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The ‘dark figure of crime’ is an expression used by sociologists, criminologists and other crime specialists to explain the amount of offences that are never reported, making the effectiveness and efficiency of official crime statistics untrustworthy. This problem was first described in the 1830s by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician and sociologist and the founder of modern scientific statistics. The real crime rate (the ‘dark figure’ of crime), could not be revealed by official statistics. He argued that ‘our observations can only refer to a certain number of known and tried offenders out of the unknown sum total of crimes committed. Since this sum total of crimes committed will probably ever continue unknown, all of the reasoning of which it is the basis will be defective.’ In his thesis, Albert Biderman (1967) describes the ‘dark figure of crime’ as ‘occurrences that by some criteria are called crime yet that are not registered in the statistics of whatever agency was the source of the data being used.’
There is a lot of complexity when dealing with measuring crime. A central argument is that official statistics overrepresent the poor, and research and police attention focuses on this group far more closely than others. Coleman and Moynihan (1996) said that finding the true extent of crime in society is not achieved by accumulating the number of crimes and offenders; there is no final picture to reveal as it is a fluid situation. Young and Matthews (1992) suggested that the ‘dark figure expands and contracts with the values we bring to our study’.  
A major task of criminology is empirical – mapping the trends and patterns of criminal activity (Hood and Sparks,1970), but recording crime data efficiently is important for various reasons. It can be used to assess the efficiency of law enforcement officers, evaluate the safety of a certain area and, generally, to judge the overall judicial system of a country. 
There are three elements that are necessary in order for a crime to be recorded. Firstly, someone must be aware that a crime has been committed. This means that somebody must witness the crime, and/or either the victim or the perpetrator must be aware that a crime is being committed (Coleman and Moynihan, 1996). Secondly, the crime must be reported to the relevant authorities, either by the victim, the perpetrator, or a witness. Lastly, the police must accept that the act is against the law. If one of these steps is absent, then the crime goes unreported. But each link in the chain is easily broken. People may, for instance, be unaware that a crime is being committed because they view it as normal or trivial behaviour: in some neighbourhoods, it would seem perfectly normal to settle an dispute with a physical fight, while in others, this would be seen as assault. The official crime statistics documented by the police is a result of intricate social customs. It is constructed through social relations, and relies heavily on the police and their judgements and conclusions on what to interpret as crime.
Most crime statistics are considered unreliable and cause the police body’s reliability to be questionable due to the various limitations of reporting and recording crimes. One of the main limitations is the failure of crimes to be reported to police. There are several reasons that offences go unreported. For example, members of the public who have witnessed crimes often fail to report them as they consider them to be trivial, and do not believe that they are significant enough to report (Dennis, Erdos, and Robinson, 2003) Others fail to report crimes because they find the matter too embarrassing, or are too scared to go to the police. Rape, for example, is the most unreported crime in our society because women are too embarrassed or ashamed to report it, or they feel unsafe or scared of the repercussions that telling the police might have for them. One of the main reasons of unreported crimes is the victim not knowing that they are a victim of crime (Devine, 2009) For example, in the case of fraud, individuals may not realise that they are being defrauded. There are also some cases where victims are not capable of reporting the crime or even realising that a crime is being committed. This is especially true for crimes perpetuated against children or the elderly, they either don’t realise that they are being victimised, or cannot report it because they are too scared, do not want to see the offender punished, or simply don’t have access to the police. For example, 1 in 3 children sexually abused by an adult do not tell anyone (Radford et al., 2011). Many of these children were unable to report this crime as they were convinced that the police would not believe them, they were too scared of their parents, or too ashamed of what happened. Other reasons for failing to report crimes could be that the victim has no confidence in the criminal justice system or police because of previous experience, or they didn’t think that the offenders would be caught and punished, and felt that going to the police just wasn’t worth their time. This is perfectly illustrated by a comment on the website of the Daily Mail: ‘A few years back I saw someone slash four tyres on a car. I did not report it to the police. I am a female living alone in a rather isolated location. I knew that tyre slashing would warrant no more than the police having a word with the perpetrator and leaving it at that, maybe a fine, while the perpetrator would most likely have taken a more robust approach to me.’ Victimless crimes involving sex and drugs also go highly unreported of course, because the criminals have no motivation to inform the police that they are hiring prostitutes or buying and taking drugs. 
