Official statistics are drastically downplaying the scale of violent crime against women, the UK’s top statistical body has been warned.
The Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) fails to account for nearly half the attacks on women, particularly when the assailant is known to the victim, as it caps the number of separate crimes that can be reported by a single respondent at five, a meeting at the UK Statistics Agency (UKSA) was told on Tuesday.
Sylvia Walby, professor of sociology and Unesco chair of gender research at Lancaster University, said the cap should be lifted.
Walby warned that the policy warped the results of the survey especially in cases of domestic violence which, she said, was more likely to be repeated. She said she believed there was no longer any justification for the cap.
Her work has found that the total number of violent crimes soars by 60% when the cap is removed. But this increase is concentrated on violent crime against women by partners and acquaintances, which rise by 70% and 100% respectively.
She said: “Uncap and you have a completely different image of what is violent crime. Violent crime is no longer simply an issue of strange man to strange man; nearly half of it is violent crime against women. The uncapping is crucial in order to understand the nature of violent crime today.”
The CSEW has been considered the gold standard of crime statistics since last year, when UKSA stripped police recorded crime statistics of their National Statistics designation.
Police figures show the number of crimes reported, whereas the CSEW asks respondents whether they have been the victim of a crime. In theory, it is also able to take into account crimes that have not been reported to police.
“We understand why ONS originally wanted to put the cap on, which is that there were a small number of victims which had a very high number of crimes committed against them and they thought that this would lead to fluctuations in the figures which would be misleading to the public,” she said.
“We’ve examined this in great detail and, with the larger sample sizes and with contemporary statistical methodologies, this is no longer the case that it would have that effect. It is time now to reconsider the cap and time now to take it off. It would nearly double the amount of violent crime and disproportionately make visible domestic violence and disproportionately make visible violent crime against women.”
Walby spoke at a UKSA seminar on improving crime statistics. It brought academics, police, policymakers and journalists together with statisticians to discuss how improvements could be made to understanding the scale of crime.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) defended the cap, although a spokesman did say officials were reviewing it. Fewer than 200 of the 35,000 people surveyed had been a victim of the same offence on more than five occasions, it said.
“If repeat offences were not capped, there is a risk that a small number of cases involving multiple attacks on the same person could end up skewing results, making it very difficult to spot trends in crimes,” the ONS’s head of crime statistics, John Flatley, said.
But Walby is calling for an overhaul of the way domestic violence crime statistics are recorded. The current system made it impossible to get a clear picture of how many incidents of domestic violence led to prosecutions, she said. The problem was that there was no single set of rules on how domestic violence was recorded.
“We need to measure the crimes, we need to measure the number of victims, and we need to measure the number of perpetrators,” she said. “At the moment within the criminal justice system they’re split. They’re different categories and so you can’t follow them through, let alone from the survey all the way through to the end of the criminal justice system.”
Part of the problem was that police did not record domestic violence with its own distinct crime code, Walby said. Although most forces do try to flag domestic abuse, they are not legally bound to collect the data. As a result, and because there is no overarching framework, police figures are not considered particularly accurate.
The CSEW, which reaches about 40,000 adults each year, is considered a much better indication of the scale of domestic violence. It does include a specific category for the offence.
Walby and her colleagues looked at results from the survey in 2011-12. They found that removing the cap on the number of incidents reported by a single respondent increased the numbers of violent crimes against men and women. But the increase in crimes against women was significantly bigger.
“This is linked to the higher proportion of violent crime committed against women by domestic relations and acquaintances, since violence from strangers less often follows a pattern of multiple repetitions,” they wrote.
Taken from Damian Gayle at The Guardian - 09/06/15