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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/2003   
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Contents >> Other areas of Social Concern >> Crime and Justice: Crime victimisation and feelings of safety

Crime and Justice: Crime victimisation and feelings of safety

In 2001, Australians aged 65 years and over were the least likely of all age groups to be victims of assault, sexual assault or kidnapping.

Victims of crime and their families and communities can suffer physically, emotionally and financially. Increases in crime rates are therefore of ongoing community concern. The annual incidence of recorded crime increased for each offence between 1995 and 2001. The largest increase (64%) was in robberies, from 68 to 111 victims per 100,000 people over the seven years. Over the same period, the proportion of people who were victims of assault rose by 39%, from 563 to 783 victims per 100,000. Although the victimisation rates for the different offences have fluctuated over time, the ranking of offences has remained fairly constant. Assault has consistently been the most common offence, followed by robbery; sexual assault; homicide and related offences; and kidnapping.

Just as direct experience of crime can affect people's day-to-day lives and wellbeing, so too can fear of crime. Fear of becoming a victim and decreased feelings of safety may restrict a person's participation in society. However, people's perceptions of crime do not always align with levels of criminal activity and victimisation.


Crime
This article draws on data from a variety of sources, including the ABS Recorded Crime Collection and the 1998 Crime and Safety Survey - see Crime and Safety, Australia (ABS cat. no. 4509.0).

Most of the data come from the ABS Recorded Crime Collection, which is based on information about victims recorded by police. Victims of crimes which went unrecorded are therefore not included. Surveys in Australia and overseas show that in about 60% of crimes, victims do not report the incident to police.1 Levels of reporting vary between different offences and population groups.

This article discusses individual person victims of recorded person offences (it excludes property offences, for which data on person victims are not available). These are homicide and related offences; assault; sexual assault; kidnapping; and robbery. Homicide and related offences comprise murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and driving causing death.

Because multiple offences may occur in a single criminal incident, it is not possible to aggregate the offence categories to produce a total number of recorded crime victims or incidents. For more information, see Recorded Crime, Australia, (ABS cat. no. 4510.0).


Characteristics of crime victims
The incidence of recorded crime varies noticeably between offence categories, ranging from five homicide victims per 100,000, to 783 assault victims per 100,000 in 2001. Despite this, the age pattern associated with victimisation was similar across offence categories (with assault being the most common in each age group). This pattern may be related to a variety of factors, including a person's lifestyle, whether they take safety precautions, their ability to defend themselves, and previous life experiences.2

VICTIMISATION RATES(a) FOR SELECTED RECORDED CRIMES - 2001
Homicide and related offences
Assault
Sexual assault
Kidnapping
Robbery

Age group (years)
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
0-14
2.3
279.2
173.3
5.9
29.5
15-24
8.5
1,572.3
191.7
10.6
337.8
25-34
8.3
1,409.5
73.8
4.3
141.8
35-44
6.3
900.8
38.6
2.0
88.3
45-54
4.0
510.7
17.0
0.7
69.5
55-64
4.2
265.6
6.7
0.5
55.6
65 and over
2.6
88.3
3.4
0.2
31.4

Total(b)
5.4
782.9
86.4
3.9
111.3

no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

All recorded offences
1,047
151,753
16,744
758
21,576

(a) Per 100,000 population.
(b) Includes victims for whom age was not specified.

Source: ABS 2001 Recorded Crime Collection.


While children up to the age of 14 years were less likely than most age groups to be victims of certain crimes, they were comparatively more likely to be victims of sexual assault and kidnapping in 2001 - with rates of 173 and 6 victims per 100,000 respectively). These rates were second only to those experienced by young adults aged 15-24 years. Children were less likely to be victims of homicide and related offences than people in any other age group (2 victims per 100,000), and their experience of robbery was about one-quarter of the overall rate (30 compared with 111 victims per 100,000).

Young adults aged 15-24 years experienced the highest levels of assault, sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery. The incidence of robbery among young adults (338 per 100,000) was more than three times the overall rate (111 per 100,000), while assault, sexual assault and kidnapping were all at least twice as prevalent among this age group.

With the exception of sexual assault, people aged 25-34 years also experienced comparatively high rates of victimisation. However, these rates were generally lower than those of 15-24 year olds. Following this pattern, victimisation was progressively less common for people in the older age groups. People aged 65 years and over were less likely than people of any other age to become a victim of assault, sexual assault or kidnapping. This was particularly so for sexual assault (a rate of 3 per 100,000) and kidnapping (0.2 per 100,000). The victimisation rates for people aged 65 years and over for homicide and related offences and robbery were also below the average for all age groups, with only children experiencing lower rates.

Males and females experience different types of crimes. For example, the majority of victims of recorded homicide and related offences, assaults and robberies in 2001 were male. However, females were at greater risk of being sexually assaulted or kidnapped than males. In particular, 83% of sexual assault victims recorded by police were female.

SEX OF CRIME VICTIMS - 2001
Graph - Sex of crime victims - 2001

Source: ABS 2001 Recorded Crime Collection.


Where do crimes occur?

