Table of Contents
The advantages of the concept of ‘social harm’ over the concept of ‘crime’.
In most parts of Europe and the across the world, the study and understanding of crime is nowadays being redirected on appraising social harms, which are extensively definite and injurious compare to acts currently criminalized. The UK provides a lead example on this aspect by stating that one of the predominant aims of the Organized Crime Control Strategy is achieving a perceptible and lifelong decline in the harm associated with organized crime. Different features, such as violation of functional integrity, reputation, privacy, and material interests, all of which are borne by different entities including the individual persons, institutions, environment, and the society in general, characterize social harms.
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Traditionally, much interest has been placed on the causes of crime, the crime event, and on the victims of the crimes. However, focusing on social harm allows facilitates the development of means of systematically categorizing, appraising, and even associating the harms linked with the various criminal activities (Paoli and Greenfield n. d, p. 2). This approach is distinct from only focusing on the perceived seriousness of the criminal activity, the subsequent costs, and the effect of victimization. The primary focus is on the victims. It also focuses on the social aspect of human beings through which they forge relations and the corresponding ideal structures that give it concreteness (Lasslett 2010, p. 3). Consequently, by focusing on the social harms rather than the criminal activities themselves, the society is able to express the interrelations, that is, the relations among the members of the society. Social harms reflect a deviance from the established, albeit complex social media; the norms, traditions, concepts, and tools. The attitudes, understandings, perceptions, and experiences of people form the basis of identifying deviant behavior. Therefore, an analysis of social harms looks at the deeper forces disrupting these factors, such as unequal distribution of power between the different social groups. Victims in this approach have a higher involvement and participation in defining social harms.
The social harms approach also provides opportunities of focusing on the crimes of the powerful, that is, the government and established corporations from the different forms of social harms. On the physical harms, focus is on harms such as medical malpractice leading to death or injury, large-scale pollution, inadequate distribution of resources leading to lack of basic amenities for some people, and brutality from state officials. On the economic aspect, focus is on harms, such as unemployment, poverty, excessive taxation, misappropriation of funds by the government, corporate malpractice, inadequate welfare policies and programs, and cartels and their related activities. On the emotional aspect, social harms include ethnic profiling by state officials or inadequate intervention policies and control for victims of sexual abuse. Consequently, the social harms approach provides an opportunity of holding state officials and large corporations legally culpable of their actions that harm individuals’ welfare.
Understanding the social aspects that comprises human beings and their relations with other members of the society offer a clearer and more accurate picture of the actual activities that harm human beings over their lifetimes. This is opposed to the simple reliance on the pre-conceived notions and concepts of crime offered by the government. Understanding the underlying factors that lead to deviant behaviour, ranging from poverty, police brutality, ethnic profiling, to pollution can help in developing and implementing more effective policies of reducing the rates of criminal activities. It establishes the means of finding exactly the individuals or organizations culpable of causing harm regardless of their status in the society.
What can be learnt about crime by studying crime statistics?
The past decades have seen an increased need for dependable information relating to crime, perpetrators of criminal activities, and the administration of justice. A majority of European countries already have well-developed and systematic statistical programs of crime and criminal law enforcement. Two main conclusions arise from studying crime statistics, the crime volume and rate. The former refers to the number of crimes that happened in a particular location within a specified year while the latter represents the relativized number of crime on a per capita basis (Nolan 2004, p. 547). However, a problem with this approach is that crime is not manifested in only a single type of antisocial behaviour. It is rather a complex of interconnected human behaviours. Crime is not a homogenous phenomenon that can be measured using a single yardstick. One type of criminal behaviour can increase or decrease without any influence whatsoever from other types of criminal behaviours. Further, since crime statistics are primarily based on reported criminal activities to law enforcement agencies, they do not sufficiently and conclusively represent the actual rate of crimes in the said geographical area. This is because there are criminal activities that remain unreported and hence not include in the measurement of crime statistics. Thus, the problem of criminal statistics is not on matters of detail but the fundamental concepts involved in data collection.
The basic function of criminal statistics is providing quantitative information on crimes and criminals. This information entails descriptions of the events that are classified as breaches of the law applicable at the time and place of the event in addition to information on the decisions and actions undertaken by the authorized personnel regarding the individuals identified as the perpetrators of the criminal activity.
