Many people such as sociologists and criminologists use official crime statistics in their research. There are many reasons why using official statistics can be useful as they are readily available and provide detailed data which can often include large numbers of participants giving information. Within Australia the use of information collected from crime statistics amounts for a large proportion of what we know about crime in general, but with the use of crime statistics when measuring criminal activity there are also some criticisms. Two of the main criticisms include the limitations of statistics in general and the dark figure of crime, which can be described as the undetected or unreported act of crime.
The first criticism for using statistics to measure criminal activity is the fact that statistics can be very limiting as there is no way of gaining a complete number of crimes or measurements of criminal activity within any set of circumstances. Though the use of data from many different sources increases the power of the statistical analysis, it is also understood that some sources are more reliable than others when measuring certain statistics. With this being the case it makes it very difficult for an accurate analysis of these statistics to be established.
Within Australia, National crime statistics are generally taken from two major sources, Administrative data which includes records from hospitals, police, courts and corrective services, as well as Crime Victimisation surveys which include the Women Safety Survey (replaced by Personal Safety Survey), the International Crime Survey and the Australian Bureau of Statistics Crime and Safety Survey.
The reliability of these two major sources varies. When Hayes and Prenzler (2008, 40) assessed the numbers of households returning victimisation surveys it was recognised that approximately 75% of households returned the completed surveys. There are both advantages and disadvantages when using victimisation surveys to collect statistics. For face to face surveys it was noted that people could be non-responsive towards sensitive questions due to the presence of the interviewer. However this presence gave greater flexibility on how questions were going to be asked. While mail out surveys allowed people more time to assess the questions and answer accordingly but gave potentially lower response rates. Administrative data is a more reliable source as it usually is a reported incident that has been assessed by a professional, such as a police officer or hospital personnel. The disadvantage of administrative data is that it only shows the numbers of incident that have been reported. This leaves the unreported crimes or dark figures of crime to remain undetected. If these crimes could be detected it may significantly alter what statistics we gather from this type of data.
There are also certain types of crimes that are more likely to be reported than others which contributes to the limitations...