Dark Figure of Crime Term Paper

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Dark Figure of Crime

The amount of crime in society gets known when it is reported to the police, through public response to victim surveys and studies of offenders who admit committing crime, and when transmitted to other agencies, such as hospital accident wards, battered women's refuge centers and similar ones (Young 2001). Other than these, the amount of crime committed is unknown. That unknown volume (of crime) that does not get reported, thus not registered, in criminal statistics, constitutes the dark figure of crime.

Statistician Adolphe Quetelet of the 1830s recognized this problem and modern statisticians do, too. All current methods of collecting crime incidence still have a dark figure. Victimization surveys, like the British Crime Survey (BCS) and the National Crime Survey (NCS) are more accurate (Young). In 2000, BCS estimated that the dark figure, or the actual extent of crime, was 4 1/2 more than what was recorded, or 77%.

BCS, however, also said that the crime rate in the UK decreased by 10% at the turn of the century and violent crime, except robbery, also fell by 20% at the same period. Many of the robbery cases were against 14-year-olds, though (Young). BCS likewise noted that the decrease in crime was true to 12-17 advanced industrialized countries between 1993 and 1995. It specifically alluded to the fall in the rate of homicide in the U.S. By 36% between 1991 and 1998.

It is deplored that victimization studies and criminology studies that reflect only a portion of criminality is officially acknowledged, widely considered and used as indicators (Kury 2000). This presents a distorted picture of the true crime condition of society and has thus become the topic of discussions in the media and the political sector. In Germany, the dark figure is considered at least as large as reported crime, although several victim studies and police research have shown that the dark figure is essentially larger than the reported (Kury). The discussions have, to-date, not yet sufficiently tackled the reporting patterns of crime victims nor the specifics of the registration of the police.

In a speech at the University of Paris (1991), Timothy Mason remarked at how the British crime rate had regularly risen since the end of the Second Word War and how behavior had got worse in the last 50 years. This observed changes in behavior traversed the family, the educational system and in the population itself some way (Mason), but there have been no concrete figures to back the observation up. For one thing, definitions, like criminal damage, change - because of economic, political and other factors - and cannot be stated once and for all.

In his speech, Mason said that, for the growth of (criminal) behavior to get recorded statistically, it must go through a lengthy and arduous process. First, it must be witnessed at the time of occurrence or subsequently. This, he clarified, was not always possible. The victim, for example, of a crime at a drinking bar would not always be aware of what was happening to him at that time or his memory could be blurred the following morning. Even very serious crime could and did go unnoticed over many years. Serial killer Dennis Nilsen, for example, managed to kill young and un-attached men for many years without attracting notice to their disappearance (Mason). Large amounts could also vanish in frauds without inviting suspicion. These and similar situations could conclude that many types of criminal behavior just do not get disclosed promptly or at all.

Second, the witness should be able to decide that the act was criminal. This, very often, was subjected to a conflict of definitions, which evolve. What was acceptable in the past could be a crime today, and what was criminal before could be quite normal today. Examples are physical violence in the East of London before the two world wars were viewed as a normal mode of settling disputes; and wife beating, which is progressively losing social and legal approval in the last two decades. Yet a Scotland Yard official reported in 1954 that there were no more than 20 murders in London during that time and "not all are serious - some are just husbands killing their wives (qtd in Mason)." Today, a wife can sue her husband for marital rape.

In "victimless" crimes, such as drug addiction, prostitution or suicide, where the offender could harm only himself or herself, the witness might not conclude that a crime had been committed.

Third, the witness could decide that reporting was not worth the trouble. A witness to a Mafia killing, for example, could prefer silence to getting silenced (Mason), and this was not an unusual occurrence in Southern Italy. Only sufficient protective assurance from the police could motivate witnesses to break their silence. Or else, the witness could decide that going to the police station and to court would be too tedious, risky or costly and would rather than compensate for it and forget all about it.

If the offender was related to the witness, he or she could be discouraged from reporting the crime. At times, the witness might believe that he or she could deal with the offense more effectively and with less adverse consequences than the police could. A rape victim, for example, would prefer to take the law into her hands to waiting for the slow due process of law to avenge her (Mason). Add to this the frequent financial consideration that could discourage or buy out a witness.

And fourth, even when the witness overcame these initial barriers, there was no assurance that the reported crime would be added to the official statistics. It required the police to agree to it being added, and there were many reasons why the police would not do so. They (the police) would be disinclined if the witness or complainant was abusive or hostile or if, in their judgment, the offense could be settled or handled externally (Mason). Neither would they, if they felt that they themselves could not solve the offense, they knew they would lose public support and additional investment and other inputs, as a consequence. Moreover, if and when the police accepted the complaint and add it to their statistics, the figure gets collated with other figures by the Ministry for the Interior or the FBI and then got published as the official crime rate. Because every complaint of misbehavior or crime had to go through this long and complicated way, criminologists agreed that mutated official crime numbers are a very poor index of the real crime picture and they (and the rest of society) were and are confronted by the existence of very real crimes, which do not get reported. This is the dark figure of crime (Mason).

Today's official crime rate is the product of complicated social processes and which is formed through social interaction by perpetrators, witnesses and the police, based in turn on complicated beliefs, intuitions and other considerations as to what real crime was and their individual interests. In addition to these, they had individual judgments of what proper steps they had, could or would take. Also involved were the processes attaching the accused to the offense and the activities of lawmakers and of interest groups in the formation or more effective implementation of the appropriate and already existing criminal rules or their legislation.

It was customarily believed that the U.S. always had the highest crime rate in the world. The International Crime Victims Survey, conducted by the Leiden University in Holland (Dougherty 2000), said that England and Wales registered much higher levels of violent crime among industrialized nations of the world. UK was second in the list with 26% of English citizens, or a quarter of the entire population, victimized by violent crimes. Australia topped the list with more than 30%. The U.S. did not even make it to the top 10. British Home Secretary Jack Straw admitted that the "levels of victimization were/are higher than in most comparable countries for most categories of crime. (qtd in Dougherty)."

The study showed that 3.6% of the population of England and Wales suffered "contact crime" as compared to the 1.6% in the United States and.04% in Japan. Burglary was only 2.6% in the U.S., but 2.8% in England and Wales and 3.9% in Australia and 3,1% in Denmark, respectively. Crime was more prevalent, according to the study, in Holland and Sweden, both at 25%, and in Canada at 24%. The U.S. had only a slim 21% victimization rate.

The study furthermore said that Australia led the statistics on automobile thefts, followed by France. U.S. analysts explained that the figures were due to stringent gun-control in European countries but which had more violent overall records than the U.S.

The British Crime Survey (BCS) is one of the largest social surveys conducted in the UK (Research, Development and Statistics Directorate 2004). Its 2000 survey used a nationally representative sample of 19,411 respondents 16 years old and older, with…[continue]

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