This should be a useful update for students studying both the Crime and Deviance and Media options as part of A-level sociology.
If we include fictional crime programmes, the Media tends to sensationalise crime: Many programmes almost revel in crime and especially deviance, sometimes even glorifying it. Consider the way that deviant celebrities are treated or consider the hyperreal, idealistic representations of war in games such as Call of Duty.
Fictional crime dramas tend to normalise police violence and erase the issue of Racism according to this Guardian article.
The researchers suggest that the main cop or detective characters are depicted as inherently ‘good’ even though are frequently doing ‘bad things’ – like ‘roughing up’ suspected criminals, or much worse. In fact, the vast majority of the central characters do things which are in breach of police-conduct standards and often illegal, and yet they are not portrayed as bad for doing so. Police illegality is seen as normal and acceptable.
The researchers further suggest that crime dramas ignore the central issues of Racism in the police force, in reality they say, everything is about Race when it comes to policing (think of the skewed stop and search rates) and yet this issue is barely even mentioned in fictional crime dramas.
This blog post by a final year university student at the University of Bournemouth contrasts how the right wing press and left wing press cover the recent increase in Knife Crime in the UK – the Telegraph and Daily Mail take a ‘moral panic’ approach using the phrase ‘Wild West’ Britain to describe the increase, while the left wing press are more objective and make more of an effort to understand the causes.
The author also looks at the issue of Drill Musicians getting negative press for ‘inciting violence’, another example of a moral panic, maybe?
Cybercrime refers to illegal activities carried out with a computer over a network such as the internet.
Some of the most common types of cybercrime include:
Identity and data theft
internet fraud (online scams)
hacking (unauthorised access to networks)
Infecting devices with viruses
Denial of Service attacks (DOS attacks)
file sharing in breach of copyright
3D Printing of illegal products
The key characteristics of cybercrime include:
The use of digital technologies – either a desktop or laptop computer, but also mobile phones and games consoles.
Cyber crime takes place over networked devices. (NB this means one of the main strategies for protecting yourself is to DISCONNECT OR SWITCH OFF your devices whenever you can!)
Most cyber crime is informational – it involves an attempt to access and steal personal or corporate/ government information or an attack on online identities.Cyber crime is non-local in nature – it takes place in ‘cyberspace’, not in a real physical location.
Having said that, there are physical locations where ‘attacks’ originate from, and these are often in different countries to the victims, making cyber crime very global in nature.
There is a considerable ‘data gap’ when it comes to what we know about cyber criminals – more than 80% of victims of online fraud can say NOTHING about the person that committed a crime against them for example.
Cyber dependent and cyber enabled crime
This is a common distinction in criminology (and a very useful analysis tool for A-level sociology students!).
Cyber-dependent crime refers to crimes which can only take place over computer networks – such as Hacking, virus and Denial of Service attacks. These are relatively new crimes, as they have only been possible since the emergence of the internent.
Cyber-enabled crime refers to pretty much ALL cyber crime and includes OLD types of crime that have been made easier with internet – this is MOST cyber-crime and includes identify theft, fraud, file sharing, counterfeiting and child pornography.
There maybe some types of Fraud which you think aren’t possible in the offline world, such as attempting to steal money from people through catfish type romance scams, but technically this would have been possible before the internet through newspaper dating ads and sending photos via letters, but as you can imagine, this would have been A LOT more difficult back in the day before the internet!
Contemporary Examples of Cybercrime
Below I provide some examples of famous historical cybercrimes and more recent cybercrimes to illustrate the nature and extent of some of the different types listed above.
(I’ve omitted the last type in the bullet point list, it’s a bit sensitive).
Identity and data theft
Only around 5% of the internet is visible (searchable by Google), 95% is the Deep Web (which includes the Dark Web) which is where people’s and corporations’ private data is stored, invisible to Google and encrypted, so that most people can’t gain access to it.
HOWEVER, data breaches are VERY common – where a company’s private records are either hacked or security weaknesses are exploited by other means.
This infographic shows you the extent of data breaches, and there are some BIG companies that have had been victims – Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Experian and many, many others.
Wikipedia shows you the same data in a list format , citing research estimating that the annual cost of data breaches to companies currently stands at over $2 trillion annually.
If people’s personal data is breached it can make its way onto the internet so other people can access it. Sometimes this data might be made available for free (just for lolz), other times it might be up for sale on the Dark Web – the later being more likely if the data has financial value, like people’s financial information.
Depending on the type of stolen data made available this can be used against people in the following ways:
email lists can be used in personalised phishing attempts (so if a criminal has a list of Barclay’s customers’ emails and other details, he can put together a more authentic looking Barclays phishing scam email).
Some personal data may be used to set up bank accounts and apply for credit cards which can then lead to financial crime being committed in other people’s names, this is essentially IDENTITY THEFT.
some data might be damaging to people’s reputations – like the Adult Friend Finder data breach – many people on that site were married.
