Official statistics on crimes are collected by the police, the courts and by the British Crime Survey (BCS). The BCS is responsible for the public presentation of recorded crime in the UK. However, the major problem the BCS has is the fact that they can only collate and present recorded crime figures and many believe that the figures they publically present are way short of actual crime statistics. Even the BCS believe that only 1 in 4 crimes is reported.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that the BCS does not deal with all crimes; for example, it does not include corporate crime in its figures or crimes dealt with by the Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue. The second is that there is a general belief that quite a lot of crime is not recorded. For example, if someone is engaged in an activity that pushes the boundaries of legality and has a crime committed against themselves while so engaged, they are hardly likely to take the matter to the police. It is thought that quite a few crimes are committed against prostitutes by their clients but that the victims of these crimes simply do not go to the police to report such crimes because they themselves live in a twilight zone of legality/illegality. Crimes committed by drug dealers against drug takers are also not likely to be reported to the police. Child protection groups believe that crimes committed against children are also grossly underreported because many happen within the family structure and as a result are dealt with within the family.
Sociologists view the presented data with differing degrees of cynicism depending on their stance.
Positivists see such statistics as being reliable as they come from a scientific approach – collected from police and court statistics and from the annual BCS survey.
Interpretivists see such statistics as being less valid as with all statistics they are open to interpretation.
Marxists believe that the presented statistics are shaped in such a way to defend the ruling elite – that they create an atmosphere of fear (society being terrorised by feral gangs etc.) that allows the authorities to introduce yet more controlling legislation.
Feminists believe that the compilation of statistics is usually done by men and as such are part of a patriarchal society that seeks to dominate women and as a result the statistics should be treated with caution as they are an ends to a means.
Right realists believe the statistics as they are proof of many things they believe in – that society is becoming more immoral and that without firm government and more overt policing, society will be overrun with criminal gangs. For right realists the figures serve a purpose.
Left realists do not believe that the figures are valid as they believe that they are used by the government to impose even more restrictions on the population.
Despite these varying approaches towards the validity of official data and statistics, some common themes do occur that tend to be supported by the majority who study them.
The most likely victim of crime is probably going to be a young male who is either unemployed or gets a low wage. He is also likely to live in a rundown area of a city or large town. Such a person is also likely to be a repeat victim of crime.
However, some sociologists believe that self-report studies offer a greater accuracy of crime in the UK. Self-report studies are anonymous and allow an individual to state whether they have been a victim of crime without having to go to the police. The problem here is that such data equates as unreported crime – so officially it never happened. Using self-report studies, the “most likely” victim of crime scenario described above is challenged. These reports indicate that more middle class people and women in general are the victims of crime. But without any evidence other than these reports to support such claims, few use them to support their work. What can be said about self-reports is that they hint that the official data may be wrong or at least limited in its accuracy.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex