Violent crime in Australia: interpreting the trends


This paper suggests that homicide levels are a good indicator of levels of violence generally, and that as homicide data are reliable and show no increase in the rate of homicide, it follows that trends in non-lethal violence are commensurate. Evidence for this is borne out by victimisation surveys. This proposition will certainly generate debate, and can be tested only by regular, standardised, comparable victim surveys.

There are two main sources of authoritative data in Australia, police data and victim survey data. While police statistics on non-fatal forms of violence such as assault show dramatic increases over the past 20 years, victim survey data reveal no increase in this offence. The essay which follows explores this apparent paradox.

Although this paper argues that trend data on violence do not paint a picture of significant growth, it should not be interpreted to suggest that the level of violence in Australia today is in any way acceptable. The contribution of this paper lies in the insights which it provides on the analysis and interpretation of crime statistics, and its identification of such important underlying factors as changes in the demographic profile of Australian society. It also helps provide a context for important policy initiatives such as the Australian Violence Prevention Awards, and the National Campaign Against Violence and Crime.