Closer to reality? The application of sequence analysis in crime linkage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Traditional crime linkage studies on serial sexual assaults have relied predominantly on a binary crime linkage approach that has yielded successful results in terms of linkage accuracy. Such an approach is a coarse reflection of reality by focussing mainly on the outcome of an offence, neglecting the forceful differences due to the intricate offender-victim interaction. Only few researchers have examined sexual assaults through the lens of a sequence analysis framework. This paper aims to present the first empirical test of offence sequence-based crime linkage, moving beyond exploratory analyses. Design/methodology/approach: Offence accounts from 90 serial sexual assault and rape victims from the UK were analysed and sequentially coded. Sequence analysis allowed to compare all offences combinations regarding their underlying sequence of events. The resulting comparison was transformed and plotted in two-dimensional space by multidimensional scaling analysis for a visual inspection of linkage potential. The transformed proximities of all offences were used as predictors in a receiver operating characteristic analysis to actually test their discriminatory accuracy for crime linkage purpose. Findings: Sequence analysis shows significant discriminatory accuracy for crime linkage purpose. However, the method does perform less well than previous binary crime linkage studies. Research limitations/implications: Several limitations due to the nature of the data will be discussed. Practical implications: The practical limitations are as follows: the study is a potential practical value for crime analysts; it is a complimentary methodology for statistical crime linkage packages; it requires automated coding to be useful; and it is very dependent on crime recoding standards. Originality/value: The exploratory part of this study has been published in a book chapter in 2015. However, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, the succinct test of crime linkage accuracy is the first of its kind.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-50
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of criminological research, policy and practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Matthew Tonkin and the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on earlier versions of the paper. The authors are also very thankful to the analysts of the Serious Crime Analysis Section in general, and specifically the research panel members Sarah Galambos, Pippa Gregory, Lee Rainbow and Sarah Rock for their respective feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Sequence analysis
  • Behavioural investigative advice
  • Comparative case analysis
  • Crime linkage
  • Investigative psychology
  • Serial rape
  • Serial sexual offending

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