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Vandalism Why Do People Do It Criminology Essay




February 27th 2013


Vandalism is the intentional defacement or destruction of property. It is a persistent problem. There is no model and single definition and its direct costs amount to millions of dollars every year and its broader effects range from discomfort and inconvenience, to fear and real danger to the public. Common acts of vandalism include graffiti, breaking windows, dumping trash from receptacles and removing statues or signage. Apart from the monetary loss that can result, vandalism can be quite demoralizing. Substantial resources and energy have been directed and understanding this problem and formulating preventive schemes. And though it is impossible to prevent it, there are measures that schools, parishes, and service organizations can implement to help prevent acts of vandalism. Prevention starts with understanding where and when vandals normally strike. I will discuss more on vandalism, why people do it and how we can prevent it.


Definitions of vandalism differ by jurisdiction. Definitions also vary according to the social context of the act of vandalism. For instance, consider reactions to the discovery of Malcolm X’s signature carved in the walls of a public school and the reactions of a student’s name sprayed on a school’s wall. Though both of these acts of vandalism are the same, they are highly likely to be judged very differently. Generally, vandalism is malicious or willful damage to property, such as buildings or equipment. Vandalism is often linked with other signs of social disorder, like trespassing and disturbing the peace ( ). With regard to any definitional issues, one approach has been to focus on the motives of the acts of vandalism. Many scholars have used versions of Cohen’s typology as a framework for comprehending vandalism. This framework classifies vandalism as, tactical, acquisitive, vindictive, ideological and malicious or play ( ).

Nevertheless, it remains challenging to integrate this motivational attribution into the meaning of vandalism itself. For instance, how is a person viewing a broken window to find out if it was deliberately intended to damage the window or if it happened in the course of play? A different classification focusing on targets of the act, cars, buildings, and so on, similarly fails to differentiate accidental damage from vandalism ( ).

A behavior considered proper by the actor is most frequently regarded as inappropriate by the victim. Only by referring to the norm and to the context can the vandalism behavior evidently be labeled. According to ( ), an act of vandalism is qualified as vandalism only through the judgment of the observer who recognizes the behavior as a defiance of the norm. In addition to this, society has degrees of lenience towards damage; some negative effects are considered insignificant while others are considered extremely severe. Numerous acts of vandalism are openly done and are concerned with the public sphere. Also, the norms which govern public property vary according to the nature of the vandalized object, the evaluation of the prejudice, and the assumed actor of the prejudice ( ). Additionally, the damage caused might change the function of the vandalized object, or it might have no consequence on its use.

The omission of instrumental destruction from the field of vandalism is broadly justified by clinical psychology research. Vandals, as a matter of fact are frequently neither pathological nor delinquent personalities. According to ( ), studies made through self denunciation reveal that we are regularly confronted with young people as normal as can be, who admit to have vandalized or committed acts of vandalism. Young delinquents judge vandalism more severely than non delinquent young individuals of the same age. And if the dissimilarity between hostile and instrumental behavior lies in establishing the goal of the dilapidation, the dissimilarity between the expressive and hostile character of behavior should be based on the same criteria.

Certainly, slashing cinema or underground seats is vandalism, however, graffiti added to walls or advertising posters in the streets are mostly expressive. Graffiti vandals do not know any boundaries; they commit vandalism wherever an opportunity presents itself. This act of vandalism in a global epidemic that has cost our government billions of dollars every year and it has become the most common form of vandalism.

Recognizing the motivation for damaging, defacing or destroying property is tricky. Some of the reasons of why vandalism occurs are:

Some acts of vandalism occur as a prank. Because the destruction or damage might be slight, the actions are not observed as a crime.

Young individuals observe vandalism as a way or game showing guts to their peers. This possibility is supported by the fact that most acts of vandalism are committed while two or more individuals are together ( ).

Defacement or destruction of property allows a person to vent anger, frustration or anxiety without personal confrontation.

Leisure time has increased in low-income areas over the last few years and so, vandalism may occur because of a lack of meaningful activities or boredom.

Vandalism, especially in the form of graffiti allows unidentified expression of opinion.

