Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Violence and Non-Reporting

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Violence and Non-Reporting

Article excerpt

When alcohol and other drug-related assaults are not reported to police, there is cause for community concern. Unreported crime has impacts on victims and on society at large. If citizens refrain from reporting crime, new policy initiatives may not be developed and the threat of repeat victimisation remains. There is, of course, a di fficult balance to maintain, and that involves judgements about the seriousness of assaults. While all assaults cause concern, police should not be involved in trivial matters. Overall public satisfaction with police is high, with about 15 per cent of the Australian public expressing any degree of dissatisfaction with police services.

This paper, which reports data from the National Drug Strategy Household Surveys, shows that experience of verbal and physical abuse and being put in fear declines with age from the 20s onwards for both males and females. However, older people are more inclined than younger persons to report physical violence to police (older men much more so than older women).

During 1998, nearly 70 per cent of victims of an alcohol-related assault did not report the incident(s) to police. One in 6 of these victims stated they did not report the matter (s) because the police could not do anything and 1 in 9 stated the police would not do anything. A further 1 in 2 victims thought the violence was too trivial for the police to deal with.

Adam Graycar


Confidence in the appropriateness of law enforcement behaviour is fundamental to a civil society. In particular, when crimes against a person are committed, the community expects police to intervene and to commence the process of bringing the perpetrator to justice. Appropriateness of response, however, can be a nonresponse in some instances and law enforcement agencies are sometimes faced with difficult choices. Nonetheless, when public confidence in police is lacking, or where the public fears police involvement, public safety itself is at risk. Between 1968 and 1988, for example, levels of public respect for police declined considerably in all states (Wilson 1988). Revelations in a number of commissions of enquiry in the 1990s may not have improved the situation, and 13-15 per cent of Australians still reported dissatisfaction or extreme dissatisfaction with police services in 1998 (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1998a).

Violence continued to be a national concern in Australia in the 1990s. In 1998, nearly half (48%) of all sentenced prisoners were convicted for offences involving violence or the threat of violence (ABS 1999). It is estimated that alcohol is involved in approximately half of all violent crime (White and Humeniuk 1993). An apparent reluctance to report violent incidents to police is as concerning as the prevalence of violence itself. Often referred to as "dark figures" of crime (Carcach 1997, Mukherjee and Graycar 1997; Coleman and Moynihan 1996), unreported incidents prevent the true picture of violent crime in Australia being known and lessen the likelihood of developing effective initiatives to reduce violence.

Factors that influence a victim's decision to report physical abuse are complex and interrelated. They can range from the perceived seriousness of the crime to the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator (Carcach 1997; Greenberg and Ruback 1992). One of the recurring reasons given by victims for not reporting physical abuse to the police is a lack of confidence in their capacity and/ or their willingness to do anything.

The International Crime Victims Survey conducted in 11 industrialised countries in 1996 revealed that many victims of physical abuse did not report their experience to police because of (among other factors) negative attitudes towards police (Mayhew and Van Dijk 1997). On average, only 38 per cent of assaults and threats from the previous year were reported. When victims of a range of contact crimes were asked about decisions not to report the incidents to police, 12 per cent stated the police could not have done anything, 7 per cent stated the police would not do anything, and a smaller percentage (4%) stated that they did not report because of a fear or dislike of police. …

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