The information collected can be used in developing criminal behaviour theories. The factors contributing to criminal behaviours are assessed and recommendations drawn from the conclusions. This was the primary basis of early criminology theories development such as the classical theory, which held that chastisement could discourage society from carrying out criminal acts. Others such as the Marxist theory consider that capitalist civilizations are the basis of economic, social, and environmental problems that facilitate the commission of criminal activities, while the psychological theory uses the factors affecting an individual’s life like a difficult childhood or abusive parents in explaining crime. While the modern day theories still have their foundations on the earlier developed theories, they apply crime statistics to expand their understanding on crime and criminals. This has been the approach of many of the modern day criminology theory, such as the rational choice theory, which postulates that rational individuals who can be deterred through stringent punishments often commit criminal activities. The social conflict theory is almost similar to Marxism in explaining crime. It is concerned with the government’s role, the influence of capitalism and free enterprise economy on crime rate, and effectiveness of the judicial system.
All the above factors can only be studied with the help of crime statistics. Despite the aforementioned flaws in the collection of crime statistics, they provide substantial benefits, specifically in hypothesizing the possible causes of crime thereby drawing conclusions and recommendations on how to prevent crime. However, this does not support the accuracy of crime statistics. There are factors that prevents people from reporting crimes, such as lack of confidence in the justice system and fear of intimidation. Thus, the use of only reported cases cannot correctly reflect the full extent of crime rate.
The media as the window of the world or the more accurate prism of subtly bending and distorting the world it projects.
In contemporary societies, the availability and accessibility of information is crucial in the decision making processes of voters, investors, consumers, and business organizations. The primary source of this data is provided by the media, which includes television and radio stations, newspapers, and magazines. In the same respect, information technologies are being used on a large scale as sources of information. In particular, social media platforms have become dominant sources of data for governments, corporations, and other entities in understanding the human society (Leetaru 2016). The media is the foundation of democratic societies through which errors and wrongdoings of the leaders and powerful people are unearthed as well as providing a medium for deliberation (Fog 2013, p. 1). However, the question lies on whether the media reflects reality exactly or distorted.
Currently, it appears as if the majority of topics that interest most of the mainstream media involve scandals, violence, gossip, and the private lives of celebrities and politicians. Many times, isolated cases of criminal activities are blown out of proportion at the expense of the more serious and frequent crime, such as embezzlement of public funds, pollution, and racial profiling. For example, in the United States, which has the highest number of incarcerated individuals among the industrialized countries, the media has advanced the phenomenon of popular punitiveness. This is where crime policies are popularized through the media to gain public opinion. A majority of Americans obtain their information from second-hand sources, that is, the media, which effectively explains the catchy phrases used in anticrime policies, such as ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws that created widespread public campaigns (Rosenberger and Callanan 2011, p. 436). The highly broadcasted abduction and murder of 12-year old Polly Klaas was particularly instrumental in the passage of the three strikes law. The irony of the rapidly increasing number of crimes and incarcerations in the US is how crime is included in all news and entertainment channels, in most instances carrying the lead story.
The disproportionate attention on the more serious and heinous crimes compared to the less serious ones creates an impression of an ineffective system that is incapable of quelling crime. Consequently, people overestimate the rate of violent crimes and perceive a leniency in the sentences meted. As a result, they will vie the ‘real world’ with mistrust and fear as they see almost every person as capable of committing a crime. The extensive consumption creates an assumption of a mean world in which an individual is in constant fear of perceived danger and higher demands for policies to offer protection. This may explain why the US has a relatively higher number of crime-related policies and regulations that ultimately leads to higher numbers of incapacitated individuals.
In conclusion, this creates the phenomenon of media construct reality that is characterized by factors such as films and daily films depicting social activities like crime, faction journalism, the conscious and intentional branding and labelling, and an increased media staged and constructed stories of real events. This has led to the inflation of the reality construction where thoughts, words, and events have to be replaced before being communicated.
- Fog, A., 2013. The Supposed and the Real Role of Mass Media in Modern Democracy. [Online]. Available at < http://www.agner.org/cultsel/mediacrisis.pdf> accessed October 31, 2017.
- Lasslett, K., 2010. Crime or Social Harm? A Dialectical Perspective. Springer Science and Business Media, DOI 10.1007.
- Leetaru, K., 2016. Does Social Media Actually Reflect Reality? [Online]. Available at <https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2016/02/16/does-social-media-actually-reflect-reality/#3d9927d44e43> accessed October 31, 2017.
- Nolan, J. J., 2004. Establishing the Statistical Relationship between Population Size and UCR Crime Rate: Its Impact and Implications. Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 32, pp. 547-555.
- Paoli, L., and Greenfield, V. A., n. d. Harm: A Neglected Concept in Criminology, A Necessary Benchmark for Crime-Control Policy. [Online]. Available at <https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/355934/2/Paoli+%26+Greenfield_Harm_Neglected+Concept_Draft+Manuscript_2013.pdf> accessed October 31, 2017.
- Rosenberger, J. S., and Callanan, V. J., 2011. The Influence of Media on Penal Attitudes. Criminal Justice Review, Vol. 36, pp. 435-455.