According to ( ), the theoretical overview reveals that in general, vandalism is inspired by negative feelings such as revenge, anger, boredom, and frustration, however, it is also motivated by playfulness, curiosity and pleasure. Elements such as creativity, peer group pressure, and communications are also considered. ( ) affirms that almost 80%-90% of all acts of vandalism are carried out by males; vandalism reaches its peak in mid teenage hood and alcohol is a common variable in vandalistic activities. ( ) study shows that persons involved in graffiti have interests in art, exhibit a desire for respect, attention, and status and that graffiti is about skills, talent, pride, competition, and pleasure. So, the underlying motive in most acts of vandalism is perceived inequality, and variables involved are: environment, control, societal reactions, group variables and terms of equality restoration.

According to ( ) the primary findings of two studies show that:

frustration and alcohol in combination are triggering factors and increase the chance for vandalism to happen

scrawling graffiti correlates with aggression, destruction and sexuality

only frustration or only alcohol do not give an increased effect

women expressed higher scales of drawing graffiti, elaboration and destruction when compared with men in the laboratory setting

Drawing graffiti does not connect with creativity measured as elaboration.

These findings stand for a diminutive step towards reaching a profound understanding of the psychology of vandalism. ( ) states that the Equity Control Model helps us understand the difficulty of variables entailed in an act of vandalism, such as degree of control, motivational factors, secondary moderating factors, societal reactions, equity restoration by action and terms of perceived equality which may lead to further antisocial or vandalistic behavior.

( ) argues that studies about acts of vandalism are commonly based on two essential perspectives. The first perspective, the situation is based on a view that possibilities and opportunities in the built environment are the fundamental element explaining variations in the frequency of vandalism. The motivational viewpoint, the second explanation means that vandalism grows out of a strong need and inner motivation by the perpetrators. These explanations, the motivational and situations, aim to give a balanced basis to vandalism that is often described as wanton, malicious, irrational and motiveless.

According to ( ), the situational explanation of vandalism tends to examine a high crime rate in particular parts of a city instead if examining a city’s general crime rate. With the help of such concepts, as sources of attraction and temptation and social control, the relationship between vandalism and environmental factors is examined. Furthermore, the organization in space and time of people’s social activities aids perpetrators to shape their inspiration to act. For instance, the more the time individuals spend away from home, the less their homes are protected, thus resulting in increased prospects for the offenders to come into contact with right targets ( ). Also, the increase in incidents of criminal behavior is observed as a normal basis for variations in the frequency of crime in different places in an urban environment. The situation factors, that is, the lack of surveillance, and increase in available crime targets are observed as an outcome of increased freedom and welfare rather than of social misery ( ).

Moreover, motivational explanations identify those patterns of subjective feelings, emotions, behaviors and experiences responsible for vandalism, for instance, boredom, jealousy, vindictiveness, excitement, enjoyment, arousal, disappointment, risk taking, hate, anger, fear, desperation and frustration. ( ) state that scholars are more interested in an answer like ‘vandalism behavior is motivated’ than in inquiring whether the vandal gets reasons. Such researchers state that behavior has a reason but do not actually explain what it is ( ). This interest in the motivation for vandalism focuses attention on a psychological issue and on vandalism as an expression of what drives people.

A psychological or situational-positivistic approach scarcely gives an understanding of how vandalism is a consequential social and individual act, nor does it give any light into vandalism’s social dynamics. Another approach is to view vandalism as a symbolic act ( ). Diverse environments can have unusual symbolic values. For instance, vandalism can be observed as a form of non verbal communication illustrated by the mutilation of environments and objects for which the architect does not feel any code fellowship. What’s more, stronger feelings of awareness for the ‘street territory’ are felt if the doer can reshape and mark that environment so that ordinary individuals feel insecure and afraid when they are there. ( ) say that the presence of vandalism foster apocalyptic trains of thoughts where the termination of enlightenment and reason comprise the definitive threat against normal competition and strivings. Also, the emergence of the possibility, through vandalism, of desecrating and belittling the authorities is dependent on the character of the process of historical change and its capacity, at particular times, to create room and openings for contradictions and value conditions, and also possibilities for perpetrators to characteristically destroy strong societal values.

