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Why Do People Commit Crime?

Crime is difficult to explain or understand as a concept because it covers many diverse forms of behaviour and there are no all-encompassing explanations. It is only useful as an umbrella term and makes little sense as an ontological category. Crime levels are at the lowest point yet, but people’s fear of crime is constantly increasing across most crime types. Although crime levels peaked in the early to mid-1990s, it began to decrease since 1995 and has levelled off in the past few years. Despite this huge decline, the UK prison population is at its highest level in history. This raises questions about how the rate of crime relates to the imprisonment rate. Crime is a significant part of contemporary society and it is a commonplace event, but it is not solely the acts of the “bad”, and it is not unusual. Despite the social reaction to crime, it makes up the fabric of modern life, and levels have significantly reduced in volume over the past decade and a half.

Sex offences against adults are an important issue in modern society. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 s.11 defines a sex offence: “A intentionally penetrates the anus, vagina or mouth of B with his penis. B does not consent to the penetration and A does not reasonably believe that B consents”. The current figures show that one in four women experience rape or attempted rape in the UK (Painter 1991). However, Police Rape Statistics in 2009/10, recorded that the national average resulting in sanction or detention is a mere 25%. It was also reported more recently that only 5.6% of women see their attacker convicted (Observer 2005). This demonstrates the problems with conviction and sentencing. Marital or partner rape is not seen as seriously as stranger rape, but marital rape was seven times more common than stranger rape (Lees 1997). This is furthered by the Rape Crisis Federation’s statistics: 97% of callers to Rape Crisis Federation knew their attacker prior to the attack.

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This suggests that victims are not always likely to inform the police about the attack. This may be due to feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness because rape convictions are so rare. There are many different theories created by academics to try and assess why offenders commit this crime. In 2002, Holmes and Holmes created typologies to describe different offenders. There is the “power assurance” type who aims to elevate their own status, has some concern for their victim, believes the victim enjoyed it and tends to re-offend regularly. The “anger retaliation” types aim to hurt women due to a perceived injustice and mostly come from divorced homes or physical abuse as a child. They typically have a one-off surge. The “power assertive” believe in male superiority and act aggressively to secure compliance. They usually attack once a month. The final type is a “sadistic” rapist who is believed to be the most dangerous.

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They are usually married with evidence of a personality disorder and are often compulsive with meticulous planning, and knowledge of police procedures. They use excessive degradation and need things to happen in a particular way to achieve sexual arousal. These typologies demonstrate that there are different reasons for offenders to attack, and they each have different characters and backgrounds. This contradicts with the media portrayal of all rapists as “mad” or “sick”. It is often a result of sexual abuse as a child or anger issues. This academic theory coincides with the biological perspectives theory that offenders have a high sex drive or too much testosterone. Some academics believe their sexual arousal and performance are dependant on situational factors and learning difficulties. Psychodynamic factors could also play a role in some cases due to a child’s Oedipal conflicts, which could be unresolved, causing a deviation from the norm. Freud’s view on the stages of development supports this theory, as the Oedipus complex could explain a boy’s warped relationship with their mother, for example, manifesting itself in later life, when a man attacks.

The learning theory explains that in some cases, there was a failure to learn appropriate social and sexual skills as a child. There are also socio-cultural theories such as the routine use of rape during war, or as a demonstration of power. Feminists have described rape as “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” (Brownmiller. 1975). Another under-reported yet common crime is domestic violence. In 2008, the National Police Improvement Agency defined domestic violence as “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”. There is no specific offence of domestic violence under criminal law, but many forms of domestic violence are crimes, such as assault, criminal damage, harassment, rape, and attempted murder.

It is difficult to measure the extent of the crime due to the focus on individual incidents in the media, and attrition in the criminal justice system. This gives a common public perception of domestic violence as one-off incidents, when in fact it has a cyclical and ongoing nature. On average, 35 assaults take place before the police are called, and every year there are 13 million incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from their partners or former partners. One of the major issues with a crime is repeat victimization. In 2007, of those who reported domestic violence, most experienced repeated abuse, and 9% were abused over twenty times that year. Perpetrators use a variety of tactics such as minimization, justification and victim-blaming to gain control over them and maintain it. They will use isolation, coercion, threats and intimidation.

