Dark figure of crime

To determine the extent of crime and the most common forms of criminal offence, the official crime statistic are looked at. Since such statistics are published regularly, there would seem to be no difficulty in assessing crime rates- but this assumption can be seen as quite erroneous. Statistics about crime and delinquency are probably the least reliable of all officially published figures on social issues. Many criminologists have emphasised that we cannot take official statistics at face value, they state that they do not record all reported crime.

The British crime survey, which is a victim survey, showed that slightly over half of all crimes reported to the police in England and Wales were recorded. This essay shall focus on how useful victimization studies are in uncovering the dark figure of crime, dark figure referring to offences not captured in official statistics. Until the 1982 and 1984 British Crime surveys (BCS) there was no official estimate of unrecorded crime in the United Kingdom. Since that time, the BCS results have been important in demonstrating the discrepancy between official crime statistics and peoples actual experiences of crime.

By asking respondents if they had been the victims of any crime during previous year, the survey revealed that a much higher percentage of the population had been the victims of crime that previously thought. While valuable indicators, the data from victimization studies should be treated with great caution. In certain instances such as domestic violence, the methodology of the study itself may result in significant underreporting. For example, the BCS is conducted through interviews in respondent's homes.

It is quite likely that a victim of domestic violence would not report violent incidents in the presence of the abuser. Nevertheless, there is an awareness of this problem therefore some areas are using electronic questionnaires where the researcher is unable to access the respondents questions they are automatically sent to the department. According to the BCS, they found that people tended to report crimes where there is an obvious advantage to them by doing so, -98 percent of car thefts are reported, presumably because that is necessary in order to make an insurance claim.

This indicates that the usefulness of victim surveys to uncover dark figures of crime to do with theft and burglary will be considerably accurate. A reason for this may be people are highly likely to remember the procedures they had gone through when their property was stolen or burgled, procedures referring to paper work with insurance companies. Therefore, the victims are more likely to remember and report them to victim surveys.

Kinsey, Lea and Young (1997) provide additional reason to why the data provided by victimizations studies maybe useful in uncovering the dark figure of crime. They argue that inner-city communities have little faith in the police, for example, residences believe the police are biased against them, therefore are more willing to report the crime to victimizations surveys. The reason for this being they know the matter will not be taken any further (e. g. to court) especially in a case where they may fear reprisals from criminals, against which the police will not be able to protect them.

There is the argument that such crimes as rape and sexual assaults are more likely to be reported in victimization surveys1 (Jones 1995). A reason for this can be the comfort of the individual's home in comparison to the environment in a police station is less formal. In addition, there is the reassurance that information given is only to be used for the survey and names and addresses do not have to be given which illustrates the confidentiality factor of the victimization surveys, which victims may respond to.

Evidence shows that the 'same crimes, which are least likely to be reported to the police, are also least likely to be captured by victimization surveys'2 (Walklate 1984 page 78). The 1982 and 1984 BCS had only one report each concerning rape and the Merseyside crime survey failed to find any reports of sexual offences against women (Kinsey 1984) this highlights certain aspects of victim surveys are not useful for collecting valid data on the 'dark figure' of crime.

Some studies had found that domestic violence is more likely to be reported to the police than to survey interviewer. This can be understandable because at the 'time of the incident, a woman may have reason to report the crime to the police but later may not be inclined to reveal such a personal thing to survey researchers'3, the same argument may be use for rape.

There are some methodological issues, which surround victimization surveys; for example, victimization surveys can only measure criminal incidents where there is an identifiable victim. Therefore, there is no value in assessing 'victimless crimes' such as drug offences or consensual sexual acts. Sparks et al (1977) points out that 'victimization surveys can only be used to measure incidents which have been both perceived and defined as crimes; they cannot measure the total number of illegal acts which take place in society'4.

This indicates that crimes such as drug offences or prostitution are unlikely to be told to victimization researchers, a reason for this may be the act of the 'crime' is not committed by another person but by himself to himself. Walker (1995) argues 'drug offences may well be the largest component of the 'dark figure of unknown offences'5. Sparks et al also claims 'not only must a victim exist, but the person must also realise that they have been victimized'6. Box (1981) also agrees with Sparks to an extent.

Box argues that victimization surveys are best suited to measuring 'ordinary crimes' the very crimes which are most likely to enter the official statistics- theft burglary and the like. He stresses that they are less able to capture such crimes as rape and domestic violence. In the same context, victimization crimes have limited use in collecting data on crimes of powerful or white-collar crime; neither can tell anything about homicides. Successful murderers (those remained undetected) are unlikely to confess their sins even for the benefit of research.