Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Crime against Businesses in Two Ethnically Diverse Communities

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Crime against Businesses in Two Ethnically Diverse Communities

Article excerpt

This paper reports on a face-to-face survey conducted with 337 small businesses in two ethnically-concentrated communities. Interviews were conducted in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and English. Controlling for other factors, Chinese businesses were at greater risk of shoplifting and Vietnamese businesses were at greater risk of burglary and vandalism compared with English speaking businesses, while English speaking businesses were at greater risk of robbery and/or verbal abuse and/or physical assault. Cheque and credit card fraud was also more prevalent against English speaking businesses. Only one in five recent incidents of crime was reported to police with large reporting variations depending on the type of crime. Although low proficiency in English was not associated with actual victimisation, it was associated with a lower likelihood of reporting shoplifting and burglary. Fear of reprisal also reduced the likelihood of reporting crimes where the offender could potentially identify the victim. There are some important findings in this paper that should resonate with those implementing local crime prevention strategies in ethnically diverse communities.

Toni Makkai


Australia is an immigrant society, with almost one-quarter of its population in 2005 estimated to have been born overseas (ABS 2006). Ofthose born overseas, 20 percent were born in southeast or northeast Asia (6% from China and provinces, 4% from Vietnam), while six percent were born in North Africa or the Middle East. Approximately 60 percent of overseas-born migrants were born in countries where English is either not an official language or is not the main language spoken by most of the population. Language and cultural differences can discourage integration for non-English speaking migrants, and many may choose to live in areas where others from similar backgrounds live. This is evident, for example, in the 'Chinatowns' in major cities around the western world, including Australia.

Residing within homogeneous communities can provide benefits to migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds through cushioning the transition to a new environment (Song 1992). The ability to speak with others in the same language and to interact on the basis of shared cultural norms may also provide a buffer to crime through increased social protection and reduced likelihood of being victimised by people of the same ethnic background. In other words, a 'cocoon' effect may result which protects ethnic communities from crime.

On the other hand, it is also possible that certain types of criminal activity may be more likely to flourish within these communities precisely because they are cocooned from the wider Australian culture, norms and laws. Of all non- English speaking immigrants who arrived in Australia in 2001 , nearly one-third rated their ability to speak English as 'not well' or 'not at all' (ABS 2003). Poor proficiency in English has been associated with higher criminal victimisation (Chin, Fagan & Kelly 1992; Kelly, Chin & Fagan 2000), primarily because of communication barriers. Research also suggests that language and cultural barriers can foster environments in which crime can be committed with little fear of it being reported to police (e.g. Davis & Erez 1998; Torres & Vogel 2001). Lack of trust in authorities and the police, inability to communicate with others in English, and lack of knowledge about how laws and social norms in the broader Australian community operate, may encourage criminal activity by inhibiting reporting and communication outside the immediate community.

While interest in crimes against the business sector has grown in recent years (Alvazzi Del Frate 2004; Taylor & Mayhew 2002) and surveys have tried to uncover its nature and extent (e.g. Hopkins & Ingram 2001; Hopkins 2002), there has been relatively little research focused on ethnic businesses. This is an important omission as issues of culture and language might mean the types of crime experienced by businesses where the owners are English speakers may differ from those businesses where this is not the case. …

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