Crime myths and facts are often confused. Crime myths are created when the media, government and other influential figures sensationalise particular incidents that occur within the community. Although there are many similarities between the “myths” and “facts” the distortion of the two are prominent when studied through surveys and police reports. “crime facts” could be considered somewhat inconclusive, when the only way to gather information comes from survey statistics and police reports. Through comparing and contrasting “crime facts” and “crime myths”, this essay will explore whether there are any actual “crime facts”.
Crime myths” evolve from the hysteria created by people who study crimes. People study crimes for many reasons with the foremost reason being “to find a solutions to Society’s concerns” (Kappeler & Blumberg & Potter 1993, p2) about crime and to also find out why certain issues stand out more than others. (Kappeler & Blumberg & Potter 1993, p2) These societal concerns are brought to people’s attention in one of two ways. Firstly by people who have an interest in a certain occurrence; in there mind it is of great importance. Secondly, by people who construct their definition of societal concerns from other sources e. . Urban legends. The truth is somewhat distorted to fit their own opinion or view similar to “Chinese Whispers” where the truth gets ‘blown out of proportion’.
Studies reveal that it is the hysteria from these people that create “crime myths”. (Kappeler, Blumberg, Potter 1993, p2) The media plays a major in the creation of crime myths. The media conveys a story to people, these stories and are carried though by varied social opinions, individual perception, and prey on the average person’s sensitivities and feelings using certain words. Media dramatisation of high profile crimes and increased media attention given to violent crime generally leads to a community perception that violent crime is “out of control”. (Walker and Henderson 1991, p. 2) “Out of control” is a powerful statement. This can change social perception, and may lower the sensitivity towards violent crimes so that it may be reported more often to police, when in some cases it may not have been reported at all. This in turn will change the crime trends through the community and effect statistical information incalculably. (Walker and Henderson 1991, p. 2)
One classic quote from Charles Mackay was “Men think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they recover their senses slowly, and one by one”. (Cowdery 2001, p. 5) This quote supports the theory that if the media and government exaggerate and distort public news society’s ignorance usually allows people to accept this as the truth. For example, if news channels reported three attempted kidnappings in one week, and used words like “innocent victim” and “madman” people would tend to feel more nervous and anxious. “Only exaggerating the problem can public attention be sustained for prolonged periods of time”. Kappeler & Blumberg & Potter 1993, p8) After the media attention has started on their next big story the people will slowly forget what was reported a couple of weeks before and progress to the next “hot topic”. When the media and government draw attention to one certain event it is then that a crime myth begins to take shape. Although what the public hears is a result of what has become of the story after it has been through the “powerful media filter” (Sarre 1994, p64), usually a distortion of the facts to gain public attention and ratings.
There are two main methods Australia uses to gather its National Crime Statistics. The Australian Bureau Statistics provides figures both from Police and from Crime Victimisation Surveys. The statistics released “assess the crime levels, trends and patterns of victimisation”. (Graycar and Grabosky 2002, p31) It is a fact that Crime Surveys are not always accurate. On one hand people would be more likely to give out more information to a confidential survey, although on the other hand it would be a very difficult task to obtain information about certain offences e. . Paedophilia, drug crimes, child abuse etc. particularly in a family situation. (Graycar and Grabosky 2002, p31) again creating a fallacy of true figures. Police statistics are also an inaccurate account of crimes committed, and of victims of crime, as not every crime is reported and not every crime is solved. (Graycar and Grabosky 2002, p11) Figures are again inconclusive of the actual number of occurrences. The Government has a high influence on the media, at times creating a crime myth with its statistical data.
The government may report to the media that the crime rate has increased dramatically over a period of time; however the government may suppress the fact that this is proportional to the increase in population and the increase in the number of people reporting crime, thus creating a belief to the public that the crime rate has risen, when in fact it may be comparative. (Cowdery 2001, p22) Another example of how the government has control over society’s perception of crime in Australia was given by Walker and Henderson.
They write “while researchers examining prison trends over a period of time identify a growth in prison numbers for child sexual abuse, this is due to more severe penalties therefore a longer sentence” (Walker, Henderson 1991, p4), thus creating a myth that more people are in the Correctional System but really they are just incarcerated for a longer term. (Walker, Henderson 1991, p4) Anyone is capable of a committing a crime. The view of a ‘typical criminal’ has varied over the years. Lombroso believed that criminals “were born that way” and likened them to “Apes” because he believed “they had longer limbs”. Gabor 1991, p28). I am sure that this is no longer the view of the average person, but the average person tends to stereotype people who commit crime. Whether it is from the media or Government or even what they’ve been taught to believe by their parents, the average person has a very stereotypical view of who a person who takes part in criminal activity really is. From the way they look, to the way they are brought up can play a big part in how someone is perceived to the community. D Katz and K Braly’s “felt that stereotypes were fixed impressions that were at odds with reality” (Gabor 1991, p25).
This quote suggests that people are taught certain inferences about criminals, and in their minds these inferences are real. The reality is that not all criminals look tough and have tattoos and shaved heads. In fact anyone is capable of committing a crime if given the opportunity. In New York City, a survey was carried out on 1700 adults regarding 49 offences, 99 percent of those people had committed at least one of the 49 offences. This is a clear indication that anyone, no matter who they are, how they were brought up etc. tudies show anyone capable of committing an offence. (Gabor 1991, p54) Labelling convicted people as criminals can also have a big effect on the way they behave. If we convince them to believe they are bad people they may not see a reason to stop their criminal behaviour. (Gabor 1991, p54)
Minister for Justice Dr Peter Toyne reported a 32% decrease in crime in the Northern Territory in the previous 12 month period from September 2003; while he attributed some of the decrease to extra police he also sighted prison rehabilitation programs to prevent reoffending. Northern Territory Government 2003) These figures display that it is a fact that rehabilitation can work and convicted criminals should be given the chance to prove themselves to the public before they are stereotyped. Where do the “facts” stop and “myths” begin? Facts can create myths when they are taken for face value, unless there is no possible way there could be any variable. For example it would not be possible to gain an exact figure on how many people committed assault in Australia in 2002 because there are too many other variables to consider.
For instance, some may not have been reported some may not have been charged etc. (Graycar and Grabosky 2002, p11) Alternatively you would be able to get a figure on how many people were charged with assault in Australia in 2002 it does not have any changeable aspects. Myths begin when that one figure or statistic is taken out of context and it is reported as fact without all the details. Whether it be by the Government to the media or the media to the Government they both play an enormous part in the way the public view the crime in Australia (Graycar and Grabosky 2002, p16)
In summary a “crime fact” could be a “crime myth” when information is missing and vice versa. After exploring through this essay, it is revealed that distinguishing a “crime myth” from a “crime fact” is somewhat difficult. Society can differentiate between a “myth and a fact” through the use of statistics. However, statistics are a fact of limited information of a certain variable, whereas myths are distortions of the truth.