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4524.0 - In Focus: Crime and Justice Statistics, July 2012  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/07/2012   
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On this page:
Introduction
Crime Victimisation and Social Wellbeing
Defining Crime Victimisation
Defining Social Wellbeing
About the General Social Survey

EXPLORING RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN CRIME VICTIMISATION AND SOCIAL WELLBEING

INTRODUCTION

It is widely acknowledged that a complex relationship exists between crime, feelings of personal safety, and social wellbeing (Ackomak and ter Weel 2008; Paras 2003; World Bank 2011). Experiences of crime and feelings of personal safety can be seen as both indicators and outcomes of social wellbeing, as well as interacting with social wellbeing in a multifaceted and complex manner. Experiencing crime victimisation may be associated with poorer outcomes on some measures of social wellbeing, and more favourable outcomes on other measures. The direction and strength of these associations may also vary according to socio-demographic factors. Using Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2010 General Social Survey data, this article explores the relationship between experiences of crime victimisation and self-reported measures of social capital and social cohesion. There is a particular focus on the way in which these indicators interact with various socio-demographic variables, such as age, sex, household income, and family composition. The scope of this article does not extend to inferring a causal relationships between these variables. While this would be an interesting area for future research, the aim of this article is to explore linkages and relationships between crime victimisation, socio-demographic characteristics and social wellbeing.


CRIME VICTIMISATION AND SOCIAL WELLBEING

The connection between crime victimisation and social wellbeing is not straightforward, and research varies in the way in which the relationship between these two aspects of social experience are explored. Some sources discuss the role of social capital in crime prevention (see World Bank 2011; Ackomak and ter Weel 2008), whilst others examine crime and feelings of safety as indicators of social capital and social cohesion (see OECD 2011, Stone 2000). International research has shown that feelings of safety and fear of crime are often associated with socio-demographic characteristics, neighbourhood conditions, and social relationships (Kruger et. al. 2007). There is also evidence that experiences of crime victimisation affect an individual’s stock of social capital (Paras 2003).

Defining Crime Victimisation

This article focuses on respondents' experiences of both personal and household crime. The two key variables included in the analysis are:
  • whether the respondent had been a victim of threatened and/or physical violence in the 12 months prior to interview (personal crime), and
  • whether the respondent had been a victim of actual and/or attempted break-in in the 12 months prior to interview (household crime).

These are the only types of crime victimisation covered in the General Social Survey. In order to improve the quality of the data included in the analysis, an aggregate of these two crimes was also used: whether the respondent had been a victim of the selected personal and/or household crimes.

Defining Social Wellbeing

The social wellbeing indicators used in the analysis were largely drawn from social capital measurements, based on the ABS framework for measuring social capital (Measuring Social Capital, 2004 (cat. no. 1378.0)). Some additional indicators have also been included to capture a broader aspect of social wellbeing:
  • perceptions of social disorder problems in the local area,
  • overall life satisfaction, and
  • experiences of personal stressors.

Definitions of social capital remain widely contested, as are understandings of how social capital accumulates in society, the impact it has on social wellbeing, and how to measure it. Social capital is a multi-dimensional concept that relates to the role of trust and reciprocity within networks and relationships. Definitions in theory vary, but ultimately social capital can be understood as a resource that facilitates collective action (Stone 2001). Social capital has the potential to make a positive contribution to outcomes in a range of areas, such as health, community safety and education, as well as better understanding community adaptability and resilience (ABS 2002).

Due to the complexity of the concept, social capital can be better measured with a number of indicators. There are approximately 45 variables in the General Social Survey that are included within the ABS framework for measuring social capital, but for practical purposes not all of these were included in the analysis. Including only a select number of social capital variables also served to focus the analysis on those social capital elements with more cogent links to crime and safety. The social capital variables selected for analysis in this article were:
  • generalised trust,
  • trust in police,
  • ability to have a say in the community,
  • feelings of safety,
  • acceptance of other cultures,
  • support in times of crisis,
  • frequency of contact with family and friends,
  • length of time in current home,
  • attendance at a community event, and
  • ability to raise emergency money.

(Please refer to the Glossary for a more detailed definition of these variables)

Some of the variables excluded explore similar concepts to those chosen, such as trust in doctors and attendance at cultural and leisure events. Other variables, such as participation in voluntary work, access to services, and carer duties, would be interesting to explore against crime victimisation variables, but were excluded from this analysis as they were judged to have a less direct relationship with crime victimisation than those variables examined.

ABOUT THE GENERAL SOCIAL SURVEY

The General Social Survey was conducted throughout Australia (excluding very remote areas) from August to November 2010. The survey asked people aged 18 years and over about a range of topics, including health, housing, income, transport, crime and safety, and social networks. The breadth of topics covered in this survey provides a unique opportunity to examine the relationships between a range of social factors and crime victimisation, which is not possible from traditional crime and justice statistics alone. Crime victimisation data was collected by asking respondents if they had been a victim of actual or attempted break-in and physical or threatened violence in the 12 months prior to their interview. It should be noted that while the analysis refers to crime victimisation and being a victim of crime, this is with reference to only the above selected crimes as reported in this survey, and not all types of crime.

The rates of crime victimisation in this article are not comparable to other sources, such the Crime Victimisation Survey (Crime Victimisation, Australia, 2010-11 (cat. no. 4530.0)). Victim counts and rates in the Crime Victimisation Survey are lower than in the General Social Survey and this may be due to a range of factors, such as question wording and sequencing, mode of the surveys, population scope, and sampling methodology. For more information on the differences between the General Social Survey and the Crime Victimisation Survey, see the explanatory notes of both publications.

All comparisons within the article have been tested for statistical significance at the 95% confidence interval, and only data with relative standard errors of less than 25% has been included in the analysis, to ensure the reliability of the data.

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