Another major problem contributing to the ‘dark figure’ of crime is the fact that most of the crimes that are reported are subject to police discretion, where some might consider a crime to be more important than others, ‘trivial’ offences such as shoplifting or other minor losses are not always recorded, for example. In these circumstances, cases such as offending of the mentally ill or of minors may be disregarded and under-looked, particularly when the police have ‘more serious’ cases to deal with. Most police officers have powers of discretion and can substantially impact the number of offences that are recorded (Baltimore Sun, 2009). Officers who are lazy, unwilling to do paperwork, or feel that they will not be able to get a conviction may fail to record these crimes. Poorly performing police departments often have an incentive to stop recording crimes as it makes them look more successful than they actually are. There have also been cases where the offence has not been recorded due to the fact that the person against whom the case is being filed is rich or powerful in society, such as one case in the US, where police failed to file a complaint that was made by an elderly woman about a fraud run by a private corporation in her nursing home. These omissions and systematic bias may distort the overall picture of crime and its statistics (Coleman, 1996). Failure to file the report in the correct police department may also have a direct impact on the cases. If the case is filed in the wrong department, the file may get lost in transaction to the correct department, causing action on the case to not be initiated (Times, 2008). Police priorities might also affect the detection rate of crimes. For instance, ‘skewing’ is when police activity is directed towards easier-to-solve crimes to boost detection rates, at the expense of more serious offences such as sex crimes or child abuse. There are several different methods used by the police that can further contribute to the ‘dark figure’ of crime. These include procedures such as cuffing, in which officers make crimes disappear from official figures by either recording them as ‘false reports’ or downgrading their seriousness. For example, a robbery in which a mobile phone is stolen with violence or threats of violence is simply recorded as ‘theft from the person’, which is not classed as a violent crime. Another limitation is that some crimes may be reported more than others, such as cases that involve insurance claims for cars or other goods. Other issues stem from how the data is collected. Crimes of violence, for example, are statistically assessed against the overall number of adults in England and Wales. In this case, illegal immigrants or anyone who does not appear in official registers are not included.In addition to this, surveys conducted by household, for instance, don’t include the victimisation of homeless people (Kershaw et al., 2000). Furthermore, crimes in which offenders and victims are both consenting parties (such as drug dealing) are largely underreported (Kershaw et al., 2000). This leads to the official crime statistics being completely different to the levels of crime in actuality. 
The flaws in data collection lead to a limited amount of data being available, and a metaphor used to describe this situation is that it is like an iceberg; there is only a small amount that people know about criminal activity in relation to the actual figures. Criticisms of data collection are that it fails to recognise the complexity of crime (Coleman, 1996), and that what is known is actually probably roughly equal to what is ‘dark’ or hidden. 
Since there are so many issues with the way that official statistics get recorded, alternative methods were introduced, specifically the Victims Survey and British Crime Survey. The most significant change that this brought was that it focused a lot more on the offence rather than the offender, including large amounts of information about when, where, how and who is, or is most likely to be, affected by which crimes (Maguire et al., 2007). However, as with most things, there are disadvantages to using these surveys. A common criticism of surveys is that there is an issue of how the representative sample is selected and ensuring that all groups are represented. Due to bias and underlying hypotheses, people may focus on poorer areas and lower socio-economic classes. Victims of crime are more likely than average members of society to be poor, homeless, mentally ill, or distrustful of officials who call to ask complicated, intrusive questions. Indeed, those most fearful of crime are least like to open their doors to pollsters. It may also be the case that these surveys are not frequent enough to effectively collect information about offences, because they are only annually administered. Another problem with this is that people may fill in the gaps with information they think the researcher would want to hear. A common issue again even with these surveys is that people may fail to include certain crimes in their answers because they feel ashamed of incidences either because they are of an embarrassing nature, or because they were doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, such as hiring prostitutes or buying and taking drugs. 
The format for the British Crime Survey was established in 1982 and has changed remarkably little since then; there is a list of crimes that people are asked about and it is a private survey in which respondents can give confidential information (Maguire et al., 2007). The main principle of the British Crime Survey is that by asking people about their experiences, the problems that could occur in police recording are avoided, and in theory their responses will lead to a more valid picture of crime and effectively highlight trends. However, the survey omits some crimes from their list, including crimes against businesses, fraud, motor offences and ‘victimless’ crimes. Sexual offences are also so infrequently reported through this survey that no reliable data has yet to be constructed. Another disadvantage is that only people over the age of sixteen are questioned, which ignores a great quantity of other crimes.
The implications of this are that they still do not give a total picture of crime, as they only investigate selected crimes, and therefore are not efficient in providing a true, clear picture of the true extent of crime. According to Sparks et al. (1977) and their victim survey, the overall ‘dark figure’ that they found was eleven times greater than that of the figure police came up with, but that the statistics overall shape appeared to be similar, just with different numbers shown. On the other hand, some researchers have found that the crime surveys show that the ‘dark figure’ is much smaller than suggested, and that many of the crimes not reported by the police may be small, as the nature of most law breaking is petty (Hough and Mayhew, 1983).
In contrast to all this, institutionalists argue that the official data represent the real crimes since they are the ones defined as crimes by the concerned agencies. They therefore argue that it is not a mistake to fail to record a crime, as it has to be realised that if an act is not recorded, it is because it fails to meet the criteria of the definition of crime by the agencies that are involved. The crime may therefore not be falling within the classification of crimes by the relevant authority. Therefore, according to this theory the ‘dark figure of crime’ does not exist.
Collecting data always has possible issues that need to be kept in mind when looking at the results, and evidence shows that wether you use official statistics or alternative methods such as surveys, there are still problematic areas. The bad news is that there is still more crime than we are likely to ever know the extent of, but the good news is that researchers have suggested that it is like to be petty crime, and that the more serious offences are usually recorded. The basic trends from the different forms of data differ in numbers, but on the whole appear to draw the same shape of crime, which suggests that the methodology doesn’t influence general trends too significantly. Maguire (2007) questioned how meaningful it is to count crime, but if we do, I don’t think that any form of data collection could give us the whole picture. 

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