Trends in Violent Crime

Article excerpt

The public's perception is that violence is increasing, but trends in violent crime reported to police since the early 1990s reveal a mixed story. Homicide has decreased by nine percent since 1990 and armed robbery by one-third since 2001, but recorded assaults and sexual assaults have both increased steadily in the past 10 years by over 40 percent and 20 percent respectively. The rate of aggravated assault appears to have contributed to the marked rise in recorded assault, and for both assault and sexual assault the rate of increase was greater for children aged under 15 years, with increases almost double that of the older age group. Neither population changes among young adult males nor rates of offending seem to explain the trends in recorded violent crime, and indicators of change in reporting to police provide only a partial explanation. Based on self-reported victimisation and reporting to police, it would seem increased reporting of assault is somewhat responsible for the rise in recorded assault rates against adult victims. However, victimisation survey data suggest there has been little change in rates of sexual assault, although reporting to police by women seems to have increased. Victimisation survey data also do not illuminate the most significant recorded increase in violent victimisation, against children, as they are collected less frequently and only apply to those aged at least over 15 years. The paper speculates that the rise could be due to better public understanding of child protection issues and increased reporting due to public awareness of what constitutes physical and sexual assault - especially within the family - but this requires further investigation to examine how many recorded violent crimes against children relate to current and/or past events and of the relationship to the offender.

Judy Putt

General Manager, Research

Violent crime, with the intention of causing (or threatening) physical harm or death to the victim, attracts more attention and debate than other forms of crime. Sustained media attention combined with high-profile incidents - such as the shootings at Port Arthur (Tasmania), and Monash University and Flinders Lane in Melbourne; gang rapes in Sydney; and organised crime-related murders have prompted a view among the Australian public that violent crime is increasing in Australia. Over two-thirds of Australians (70%) interviewed in the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes believed crime had increased since 2001 ; 39 percent of respondents thought it had 'increased a lot' (lndermaur & Roberts 2005). However, commentators on violent crime are more cautious in their interpretation of the trends. Earlier research that examined changes in violent crime detected sustained increases in recorded rates of assault, sexual assault (rape) and robbery that began or intensified in the 1 991s (Carcach 2005; lndermaur 1996, 2000; Ross & Polk 2005). While rates of recorded assault and sexual assault continued to rise into the early 2000s, rates of robbery began to decline. In contrast, the homicide rate has remained relatively stable since it peaked in the 1970s. Any year-to-year fluctuations observed in homicide rates is believed to be more a function of the small number of homicides that occur in Australia each year than any real changes in incidence (Mouzos 2000).

Homicide is often used as a gauge of the level of violence occurring in society, so the different patterns observed for other types of criminal violence have necessitated their closer scrutiny to help explain the disparity. Some of the increase in recorded violent crime has been attributed to increased reporting to police. However, Ross and Polk (2005) argued that changes in rates of homicide, assault and robbery more likely reflect real changes in the occurrence of these crimes than in a greater propensity to report. Lack of correlation between patterns in recorded crime data with that drawn from victimisation surveys suggests that such an assumption cannot be made so readily (Carcach 2005). …