiatives aimed at women would not be as impactful for addressing Black victimization. Policy makers should explore programs that specialize in addressing male victimization and particularly the unique needs of men victimized by intimate partner violence. Future research should investigate why Black people experience more crime than White people in Vermont and explore the disparity in conviction rates. Future studies should also employ qualitative analyses to include the voices of the victims themselves.