Argentina’s dark figure of unreported crimes

Policia_Metropolitana_-_Buenos_Aires_-_ArgentinaAll countries invariably endeavour to understand trends and patterns in criminal activity. Citizens’ crime reports are a country’s primary source of information on violence and crimes, and therefore form the basis for public safety policy-making. In Argentina, however, there is considerable concern about the reliability of those figures.

The concern is because only a small number of crimes are reported and registered by the authorities. And it’s well-known that, for various reasons, many crimes are not included in the national crime statistics.

The term used to describe offences that are committed but, for many different reasons, never recorded by the authorities is the dark figure of crimes. And it’s the existence of this dark figure which prevents the authorities from obtaining an accurate overall picture of criminal activity. The problem is particularly severe in less developed countries, which have the lowest reporting rates.

And while there is an individual dark figure for each type of crime and context, it’s believed that, on average, almost 70% of crimes go unreported. This number could be as high as 90% for certain types of more widespread crimes, such as minor property infringements, gender abuse, domestic abuse, and offences relating to corruption and drug trafficking.

In Argentina, 62.6% of offences go unreported. This figure has profound implications for policy-making designed to prevent and control the crime rate. It’s because of this that victimisation surveys play such a crucial role.

When the number of unreported crimes for each type of criminal activity is analysed, a clear correlation between the type of crime and the dark figure associated with it can be identified. While the dark figure for vehicle theft is lower than 20%, other crimes have a dark figure of more than 50%.

The motivation to report a crime is related to the reporter’s expectation that the perpetrator will be punished, damage repaired, or stolen possessions recovered.

The main reasons behind people choosing not to report a crime are: a lack of confidence in the authorities’ ability to solve the problem (34.6%); because they would rather try to solve the problem themselves (24.6%); a downplaying of the significance of the offence (20.5%); a lack of evidence (14.7%); and the fear of reprisals or shame (5.5%). 6.4% of people consulted said they chose not to report the crime because it was too complicated, or they were unsure how to do it.

Taking these reasons into account, we can understand why victims of the theft of an expensive item, such as a vehicle, are more predisposed towards taking official action to restore or retrieve it. Moreover, if the item is insured, a police report is a formal requirement for recuperating the value of the stolen good.

Victims of crimes considered to be less serious or with less probability of damage compensation, such as personal theft, or crimes such as threats, bribery, sexual offences, etc., that for various motives tend not to be reported to the authorities, are less likely to report them.

Less than half (46.6%) of people who report a crime to the authorities are satisfied or very satisfied with how the relevant authority handled that report.


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