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Though small, the changes in the prevalence rates for personal crimes between 1998 and 2002 showed an increase from 4.8% to 5.3%. Most of these people were assaulted.
Between 1993 and 2002, there was little change in the proportion of households that were the victim of a household crime (an actual or attempted break-in or motor vehicle theft) and it remained at a little below 9%.
Progress and the headline indicators
Crime takes many forms and can have a major impact on the wellbeing of victims, their families and friends, and the wider community. Those most directly affected may suffer financially, physically, psychologically and emotionally, while the fear of crime can affect people and restrict their lives in many ways. There are other costs as well, including the provision of law enforcement services by the police, courts and associated legal services, and corrective services. Although government agencies take on the major responsibility for law enforcement, many businesses and householders also bear costs in protecting against or paying for the consequences of crime. Such costs include those associated with taking out insurance policies, and the provision of surveillance and security equipment or services.
Measuring the full cost of crime might provide a single number approach to measuring progress in this area. But there is no well established way of doing this nor are there comprehensive data. Although information about expenditures on crime-related services provides some idea of the financial costs of crime to the community, the full impacts on victims, or the subsequent costs to the wider community, might never be fully known.1 This is partly because the full extent of crime cannot be measured through available information systems. Indeed, it is well known that many crimes are never brought to the attention of the police. Estimating the costs of crime, even for those crimes that are known, is also fraught with difficulties: each offence has different consequences for those affected and these can be difficult to value.
Another way, albeit limited, of looking at progress in this area is to consider crime victimisation rates. The focus here is on two groups of offences - 'household crimes' and 'personal crimes'. The former refers to the theft of a motor vehicle and actual or attempted break-ins. The latter refers to assaults, sexual assaults and robbery.
There was little change in the proportion of households suffering a household crime between 1993 and 2002. In 1993 just over 8% of households were the victim of a crime. In 2002, just under 9% of households experienced a crime. Break-ins were the most commonly reported household crime in 2002 (4.7% of households), while 3.4% of households reported an attempted break-in and 1.8% reported a motor vehicle theft.
Over one million household crimes were committed in 2002. About 290,000 households experienced just one break-in, but a further 43,000 households suffered two break-ins that year, while over 20,000 suffered three or more such crimes. Almost 135,000 households had a motor vehicle stolen in 2002. Most (125,000) of these households reported only one such incident.
Though small, the changes in the prevalence rates for personal crimes between 1998 and 2002 showed an increase. In 1998, 4.8% of Australians reported being the victim of a personal crime. In 2002 the figure stood at 5.3%. Assault was the most commonly reported personal crime, with 4.7% of people reporting an assault in 2002. Some 0.6% of people reported a robbery, and 0.2% reported sexual assault.
Some 2.8 million personal crimes were committed in 2002. About 350,000 people reported being the victim of a single assault in 2002. Another 135,000 people were the victim of two assaults, while 230,000 people were the victim of three of more assaults. Some 71,000 people were the victim of one robbery, 14,000 were the victim of two and 11,000 were the victim of three or more.
The homicide rate (here based on cause of death statistics rather than police statistics) offers a longer term view of the prevalence of crime in Australia.2 While representing only a small fraction of overall crime, homicide (referring in this context to murder and manslaughter) is one offence category for which generally consistent statistics have been available for many years, and it is also a crime that does not often go unreported.
Homicide rates for the period 1917 to 2001 have fluctuated, often substantially from one year to the next, but overall within a relatively small range,
Despite the annual fluctuations and some decades of relative stability, there were some longer periods over which the rates tended to rise and fall. Broadly described, these include a decline in the rates after the 1920s, down to lows recorded during the 1940s - around the time of World War II. After that, there was a long-term upward trend which reached a peak of 2.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 1988.