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The offender exercises authority over the victim after they have challenged the perpetrator’s decisions. The attacker will control their partner’s routines, childcare practices and family finances, and question their loyalty. Women are just as likely to initiate violence as men (Stets and Strauss, 1990), which illustrates symmetry in terms of gender. This contradicts the popular view of men being the perpetrators. However, women are more likely to report chronic levels of abuse, injuries and emotional or psychological effects. Many academics have studied the pathology of the offenders and victims to understand the reasons for domestic violence. They suggest the offender has poor self-control, abnormal personality traits and often misuse of substances. There is often a pattern of similar relationships for the victim. However, these studies are gender-blind and neglect power relationships where there is mutual violent control between a couple of common couple violence.

The offenders are often men with lower socio-economic backgrounds and have committed other violent non-social acts. They may have previous convictions, alcohol dependency, and display macho, narcissistic attitudes towards women. Some academics have analyzed the social-structural reasons for domestic violence. Feminist theorists illustrate that crime is omnipresent both culturally and historically. Men have had the privilege to exercise power and control over women, and the subordination of women is part of life in a patriarchal society. They believe that there is a toleration of violence towards women in a wider social context of viewing women as men’s property, and therefore subject to abuse if they “misbehave”. This is similar to the masculinities theory, that men express their masculinity in a way that fits with what we understand to be the male gender norm. Jefferson defined this as “hegemonic masculinity” in 2001, as heterosexual men in our society are seen as the breadwinner and sexualize women.

Cybercrime is a more recent, ever-increasing offence involving a range of illicit, computer-related activities. It was defined by Thomas and Loader in 2000 as “Computer-mediated activities which are either illegal or considered illicit by certain parties, and which can be conducted through global electronic networks”. It has a technological classification as an old crime using new tools, but the legal classification involves cyber-pornography, cyber-violence, cyber-trespass and cyber-deceptions. It is difficult to assess the scale of internet offences because the official statistics are only social constructions due to the hidden nature of the offence. The hidden nature is due to the limited allocation of police resources and the global nature of the internet. It could be described as the massive, unknown figure of crime because it is a relatively new phenomenon with few laws in place. The police tend to focus on businesses and public sector organizations, and the worldwide cost of computer-related crimes was $1.6 trillion in 2000.

US police have reported that one-fifth of all sexual harassment and stalking cases now occur over the internet. One example of cybercrime is hackers, who have unauthorized access to computer systems. They deface websites, steal computer resources and confidential information and sabotage, alter or destroy systems. Their motivations are wide-ranging and often contradictory. It could simply be wanton destruction, or curiosity and self-assertion. They often have instrumental goals: computer-enabled fraud is performed for economic gain, whereas cyber-terrorism and hacking are for ideological reasons. Some hackers are computer enthusiasts wishing to expand the boundaries of knowledge by allowing the free flow and exchange of information. Hackers pose a challenge to the authorities because they are anonymous and disguised. There is also jurisdictional conflict because there is a lack of adequate provision, due to the nature of the internet. Websites can be found and shut down, then created again.

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There is a lack of specialized expertise and training in this area of law, and police are ill-equipped organisationally and occupationally to monitor cases on the internet. There has also been a consistent increase in hate speech, child pornography and other offensive content. The internet has provided a new frontier for global subcultures and due to the peripatetic nature of websites, quantification and regulation are extremely difficult. It provides an anonymous space for behaviour that would otherwise take place in non-virtual contexts. Filtering, internet service provider self-regulation and education about cybercrime have helped put some safeguards in place to prevent the viewing of offensive material and the protection of personal data, but it is still extremely difficult to harmonize national laws and cooperate in the prosecution of the widespread crimes.

In conclusion, there are a variety of reasons for people committing particular crimes and academic views of criminality often differ from popular, stereotypical views of the offender’s characteristics and motives. Those convicted of rape or sex offenders can have different economic and social backgrounds or learning difficulties, both of which affect the person’s development and social skills. Cybercrime is often committed due to ideological motives or simply a belief in the free flow of information. Academic theories illustrate that there are no all-encompassing definitions or explanations of crime; this is the antithesis to the media portrayal of crime. All three crime types cover many forms of behaviour and thus make little sense as ontological categories. They are too broad to be of any use in explaining individual situations and circumstances.

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Why Do People Commit Crime?. (2021, May 04). Retrieved August 8, 2022, from