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Public Support for Vigilantism: An Experimental Study

NCJ Number
Journal of Experimental Criminology Volume: 8 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2012 Pages: 387-413
Nicole E. Haas; Jan W. de Keijser; Gerben J.N. Bruinsma
Date Published
December 2012
27 pages
The objective of this study was to empirically examine the absolute and relative impact of situational characteristics and confidence in the criminal justice system on public support for vigilantism.
In an experimental study with a between-subjects design, members of a Dutch household panel (n = 1,930) responded to vignettes about vigilantism that were varied across two experimental factors: (1) type of precipitating crime and (2) type of formal sentence for the precipitating offender. In the measurement of support, the authors distinguished between outrage at vigilantism, empathy with the vigilante, and desired punishment for the vigilante. Confidence was assessed 1 month later. The findings show that situational characteristics have a substantial and independent influence on support for vigilantism, in addition to the role of confidence. This means that when citizens express support for those who take the law into their own hands, this is not necessarily rooted in a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, all three measures of support were affected more by the situational characteristics than by confidence. Citizens are nuanced in their judgment of vigilantism and sensitive to contextual information, which is in line with other recent findings regarding public punitiveness. Future studies should assess whether the findings can be generalized to other settings where citizens cannot rely (as much) on the state to deal with crime. Abstract published by arrangement with Springer.