Thursday, 17 June 2010

Crime, children and statistics

The British Crime Survey has been mentioned quite a bit recently. One of the things that I noted was that it only covers crime against adults. They're currently looking at surveying children as well, which this BBC article covers.

There's a fair amount of trivialisation of crime against children going on in the article and to a lesser extent in the research too. The research summary (PDF) is on the Home Office website.

[trigger warning]

Using the "adult" definition of crime, they found that around 2.2 million personal crimes (theft and non-sexual violence) were committed against children aged 10 to 15 in England and Wales in 2009, which is around four times the adult rate.

They then looked at various exclusion categories:

  • Ignoring incidents defined as "childish behaviour". Some of these are things that would probably be ignored by most adults, too, but some are fairly serious incidents of bullying. This cut the figures down to 1.1 million (but note that it excludes some things that the children themselves considered to be crimes committed against them, and some things that were an interaction of the same sort to take place between two adults there would be no doubt that it was "really" a crime)

  • Another exclusion was to ignore all incidents that take place at schools. Down to 0.6 million, ignoring theft, assaults that left children bleeding, and probably some other nasty stuff.

    The interesting thing about this: ignoring incidents at school takes out almost three quarters of the crimes. What does this say about the safety of our schools for children and their ability to stop bullying?

    They say about these incidents in the PDF

    [...] the matter remains within the school's internal disciplinary processes. This is likely to result in most low-level incidents being dealt with by school authorities and not recorded as crimes by the police.

    Or ignored by school authorities and not recorded by the police, perhaps.

  • The final type of exclusion is to include only those incidents that the child themselves classifies as a crime, which only counts 0.4 million. Remember that children will probably have received less education than adults as to what counts as a crime, and that even with adults it has long been recognised that describing behaviours rather than naming specific crimes gives far more accurate results.

Now, I absolutely agree that prosecuting the offenders, who are also often children, in many of these cases is not in the public interest, or even in the interest of the victim (and unlikely to help reform or rehabilitate the offender either). Other options would need to be used, which might include the school's internal disciplinary processes.

I'm also, looking at the massive drop in estimated crime if incidents at school are dropped, even more convinced (as if I wasn't already) that schools view bullying as a natural part of school life, and are not anywhere near as serious as they should be about stopping it, given that they set up an environment where it is very likely to happen.

The pilot didn't cover sexual assaults and related crimes, which also happen to children a lot, but this is also true of the main BCS

The back pages of the PDF (29 and 30) have some consultation questions and an address to send responses too. It's worth sending something in, if you have any opinions on the matter.