Victim surveys are surveys in which people are asked about their experience in regards to being a victim of crime and whether the incident got recorded by the police. The surveys’ aim is to not only measure crime but discover more about the “reasons for the under-reporting of crime, the correlates of victimisation, the fear of crime and its relationship to the probability of victimisation” (McLaughlin & Muncie, 2013), as well as determining victims’ attitudes towards and opinions regarding the criminal justice system in general. One of the most significant victim surveys is the annual British Crime Survey, introduced in 1982 (Kautt, 2011). It is carried out in person, face to face as this is believed to be the best process in ensuring that the victims taking part feel comfortable enough to answer questions honestly in relation to their experiences (Smeenk & Malsch, 2005). The survey particularly strives to address and assess the ‘dark figure of crime’.
The ‘dark figure of crime’ refers to unreported and unrecorded crime (Penney, 2014). This information is important to many criminologists as well as the Government as it is essential that accurate data concerning crime is accumulated to ensure that the statistics produced are reliable. Accurate statistics regarding crime patterns increase the likelihood of the government, and consequently, the police force in achieving their objectives of decreasing crime rates, risks and fear. This is because the information gathered by surveys is then evaluated by the Government to create crime reduction strategies (Meek, 1998).
Although the information collected by victim surveys impacts policies and crime prevention schemes (Lab, 1988), there is debate as to whether such changes should be made based on findings which may not be truly representative and dependable. The use of victim surveys permits criminologists and the government to gain an enhanced awareness of trends regarding crime in comparison to just solely relying on and considering crime statistics (Šeparović, 1989). Victim surveys provide extra qualitative data concerning the demographics of victims, emphasising the place and time that an individual is most likely to become a victim of crime (Freeman, 2013), as well as taking unrecorded crimes into consideration. The information can then be assessed to reveal any patterns that may reveal certain aspects which could put a person at a higher risk of victimisation. As a result, crime prevention plans can therefore be adapted accordingly to aid the most vulnerable from being at risk.
The British Crime Survey remains to be an efficient way of collecting data as it is continuously being revised to take account of modern crimes, such as cybercrime (Jansson, 2007). The survey is seen as a respectable way to comprehend whether people within society are generally content with the criminal justice system, ultimately drawing attention to any public desire for improvements to be made (Muncie & Wilson, 2004). However, the reliability of data collected by victim surveys is disputed. For example, the surveys are only conducted within households meaning no corporate or white collar crime can be included (McLennan, 2000), other crimes such as manslaughter and murder are obviously omitted too. Victim surveys also exclude “residents of hospitals, prisons and old-age homes, who are often victimised and are not counted in the surveys” (Govender, 2013), therefore narrowing the sample, and consequently the reliability of survey findings even further.
An additional flaw that is also believed to damage the dependability of survey findings is memory loss, vital details may be forgotten or even over-emphasised making the information that is being recorded erroneous and subjective (Croall, 1998). It is also necessary to remember that the individuals taking part may either lie about being victimised or on the other hand, refuse to disclose information due to feelings of discomfiture (Schneider, 1981). There are a significant amount of factors to consider when assessing survey results, however, in comparison to quantitative research methods, it is considered by some that the risk of gathering slightly inaccurate information is worth taking. Victim surveys are successful in allowing and enabling a deeper understanding towards particular susceptible groups and crimes (Davies, Francis & Greer, 2007).
The use of surveys confronts methodological challenges, but limited issues construct difficulties of the same magnitude of those immersed in evaluating crime and victimisation. Although the surveys appear to give victims of crime a ‘voice’ by providing others with an insight into their experiences, the expediency of the feedback can be debated if victimless crimes, individuals under the age of sixteen and those not living at a registered address are excluded from contributing towards the “representative sample” (Jones, 2000) that organisations claim.
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