SELECTED CRIME LOCATIONS(a) - 1998
Robbery
Assault(b)
Sexual assault(c)
%
%
%

Homes
20.6
24.0
57.8
Victim's home
16.9
n.a.
39.8
Work/study
11.8
14.9
*6.5
Street/open land
33.8
13.7
13.6
Other
33.8
23.3
22.1

Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) For victims aged 15 years and over.
(b) Excludes assaults where the offender was a partner, ex-partner or family member of the victim, for which location was not collected.
(c) Refers only to females aged 18 years and over.

Source: ABS 1998 Crime and Safety Survey.


Crimes (whether recorded by police or not) occur in many locations, from homes and workplaces to streets and other open land. In the year to April 1998, 34% of robberies happened in a street or open land and 17% in the victim's home. Assaults occurred most frequently in homes (24%), at the victim's place of work or study (15%) and in streets or open land (14%). For women aged 18 years and over, sexual assault occurred most commonly in homes (58%).

In 1998, the offender in the 24% of assaults for which the location was not collected, was a partner, ex-partner or family member of the victim. This is in keeping with the relatively high proportion of assaults and sexual assaults occurring in homes in 1998, and data about recorded assault and sexual assault victims in 2001. Police records show that for victims of reported assault, 38% of men and 68% of women reported knowing their offender, while for sexual assault, 69% and 62% respectively knew their offender.3


Indigenous victims of recorded crime
The Indigenous status of victims is only available for New South Wales recorded crime data. In 2000, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in New South Wales were approximately three times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be victims of murder, assault or sexual assault. However, in terms of recorded crime, they were less likely to be victims of robbery, with a victimisation rate approximately one-fifth that of non-Indigenous people. Indigenous victims of reported crime were most likely to be victims of Indigenous offenders (ranging from 57% of murder victims to 80% of assault victims).7

VICTIMISATION RATES(a), NSW - 2000
Indigenous population
Non-Indigenous population
Offence(b)
rate(c)
rate

Murder
5.5
1.6
Assault
3,240.8
1,011.1
Sexual assault
159.3
54.7
Robbery
46.9
240.8

(a) Victimisation rates are per 100,000 population.
(b) Data available for selected offences only.
(c) Indigenous victims may be reluctant to report some crimes to police, resulting in conservative recorded victimisation rates.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Aboriginal victimisation and offending: the picture from police records, 2001.


Feelings of safety
As well as recorded person offences, property offences (which are far more prevalent) and unreported crimes can affect people's feelings of safety. Perceptions of safety vary according to a range of factors. However, perceptions do not always align with recorded victimisation rates or the locations where crimes are most likely to occur. From 1998 to 2000, when asked about their feelings of safety in six specified situations (i.e. at home alone, walking/jogging and on public transport; each during the day and at night) adults indicated that they felt safest when alone at home during the day and least safe when on public transport at night.4

Although people aged 65 years and over were generally less likely to be victims of crime than people in other age groups, they were the most fearful for their safety, regardless of the situation. There may be many reasons for this, such as a sense of personal vulnerability arising from their declining health.2 In contrast, young adults (aged 18-24 years) felt the safest in each of the six situations specified above, despite experiencing some of the highest levels of crime victimisation. Similarly, men felt safer than women in each of the situations (especially at night) despite being more likely to be victims of crime. In addition, stronger feelings of safety were reported by adults born in Australia than by those who were born overseas.4

Fear for personal safety can restrict a person's social participation and diminish trust within the community. At the same time, an awareness of personal safety can encourage people to take precautions, such as avoiding potentially dangerous places, installing home security, keeping entryways locked and participating in Neighbourhood Watch and similar schemes. In 1999, over 90% of households in New South Wales had some form of home security (such as alarms, deadlocks or sensor lights). Over half had installed security items since moving into their home. Of those who had installed security items, 41% had done so because they felt a need for more security, and a further 27% because crimes had occurred in their home or local area. For households with no home security, the most common reason was that they lived in a low crime area.5

In recognition of the importance of feeling safe, in some communities, part of the role of police is to improve public perceptions of crime and safety (as well as reducing criminal activity). Some communities are also adopting environmental design principles aimed at preventing crime, such as installing better lighting, improving signage and creating safe routes through public areas. These initiatives can make public places safer and help people feel safer when using them. This in turn may increase the level of use, and thus the safety, of the area.6

Endnotes
1 Australian Institute of Criminology 2002, Australian Crime: Facts and Figures 2001, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.
2 Carcach, C., Graycar, A. and Muscat, G. 2001, 'The victimisation of older Australians', Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 212, June 2001.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Recorded Crime, Australia, 2001, cat. no. 4510.0, ABS, Canberra.
4 Data from the ABS 1996-2000 Population Survey Monitor analysed on behalf of the Australasian Centre for Policing Research.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Home Security Precautions, New South Wales, October 1999, cat. no. 4516.1, ABS, Canberra.
6 Australian Institute of Criminology and Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute 2002, Housing, Crime and Stronger Communities Conference, Melbourne.
7 Fitzgerald, J. and Weatherburn, D. 2001, 'Aboriginal victimisation and offending: the picture from police records', Crime and Justice Statistics Bureau Brief, December 2001.

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