After falling back to 1.8 homicides per 100,000 people in 1992 the annual rates through the 1990s have fallen slightly further. In 2001 there were 300 homicides recorded in the cause of death statistics: 1.5 homicides per 100,000 people. Similar data compiled from police records since 1993 indicate little change through the 1990s.3
Homicide rates(a) - 1998 to 2000
Indigenous and Non-Indigenous imprisonment rates
Although courts may impose various penalties for people convicted of criminal offences (fines, community service orders and the like) imprisonment is the most severe social response to crime in Australia. Changes in the imprisonment rate (the number of people in prison relative to a measure of the total population) do not necessarily measure changes in the level of crime or success in catching and convicting criminals, although they may be related. They can reflect changes in community attitudes (played out through the court system) as to how tough the community's response to crime should be, as well as changes in prison capacity.
Imprisonment rates, per 100,000 adults(a)
Overall, the rate of imprisonment has increased over the decade 1992-2002 so that by 2002, 148 adults (those aged 17 years or over) in every 100,000 were serving a prison sentence - up from 118 per 100,000 in 1992. From 2001 to 2002 there was a slight decrease from 150 adults in every 100,000 to 148.
Historical data compiled by the Australian Institute of Criminology show that this trend has been part of a longer term trend over the last 20 or so years. There had also been an increasing trend during the 1950s and 1960s. Measured as a proportion of the total population rather than the adult population (those aged 17 years or over), it also shows that imprisonment rates in 2002 stood at levels higher than in most other years of the 20th century. Despite the upward trend seen over recent decades, the rates have not returned to the levels observed at the beginning of the 20th century: in 2002 there were 114 prisoners per 100,000 people (of all ages) compared to 126 in 1900.
Imprisonment rates, per 100,000 people(a)
Indigenous and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates, per 100,000 adults(a)
The imprisonment of Indigenous Australians has been a major issue of social concern in Australia, with imprisonment rates much higher than those of the general population. There have also been related concerns about the high proportion of Indigenous Australians in prisons dying of unnatural causes, especially by suicide.4
In 2002, there were 1,806 Indigenous prisoners per 100,000 adults of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, an imprisonment rate over 12 times the rate for non-Indigenous people (148 prisoners per 100,000 adults). The Indigenous imprisonment rate fluctuated through the 1990s, but in 2002 it was higher than in 1992 when the rate was 1,498 prisoners per 100,000 adults. In June 2002, there were close to 4,500 Indigenous prisoners in Australia; they represented 20% of the 22,492 people in prison at that time.
Victims of selected offences (a) - 2002
Some differences within Australia
Crime rates tend to be higher on average in metropolitan centres than in non-metropolitan areas, but can vary considerably within those areas.5 Very high rates are observed in some small rural areas with high levels of disadvantage.6 There are likely to be many reasons for the differences. Places with high crime rates tend to have interrelated problems of disadvantage (such as low income, high unemployment, low levels of educational attainment, family relationship problems, and high levels of drug use). Differences between areas may also relate to the opportunities to commit crime in those areas and the extent to which people and properties are protected. Comparisons among the states and territories are of interest because the criminal justice system, including police, courts, and correctional services, is primarily administered by state and territory Governments. Comparing the different outcomes across the jurisdictions may be useful in evaluating the effectiveness of various crime prevention and reduction strategies.7
In 2002, crime victimisation rates, from the ABS Crime and Safety Survey and, for murder and kidnapping/abduction, as recorded by police, varied considerably among Australia's states and territories. No single state had the highest (or lowest) rate for all offence categories shown (see table Victims of selected offences). New South Wales had by far the highest crime rate for robbery and kidnapping/abduction offences, but murder, assault, break-ins and motor vehicle theft were most prevalent in the Northern Territory.
Total household crime victimisation rates were lowest in Victoria and South Australia, while total personal crime victimisation rates were lowest in Queensland and then South Australia. There are likely to be many factors accounting for the differences. States differ in their demographic and socioeconomic profiles: some population groups are more likely to be either perpetrators and/or victims of crime and some of these groups are more highly represented in certain states. For example, states and territories with younger populations tend to have higher crime rates than states with older population profiles, as a high proportion of offences are committed by young people (particularly young men).8 Differences in the representation of population groups with other characteristics more likely to be correlated with crime (such as those with low levels of educational attainment, high unemployment rates and low income) may also be a factor. Differences in the level of drug and alcohol use in each community may also be important. And other factors, such as the level of policing activity may be important.
