Australian Institute of Criminology

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Volume of crime

It is common knowledge that police recorded crimes do not reflect the totality of crimes in Australia. Since the 1970s a number of industrialised countries have begun conducting national victimisation surveys to estimate the true extent of crime. The information gleaned from these surveys supplements the statistics produced by police services.

In Australia, four such surveys have been conducted by the ABS, Crime and Safety Australia for 1998 being the latest. This survey, conducted in April 1998, estimated 2.6 million crimes against individuals and their household property in the previous 12 months. Not all crime categories can be compared directly with police statistics. The household crime of motor vehicle theft is the one that compares well with police recorded crimes. Generally, the survey estimate is higher than the police statistics because it includes unreported crimes.

Crime and safety survey

The survey is conducted principally to obtain information on the level of victimisation in the community for five selected offences:

  • break-in/attempted break-in
  • motor vehicle theft
  • robbery
  • assault
  • sexual assault

Information was collected from individuals and households about their experience of these selected crimes, and for the 12 months prior to the survey, whether these crimes were reported to police and crime-related risk factors.

Data was obtained from about 42 200 persons aged 15 years and over and from approximately 20 900 households. Information on sexual assaults was only collected from females aged 18 years and over. It must also be noted that this survey only covers people living in private dwellings. It does not include such people as the homeless or those living in special accommodation, or crimes against commercial establishments or government agencies.

Table 1 presents information on the prevalence of victimisation by household and personal crimes across Australia in the 12 months prior to April 1998.

Table 1 : Victims of selected household and personal crimes, 1998 : number and prevalence of victimisation
OffenceVictimsPrevalence (%)
Break-in349 9005.0
Attempted break-in226 4003.2
Break-in or attempted break-in534 1007.6
Motor vehicle theft117 9001.7
Total household victims652 0009.0
Robbery79 1000.5
Assault618 3004.3
Sexual assault30 1000.4
Total personal victims727 5004.8
  • The most commonly mentioned crime was assault which includes any incident where the victim was pushed, shoved, hit, attacked with a weapon etc. or threatened with violence. 618 300 people indicated they were a victim of assault, with a prevalence rate of 4.3% in the general population.
  • The next most common crime was break and enter and attempted break and enter, with 534 100 households being victims of at least one break-in or attempted break-in.

Repeat victimisation

Many victims suffer repeated incidents of crime. There were a total of 652 000 victims of household crime compared to 939 700 incidents, and 727 500 victims of personal crime compared to 1 698 200 incidents.

Table 2 presents the percentage of victims experiencing one or more incidents of victimisation in the 12 months prior to April 1998. Of those who were victimised, a significant proportion was victimised more than once.

Table 2 : Percentage of victims by number of incidents of victimisation in the 12 months prior to April 1998
Incident typeNumber of incidents (%)
123+
Break-in80.215.24.7
Attempted break-in67.124.48.5
Motor vehicle theft90.87.31.9
Robbery77.314.58.2
Assault54.621.324.2
Sexual assault73.09.917.1
  • Repeat victimisation over the 12-month period was more likely to occur with assault than for other crimes covered in the survey, with 46% of assault victims experiencing two or more assaults.
  • Victims of motor vehicle theft were the least likely to experience repeat victimisation in the 12-month period.
  • Assault victims experienced an average of 2.5 incidents in the 12-month period, compared with an average of 1.6 incidents for victims of attempted break-in, 1.3 incidents for victims of actual break-in, 1.6 incidents for victims of sexual assault, 1.5 for victims of robbery and 1.1 for victims of motor vehicle theft.

Reporting crime

It is well known that not all crime is reported to police, and rates of reporting vary depending on the type of offence. Of crime that is reported to police, not all is recorded by them.

Figure 1 displays the number of crimes that were reported/not reported to police following the most recent incident.

Figure 1 : Reporting of crime to police, Australia 1998

Figure 1

  • Victims of household crime are more likely to report the incident to police than victims of personal crimes such as assault and sexual assault.
  • The highest rate of reporting was for motor vehicle theft, with 95% of victims reporting the incident to police.
  • The lowest rates of reporting were for assault and sexual assault, with only 28% and 33% of victims reporting the incidents, respectively.
  • Many crimes were not reported to police because victims thought it was 'too trivial/unimportant', 'there was nothing police could do', or it was a 'personal matter and they would take care of it themselves'.

As mentioned previously, not all crime that is reported to police is recorded. There are many reasons why an incident that is reported to police may not be recorded as a crime. See Reference 1.

Figure 2 displays a comparison between the level of crime reported to police, as indicated by victims participating in the crime and safety survey, and the level of crime recorded by police, as indicated by recorded crime figures. The comparison is made for the number of incidents becoming known to/recorded by police from May 1997 to April 1998.

Please note that the crime and safety survey only covers people living in private dwellings, and does not include such people as the homeless or people living in special accommodation, or crimes against commercial establish-ments or government agencies. The recorded crime statistics in Figure 2 below have been made comparable in that they only include break and enters from households, and the personal crimes of robbery and assault are only for persons aged 15 and over and sexual assault only for females aged 18 and over.

Figure 2: Number of incidents becoming known to/recorded by police, May 1997 to April 1998

Figure 2

  • For most offences, the survey estimates of incidents becoming known to the police considerably exceed the number recorded by police. Motor vehicle theft is the only category where the numbers are similar.
  • About 70% of robberies and assaults, and 50% of sexual assaults which survey participants indicated had been reported to police were not recorded as crimes.

Source: Reference 1