01 February 2018

Being the victim of a crime can have far-reaching consequences - in different areas of life. One of these is the workplace. Elisabeth Lång has studied how victims of crime are discriminated against in the job-seeking process in Sweden.

According to the Swedish Crime Survey, conducted by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, in 2016 nearly 16 per cent of the population aged from 16 to 79 was subject to an offence against their person. This category includes threats, assault, sexual offences, fraud and harassment. At the societal level, discrimination against victims of crime leads to a reduced supply of labour and in the long term has effects on the entire economy. At the individual level the consequences can have a huge impact on a person's life.

"If victims of crime are discriminated against in the job-seeking process, they become victims a second time. This is an important issue, both at the societal level and privately, because work is such an important part of our lives," says Elisabeth Lång, docent at LiU's Department of Management and Engineering.

The study is the first of its kind. Previously, discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, age and a criminal background has been investigated by way of field studies, but there have not been any studies of the discrimination of crime victims on the Swedish labour market.

"There are lots of studies showing that victims of crime don't do as well in the labour market; compared to non-victims they have lower salaries and a higher risk of being laid off. The reason has often been described as factors relating to the employee, for instance that he or she is disadvantaged because of psychological stress or poorer attendance at the workplace.

A research question that thus far has been overlooked is that the reasons could be explained by factors on the demand side of the labour market, i.e. the employer side, according to Elisabeth Lång.

Field studies reveal discrimination

Elisabeth Lång, IEIElisabeth Lång has investigated whether victims of crimes are discriminated against in the job-seeking process in Sweden. Photo credit: Susanna Lönnqvist.In this type of study, the researchers create fictitious job applicants and applications, which they use to apply for real jobs that are advertised for a period of time. Normally they create a control person and what is called a 'treatment'. They can then investigate the discrimination based on how the two 'people' differ. In the study the applicants were identical - except that one had a secret address. In Sweden, assault is one of the most common reasons for having a secret address. The researchers then report positive or negative responses to the applications - or if there was no response at all. Based on the responses it is possible to calculate if there is a statistically significant difference between the responses to victims and non-victims.

"In studies with matched couples you create two equal applicants, who have the same age and work experience, and similar training. The main difference is the 'treatment'. We randomly selected which of the two would have the treatment, i.e. be the victim, to minimise the effect of a slightly better or worse CV", says Elisabet Lång.

The applications were submitted for jobs in a wide range of fields, in order to cover as many professions as possible. The selection of categories was limited by the actual positions that were advertised, but many different jobs with different qualification levels were included in the study. Consideration was given to whether the profession was male- or female-dominated. Based on theories about how crime victims are viewed, the researchers hypothesised that male victims of crime face more discrimination on the labour market than their female counterparts.

"Previous research and the literature on crime victims show that people generally feel more sympathy for female crime victims than male crime victims, partly because women are often perceived as more helpless in relation to the perpetrator. Also, many victims have a criminal background, and the fact that men are over-represented in the crime statistics contributes to the tendency that people feel less sympathy for male victims," explains Elisabeth Lång.

The results show that female and male victims of crime face the same amount of discrimination on the labour market. Women face more discrimination in highly qualified professions. In female-dominated professions, male crime victims are discriminated against more, but in low- and highly qualified professions the differences are small.

The study cannot identify precisely the mechanisms behind these differences; however it shows that discrimination against victims of crime does occur in the labour market, and that it varies between women and men. In the following stage, the underlying mechanisms should be studied more carefully. Further study is required, in order to determine what sort of discrimination it is, and what it is that causes employers to not choose a victim of crime," says Elisabeth Lång.

 "The important thing is to investigate the type of discrimination, and at what stage of the application process it occurs, so that political decisions can be made that deal with the problem."

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