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Outline and assess the usefulness of victimisation surveys as a measurement of
Victimisation surveys are a useful method in estimating the extent and patterns of crime.
Before the 1970s, we relied on the government publication "Official Statistics" for data on
crime, but we can now gain information on unreported/unrecorded crime (Maguire 2002). In
a victim survey, a sample of the population is asked which offences have been committed
against them over a period of time. They can be carried out locally, nationally and
internationally. The best known victimisation survey is the British Crime Survey (BCS), which
has been operating since 1982 and is now a rolling survey.
The first BCS was undertaken in 1981/2 and was first published in 1983 (Hough and
Mayhew, 1983). Based on a representative sample of the population of England and Wales,
10,000 interviews were conducted. The first three `sweeps' used the electoral register as the
sample frame. This is a disadvantage in itself, as there is an underrepresentation of minority
ethnic groups. Respondents are asked a series of questions about crimes they may have
been a victim of within the past twelve months, they are then asked a series of other
questions relating to crime. There has been a change in the way questions were asked in the
first BCS (fear of, beliefs and attitudes towards, crime) and the way they were asked in the
second BCS (perceptions of crime, risks and modified fear of crime).
From 2001, the BCS has become an annual, rolling survey, and the sample has
increased to 40,000. The increase in sample size should make it more representative and
therefore make the results more generalisable. But this depends on whether the researchers
use a stratified sampling technique. Since 1994, the BCS had used CAPI (computer assisted
personal interviewing) with limited use of CASI (computer assisted self interviewing) for
sensitive questions. The use of CAPI makes the interview more objective and reliable,
because the researchers will ask the same questions in the same way to every respondent.
The use of CASI improves anonymity, as rape victims may be less willing to tell the
interviewer about the experience, for example. This therefore increases validity.
A big problem with the BCS is that there are so many crimes that the respondent
cannot say they have been a victim of. This includes things like murder and `victimless
crimes' such as recreational drug use. The BCS also does not include things like corporate
and environmental crime, which decreases validity. Another big problem is with the sample;
as it is a household sample. This, therefore, means that it excludes people living in hostels,
the homeless, and prisoners, all of whom probably have very high rates of victimisation. This
could greatly affect the validity of the data collected by the BCS, as the aim is to find
patterns and trends in victimisation.
Criticism of the BCS led to the development of local victimisation surveys. These
started emerging during the 1980s and 90s and tried to focus on the experiences of people
living in particular areas. The findings have shown many patters that could not be reflected in
the BCS, as the local studies took place in urban areas. The most famous local victimisation
studies were the Islington Crime Surveys (Harper et al. 1986 and Jones et al. 1995). These
showed that the BCS underreported the levels of victimisation of minority ethnic groups.
Local victimisation studies have found that Africans, Afro-Caribbeans and Asians are far more
likely to be victims of crime than whites.
Left realists argue that crime is a problem for the poorer groups in society, who are
more likely to be the victims of crime. They favour detailed victim surveys in local areas, as
these reveal the patterns of crime in urban areas, where the population may be more
predominantly working class. Marxists also favour local victim surveys as they show the
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Marxists disagree with
official statistics as they paint the picture that the poor are the perpetrators of crime and
the rich are the victims. Positivists take a scientific view of society, and believe that
everything that happens can be tested in the same way that we test natural phenomena.
They argue that official statistics paint a full picture of crime, and that victim surveys are