We Are Facing a Global Crime Wave

By Stephens, Gene | USA TODAY, July 1995 | Go to article overview

We Are Facing a Global Crime Wave


Stephens, Gene, USA TODAY


In addition to the ongoing drug trade, car theft rings, child pornography, industrial espionage, and extortion all are crossing borders with impunity.

CRIME is on the rise worldwide, and available evidence indicates this trend will continue into the next century. Crime rates always have been high in multicultural, industrialized, democratic societies such as the U.S., but a new phenomenon has appeared on the world scene--rapidly escalating crime rates in nations that previously reported few offenses. Street crimes such as murder, assault, rape, robbery, and auto theft are increasing, particularly in some formerly communist countries such as Hungary and in western European nations such as Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.

U.S. crime rates remain the highest in the world over all, but ironically, as rates climb elsewhere, reported crime rates in the U.S. have begun to stabilize and even decrease, and self-report crime studies indicate street crime has been on a downward trend for almost two decades. By 1994, fewer than one in four households was being affected personally by crime, compared to one in three in 1975.

One group of offenses that appears to be escalating everywhere in the Western world and in high-tech societies elsewhere is white-collar crime--from breach of trust and fraud to computer theft. It is expected to continue unabated in the near future. Few countries have been able to gain a good perspective on types and amounts of these crimes as they are difficult to define, discover, enforce, and adjudicate, and there is little government or public support to place priority on curtailing them. Yet, in Russia, authorities say nearly all businesses in Moscow and other major cities must pay "protection" money to organized groups. In the U.S., tax fraud is believed to cost taxpayers and consumers at least 10 times as much as the harm done by all street crimes combined.

What is driving this crime explosion, and what can be done to curb it? There are not any simple answers. Crime is a lot like concert is serious, potentially deadly, comes in many varieties, and is hard to treat and almost impossible to eradicate. Still, there are certain conditions associated with rising crime: increasing heterogeneity of populations, greater cultural pluralism, higher immigration, realignment of national borders, democratization of governments, greater economic growth, improving communications and computerization, and the rise of anomie--the lack of accepted norms.

These conditions increasingly are observable around the world. For instance, cultures that previously were isolated and homogeneous--such as Japan, Denmark, China, and Greece--are facing the sort of cultural diversity that has been the norm in the U.S. for most of its history. Meanwhile, the breakup of the Eastern Bloc has led to attempts to democratize formerly communist countries and also put many citizens on the move in a search for a better life. International migration has hit an all-time high and will not peak for several more years.

Multiculturalism can be a rewarding, enriching experience, but also can lead to a clash of values and frequent warfare if peaceful systems of conflict resolution are not established and accepted. Heterogeneity in societies will be the rule in the 21st century, and failure to recognize and plan for such diversity can lead to serious crime problems.

The connection between crime and culture can not be overemphasized. In the years ahead, many low-crime cultures may become high-crime ones because of changing demographics and politico-economic systems. In general, heterogeneous populations in which people have lots of freedom (democracy) and economic choice (capitalism) are prime candidates for crime unless a good socialization system is created and maintained.

Currently, much of the world is in a state of "normlessness." The traditional social order has broken down, and there is a lack of clear-cut, well-established laws and limitations on behavior. …

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