Victims of personal crimes
The chance of being the victim of a robbery or an assault decreases with age. In 2002, 9.9% of 15-19 year olds were the victim of an assault compared to 0.8% of those aged 65 or over. Similarly 1.9% of 15-19 year olds were the victim of a robbery compared to 0.2% of those aged 65 or over.
Men of all ages were generally more likely to be the victims of assault or robbery than women in the same age group, although women aged 25-34 were a little more likely than men of that age to suffer assault, and women aged 65 or older were more likely to be the victim of a robbery than men in that age group.
Data from the General Social Survey in 2002 shows that the unemployed, lone parents and people living alone were also more likely to be the victim of personal (and household) crimes than their married, and employed or not in the labour force, counterparts.
In 2002, more than one-third of assaults happened in the victim's home, with a further 16% in their place of work or study. A weapon was used in 11% of assaults, and in almost three-quarters of assaults the victim was not physically hurt. About 80% of assaults were carried out by men, and the victim knew his or her assailants about 60% of the time.
Changes in crime rates in recent years within each of the states and territories show some quite different trends, which also differ according to the nature of the offences involved. Such differences are illustrated by focusing on the two major offence categories presented as the headline indicators (household and personal crimes).
While national rates of household crimes increased slightly between 1993 and 2002, this trend was not uniform. In the Northern Territory there was a substantial increase in the proportion of households falling victim to a crime, where the rate rose from 11% of households in 1993 to 20% in 2002. Rates fell in Western Australia over the period: from 13% to 10% of households.
Comparative data relating to the prevalence of personal crimes cover a shorter time period than for household crimes, and have generally been less volatile. Between 1998 and 2002, national personal crime rates rose. Among the states and territories, the victimisation rates for personal crimes rose in the Northern Territory from 6.8% of people experiencing a crime in 1998 to 8.1% of people in 2002. Rates also increased in New South Wales from 4.6% to 5.7%., and Victoria from 4.2% to 5.2%. The rate fell in the Australian Capital Territory, from 7.7% of people in 1998 to 5.9% in 2002. Rates remained broadly unchanged in the other states.
Crime reporting rates(a) - 2002
Factors influencing change
Law breaking occurs within all societies, and all have systems of policing and justice to help minimise its spread and to maintain social order. Many factors influence a person's risk of criminal behaviour, and many also affect differences in crime rates among areas and changes in crime rates over time.
Differences in crime rates between areas have also been associated with poverty, unemployment and income inequality. Over time, increasing levels of drug dependence may have been a factor in increasing crime rates.9 The prevalence of crime may also depend on available opportunities and the size of the potential rewards, perhaps weighed against the risk of detection, apprehension and punishment.
Family factors, such as conflict with parents and family disruption, parental neglect, deviant parental behaviours and attitudes, are also considered to be strong predictors of juvenile involvement in crime.8
Common responses to increasing levels of crime include increasing prevention and detection activities, and increasing penalties, such as terms of imprisonment. Significant investigation into the longer term impact of these responses is necessary in order to properly assess the influence of these factors on changing levels of crime.
Links to other dimensions of progress
In the absence of clear evidence one can only speculate as to whether changes in crime rates have been associated with other indicators of progress presented in this publication. There are strong links to levels of financial hardship when comparing crime rates among population subgroups, but the association between crime rates and changes in unemployment over time are considered to be weak.10 It is believed that the effect of changes in levels of financial hardship on crime may be indirect, for example, by disrupting the parenting process and increasing the likelihood of neglect and abuse of children, making them more susceptible to the influence of delinquent peers.10
Drug addiction, a major health concern, is also associated with criminal activity (both in terms of dealing with prohibited drugs and sometimes in having to commit other crimes to support what can be expensive drug habits). To the extent that the prevalence of crime affects people's trust of others there may also be a link between crime rates and levels of social cohesion.
See also the commentaries Work, Financial hardship, and Family, community and social cohesion.