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Western Countries coming out of crime epidemic

Levels of common crime including thefts, burglaries, robberies and assaults have fallen significantly over the last 10 years in nearly all industrialised countries, after steep increases in the period before.

That is one of the key findings of the recently published report Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective. The book reports on a victim survey amongst the general public in over 30 countries, conducted in 2004/2005 in collaboration with the United Nations.

On average, an estimated 16% of the population in the 30 nations participating in country level surveys have been a victim of at least one of any of ten common crimes in the course of one year (mainly 2003 or 2004). Levels of common crime were highest in several cities in developing countries such as Phnom Penh (Cambodia) en Maputo (Mozambique). Among the industrialised countries, levels were highest in Ireland, England and Wales, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Estonia and the Netherlands. Levels in the USA remain below those in many European countries. Levels of common crime were lowest in Hong Kong/China, Japan, Spain, Hungary and Portugal.

For the first time in the International Crime Victims Survey, a project launched in 1989, questions were included on internet fraud and credit card fraud. On average 1% of the national respondents have been victimised by a fraud with the use of Internet. The victimisation rate for credit card fraud was on average 0.9% nationwide and 1.5% in main cities respectively. The highest percentage of respondents victimised by credit card fraud were found in London (7.5%) and the USA (4.5%).

According to the authors, internet-based frauds and frauds with credit cards may soon develop into one of the most common types of property crime, overtaking traditional forms such as pick pocketing or theft from cars.

Fear of crime is going down as well, in line with lower crime levels. The public is in general more satisfied with how the police deal with crime in the local area.

The use of preventive measures against burglary such as electronic alarms and high grade locks has significantly increased since the 1980s throughout the industrialised world. According to the authors, the near universal drop in common crime is probably to some extent attributable to increased use of preventive measures. In line with this hypothesis, property crimes have gone down more steeply than prevalent types of contact crimes. A possible explanation of these divergent trends is that improved security has reduced levels of many forms of property crime such as burglary and non-professional car theft but has had less immediate impact on contact crimes. Some affluence-related risk factors of violent crimes such as alcohol abuse among young people may in fact have increased in some countries and thereby driven up levels of violence. Another factor that might have driven up violent crimes in Europe could be the increase in ethnic tensions manifesting itself in "hate crimes" against immigrants and possible retaliations.

Background of the project
The International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) was launched in 1989 at the initiative of Professor Jan Van Dijk of Tilburg University, the Netherlands. The main object was to advance international comparisons of crime rates, beyond the constraints of officially recorded crime data, by directly interviewing samples of the general public (2,000 per country). The next sweeps of the ICVS surveys took place in 1992, 1996 and 2000. With its fifth sweep in 2004/05, the survey has been conducted five times. Over a time span of fifteen years more than 300,000 people were interviewed about their experiences with victimisation and related subjects in 78 different countries.

The report Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective. Key findings from the 2004-2005 ICVS and EU ICS describes the 2004 - 2005 sweep of surveys in 30 countries and 33 capital or main cities and compares results with those of earlier sweeps. Fifteen countries participated four or five times. A large portion of the latest ICVS data in this report comes from the European Survey on Crime and Safety (EU ICS), organised by a consortium lead by Gallup Europe, co-financed by the European Commission's Directorate General for Research and Technology Development. These data have been published in February, 2007 by the EU ICS consortium. The current report includes data from twelve other industrialised countries; six European countries plus USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong. This report also presents data from six main cities in developing countries. Survey results have been analysed in consultation with key researchers from involved countries.

Reporting to the police
Reporting rates show considerable inter-country variation. For ease of comparison, reporting levels were calculated for five offences for which levels of reporting are comparatively high. These offences are thefts from cars, bicycle theft, burglary with entry, attempted burglary and thefts of personal property. In the countries and main cities on average 41% of the five crimes were reported to the police. The highest reporting rates were in Austria (70%), Belgium (68%), Sweden (64%) and Switzerland (63%). With the exception of Hungary, all countries with relatively high reporting rates are among the most affluent of the world. As in previous rounds of the ICVS, reporting rates are much lower in participating developing countries.
Victim support
Victims of burglary, robbery, sexual offences and assaults & threats were asked whether they received support of a specialised agency. On average, nine percent received victim support. Over one in five victims of these crimes received such support in New Zealand and the UK (England & Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland). Less than five percent of the victims received support in France, Poland, Spain, Italy, Istanbul (Turkey), Greece, Germany, Finland, Bulgaria and Hungary. Victims who had not received support were asked whether it would have been useful. On average 43% of victims reporting any of the four types of crime felt such help would indeed have been useful for them.
Attitudes to punishment
All respondents were asked what would be the most suitable punishment for a recidivist burglar. Support for imprisonment shows considerable variation across countries. Over 50% favoured imprisonment in South Africa/Johannesburg (76%), Mexico, Hong Kong, Peru/Lima, Japan, Northern Ireland and Turkey/Istanbul. In Anglophone countries (USA, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) larger proportions of the public opt for imprisonment than in any country on the European continent. The population of France (13%) and Austria (13%) are least in favour of imprisonment.

Corine Schouten | alfa
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