Australian Institute of Criminology

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Volume of crime

Police recorded crimes do not reflect the totality of crimes in Australia. Police become aware of a fraction of all crimes, and only a portion of all reported crime is recorded as such in police systems. Since the 1970s, most industrialised countries have conducted crime 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, of which Crime and Safety Australia 1998 is the latest. The ABS plans to conduct the next national survey in April 2002.

International Crime Victims Survey

Australia participates in the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS), which was first conducted in 1989 and repeated in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Australia did not take part in the 1996 survey.

The ICVS is a fully standardised survey conducted in a number of countries around the world that enables international comparisons of crime victimisation and attitudes toward crime and the criminal justice system. Seventeen industrialised countries participated in the 2000 ICVS. The Australian Institute of Criminology coordinated the Australian component of the survey.

The Australian component of the ICVS was conducted in March 2000 and collected data about experiences of victimisation for the following offences:

Household offences

  • break and enter (attempted and completed);
  • motor vehicle theft;
  • motor vehicle damage; and
  • theft from motor vehicle.

Personal offences

  • robbery;
  • assault;
  • sexual offences (rape, attempted rape, indecent assault and offensive sexual behaviours); and
  • theft from the person.

There are some differences between the ABS crime victims survey and the 2000 ICVS. Unlike the ABS survey, the ICVS has a much smaller sample size (3 031) and lower response rate (56%). The ICVS uses Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) as the data collection methodology. Residents of private dwellings aged 16 years and over were in the scope of the survey.

Table 1 contains data on the number of victims per 100 persons or households, also known as prevalence rates, and numbers of incidents per 100 persons or households, also known as incidence rates as estimated by the 2000 ICVS. As some persons (households) are victimised on more than one occasion, incidence rates will often be higher than prevalence rates.

Table 1 : Victims of selected household and personal crimes, 1999 : Number of victims (prevalence) and number of incidents per 100 relevant population
OffencePrevalence rate (%)Incidence rate (%)
1 Rape/attempted rape and indecent assault of females aged 18 years and over.
2 Non-assaultive sexual offences of females aged 18 years and over.
Break-in4.35.9
Attempted break-in3.44.4
Break-in/attempted break-in7.110.1
Motor vehicle theft1.71.8
Motor vehicle damage9.011.6
Theft from motor vehicle6.38.6
Total household victims20.631.5
Robbery0.71.8
Assault7.812.9
Sexual assault 11.33.3
Other sexual offences 25.614.9
Theft from the person7.410.2
Total personal victims16.133.6
  • The most commonly mentioned personal crimes were assault and theft from the person.
  • Persons most at risk from these two types of offences included young people, never married persons, students and those who regularly go out in the evening for the purposes of entertainment.
  • The most common household crime was motor vehicle damage, followed by residential burglary, with 9% and 7% of households, respectively, being victims at least once.
  • One in three persons (households) experienced an incident of personal (household) crime in 1999.

Repeat victimisation

Repeat victimisation refers to a person or household being a victim of the same offence on more than one occasion during 1999.

There was a total of 2 204 517 incidents of household crime compared to 1 356 247 victims, and 4 700 949 incidents of personal crime compared to 2 246 572 victims, indicating that many victims suffer repeated incidents of crime.

Table 2 : Percentage of repeat victims, 1999
OffenceVictimised more than once in 1999(%)
1 and 2: See Table 1.
Break-in19.5
Attempted break-in17.4
Motor vehicle theft8.0
Motor vehicle damage21.8
Theft from motor vehicle23.7
Robbery20.3
Assault29.0
Sexual assault 145.3
Other sexual offences 260.9
Theft from the person20.9
  • For personal offences, repeat victimisation was highest for sexual offences, with 45% of sexual assault victims and 61% of other sexual offence victims reporting more than one incident in 1999.
  • Of the motor vehicle-related offences, victims of motor vehicle theft were less likely to be repeat victims than those who were victims of the other two types of vehicle crimes.
  • About one in five victims of residential burglary reported being a victim of this offence on more than one occasion in 1999.

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, seriousness of incident and victim-offender relationship. In addition, police record only a portion of all reported crime.

Figure 1 : Personal offences, percentage of incidents reported to police, Australia, 1999

Figure 1

  • The highest rate of reporting was for robbery, with 57% of victims reporting the incident to police.
  • Assault (43%) and theft from the person (39%) had similar rates of reporting.
  • Only 15% of victims of sexual offences reported the incident to the police.

Figure 2 : Household offences, percentage of incidents reported to police, Australia, 1999

Figure 2

  • The highest rate of reporting was for motor vehicle theft, with 96% of victims reporting the incident to police.
  • The lowest rate of reporting was for motor vehicle damage (32%). This was the most common household offence, with one in 11 households being victims in 1999. It is likely that the majority of incidents were not of a serious nature.
  • Most crimes were not reported to police because victims thought it was 'too trivial/unimportant', 'there was nothing police could/would do', or it was a 'personal matter and they would take care of it themselves'.

Source: Reference 1