There are many problems associated with the police recording of crime statistics, the main problem being that many crimes go unreported. As an alternative it was suggested that a cross section of the population should be asked about the crimes that have been commited against them. It was argued that more people would be likley to report crimes to an anonymous survey than to the police.
There are several reasons why so many crimes go unreported. Some people may be too shocked or ashamed to report a crime, such as in cases of rape. Some may be in fear of reprisal, or may be protecting the offender, such as in cases of domestic violence. Other victims may think that the crime is too trivial or that the police would not be able to help anyway.
Apart from crimes that are not reported, there are also crimes that are not recorded by the police. It is estimated that only 40% of reported crime is recorded. Therefore victim surveys are important to give a more realistic understanding of crime.
The British Crime Survey (BCS) is now conducted on an annual basis, on approximatley 15,000 households. The sample is designed to be as representative as possible, selecting households from all over the country. The BCS in 1998 discovered that, only one in four crimes are reported to the police, car theft is the most likley to be reported (98%) whilst most other crimes have a report rate of less than 50%, of all crimes vandalism is the most under-reported. The crime being ‘too trivial’ is the most commonly given reason for not reporting crime. It also discovered that most crimes are property crimes.
However there are some problems with the BCS. The most obvious one being that as a victim survey it misses out crimes that have no victims, such as fraud and corporate crime. When it is considered that there is more mony lost from this type of crime than from all other forms of theft and robbery, it is clear that it is too serious to be overlooked. It also undercounted sexual crimes having uncovered only one unreported rape.
The BCS stress statistical averages and ignore the fact that there is more crime in some places and less in others. It seems to imply that the fear of crime in some inner-cities was exaggerated. The BCS discovered that young males were more likley to be victims of crime than anyone else. However sopme critics argue that the cases of young women, the elderly and ethnic minorities were not sufficently explored, and that these groups still have a very real fear of crime.
From the BCS it has become apparant that not all crime statistics can be measured in average terms. Therefore local victimization surveys have helped detail the experiences of people living in particular areas. The most famous of these being the Islington Crime Survey. The first thing that was noticed from such local victim surveys was that people living in inner-city areas reallly were more likley to be victims of crime than the average person living elsewhere.
Local crime surveys were also able to move away from strict definitions of crime, and were able to include any behaviour or activities that disrupted people’s lives, such as racial abuse, sexual harassment and disputes between neighbours.
Victim surveys are of continual importance to sociological research as the help to uncover the ‘dark figure,’ that is the vast number of unreported andunrecorded crimes. Such surveys give an understanding of the nature and extent of crime in the contemporary UK.