( ) points out that juvenile vandalism has a deeper suggestion, a repudiation of leisure activities, club activities, school and the authority of the adult world on the whole. It suggests disparagement and provocation of the well adjusted and the usual, and a resistance towards all too swiftly being absorbed by a system one feels estrangement towards. To many young individuals, society seems to be an organized network of rules and duties, which misrepresent their actual existing futures and choices. On the other hand, adult vandals are usually outside of the worlds of family, jobs, society and family. To a large extend, they are single, poorly educated and unemployable. Approximately seventy five percent of property damaging vandalism caused by known doers is carried out under the influence of drugs or alcohol ( ). Damage is widespread in residential areas with a large number of social welfare clients, unemployed and high mobility. Vandalism is, among adults, to a large extent, individually performed.

It is challenging to weigh the real cost or prevalence of vandalism based on official police reports since they are some of the most underreported crimes. When compared to violent crime, acts of vandalism might be considered inconsequential; but, in aggregate, it might be a reflection of a more or larger systematic problem in the community and society as a whole. So how can we prevent it?

Before executing a strategy to prevent vandalism, it is crucial to define the particular nature of the vandalism issue or problem affecting the community. Even though there are numerous methods that might be used to address this problem, a community wide response that integrates other agencies, businesses, and public services is helpful to address any essential community problems that might be related to vandalism. Efforts have been made to prevent vandalistic behavior by educating individuals, especially the young people about its consequences and nature. Even though education has a wide meaning, and can cover the whole of a child’s training and social learning from birth, certain programs represent formal efforts to educate people against vandalism. These programs tend to be based on the assumption that architects of vandalism seldom take the decision to vandalize property before doing it, and so, the consequences or outcomes are not thought through. Perpetrators are also presumed to be oblivious that they are doing anything essentially wrong. Thus, education programs aim to teach children that vandalism is wrong and it has consequences which might involve the criminal justice system and police.

Another approach to prevent vandalism is to monitor the condition of a property. For all practical reasons, no explanation might ever be available for reasons why an deserted building was damaged or why a young tree was trampled or why the wall of a small business was scrawled with graffiti. But, ( ) affirm that experience has revealed that when such acts are ignored or overlooked, additional destruction will happen. With time, various people might be involved in minor acts of vandalism that individually are not essentially malicious. Also, the resulting blight negatively affects the area and will perhaps be costly to repair. So, an essential approach to reduce vandalism is to often inspect property for damage or maintenance needs and swiftly correct the situation. Vacant buildings are especially vulnerable to vandalism because they do not seem to appear to anybody.

Another way to prevent vandalism is to integrate property designs which reduce vandalism. Probably no method will entirely prevent vandalism. Thus, property should be constructed and designed with material, which promote quick clean up and ease of maintenance. Facilities that are difficult to clean and equipment, which might require hard-to-get replacement parts, are more prone to damage and neglect. Examples of design features that inhibit acts of vandalism include:

Elimination of unused space under stairs and recessed entryways to reduce any unobserved activity.

Use of materials with dark colored and rough textured surfaces to discourage graffiti. An option is to use hard, smooth surfaces that are cleaned easily.

Elevating the height of street signs to ease theft and damage.

Utilization of night lighting to enhance the appearance of the property and reduce unobserved activity ( ).

Utilizing ceramic tiles on walls in areas where individuals gather together.

What’s more, school buildings for whatever reasons are on the whole, a desired target of vandalism. Acts of destruction and defacement at schools mostly happen in the evening. Therefore, consideration should be given to ways how school buildings can be used during evening hours to decrease the risk vandalism can occur. Adult education classes, programs for boy and girl scouts, and senior citizen groups and others can be held at schools. And whilst the school saves the expense of extra security actions, community groups are provided a perfect meeting place ( ).

Lastly, studies reveal that vandalism carried out by individuals of all ages increase when there is a sense of estrangement from the society or community. Thus, involvement in community activities can encourage a sense of belonging and pride. The inclination to damage or deface property in a community with which one is robustly recognized with will be quite low. Because young adults and teenagers are mostly accountable for vandalism, efforts should be made to provide them with activities that promote a sense of stewardship and those that also enhance personal development. Numerous other possibilities exist such as community service programs and scouting programs. Some communities have encouraged their teenagers to organize in particular, groups or programs to combat vandalism. Thus, the redirection of youth activities towards productive, meaningful purposes promotes a sense of responsibility and pride.


In sum, vandalism arises from conditions such opportunity and motivations. Both of these conditions are necessary to produce vandalism. Though it is impossible to prevent vandalism, there are steps that schools, community, service organizations and the society as a whole can take to prevent these occurrences. Preventions starts with understanding where and when vandalism occurs.

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