If passwords are hacked they can be used to take over people’s social media and other accounts and then used against them – ever received an email from a friend you haven’t heard from in years directing you to click on a link? They were probably a victim of a data breach!
If you want to find out whether your email has been in a data breach, or ‘pawnd’ – the click here (NB not a scam!) – HaveIBeenPawnd.com.
Pawnd shows us that data in over 11 billion private accounts have been ‘breached’ and it further reports that the details of over 200 million of these accounts have been ‘pasted’ online – or made available so other people can access them.
NB – data breaches are not always the result of the obvious criminal organisations or lone individuals – the recent Pegasus SpyWare scandal is an example of a corporate enabled state crime in which people’s data was accessed illegally by various governments around the world.
Internet fraud (online scams)
The number of internet frauds, or internet scams out there are, unfortunately, many and varied. They include, but are by no means limited to…..
Covid-19 scams – A VERY unfortunate response to pandemic has been the emergence of lots of fake websites and emails (a form of phishing) offering people everything from ‘quality’ (in reality crap) Facemasks to rapid tests for travel to fake vaccines.
Get rich quick investment scams – there must be thousands of fake profiles on Instagram and other sites where users claim to be making LOTS of money trading stocks, crypto, currencies, property, and if you invest with them, you get a cut of their profits – you invest a little, get some returns, then you invest more, then your buddy stops contacting you and runs off with your money.
Instagram influencer scams – Influencers can get scammed too – especially the up and coming ones – with bogus offers to ‘come to this amazing location or event sponsored by Cosmo and take photos, but oh you’ve got to pay some money upfront for the hotels/ drivers/ flights and so on – they arrive to find the first night paid for, and then nothing else, and no sponsors of course!
Phishing scams – ”You’ve won a prize’ – please click here and enter ALL your personal and bank details so we can transfer it into your account.
False shopping scams – bargain web sites with ‘too good to be true’ prices – you pay for some goods at a crazy 70% discount and then, err, never receive them!
The ‘Nigerian Romance’ (419) scam – this is THE classic scam, 419 refers to the penal code in Nigeria which outlaws it – basically someone sets up a fake profile on a dating site, worms their way into the confidence of the unsuspecting victim they message, this could take months, and eventually they require a substantial sum of money to help with their sister’s or mother’s (or whoever’s) medical expenses following an accident. In the USA alone in 2019 there were 146 00 victims who reported losing an average of $6000 each in these scams. (Further evidence that Americans are VERY stupid, maybe?)
Scareware – ‘Your computer is infected please call this number to get it sorted’, which may mean you end up being a victim of the following….
The ‘Microsoft Windows has been infected’ (‘Indian Call Centre’) scam – in which either someone from India (probably claiming to be in America or the UK if you push them) calls you (or you may have well called them following their Scareware attack) and helps you get rid of the virus infecting your Microsoft Windows software – accept in the process you give them access to your PC and they download all your data stored on that PC which may include bank details and passwords which they can use to get your money or set up fake accounts in your name, and get money that way, linking to Fraud above.
A recent example of one of these get rich quick scams is outlined in this BBC article – the victim explains how someone he followed on Instagram claimed he was making a lot of money trading currencies and that if people invested with him, he would carry on trading in the same way and deposit their share of the earnings back into their accounts.
The victim said he started off with a small amount of money – £1000, started see returns and gradually invested more and more, until the returns stopped and he’d lost a total of £17 000 to what was a scammer who’d set up a fake account on Instagram.
NB – watch out for instagram: according to one estimate almost HALF of accounts are fake.
Hacking (unauthorised access to networks)
Kevin Poulson is one of the world’s most famous hackers – in 1983 at the age of 17 he hacked into ARPANET, The Pentagon’s computer system. He was quickly caught but not prosecuted as he was a minor at that time.
He ignored the warning he received and carried on hacking, he gained some fame by hacking into Radio station’s servers when they ran competitions guaranteeing the 100th caller would win a prize – he made sure he was that caller and won and Porsche and $20 000.
He’s served five years in jail for his crimes but is now reformed and is a ‘white hat’ hacker who works for Wired magazine. You can read more about his story here. NB this is a great example of a biography providing us insight into criminal behaviour!
Another interesting type of hacking is ‘hactivism’ – most commonly associated with the group Anonymous (‘We are Legion’) – they were most active a decade ago around 2010, when they famously took issue with Scientology, hacking their systems and making them less visible on Google.
According to this article Hactivism has had something of a resurge with Covid-19. If you’re interested in finding out what Anonymous are up to, there’s a collection of articles from Wired here.
3D Printing of illegal products
3D printers bring an interesting twist to cybercrime – a good example of cyber enabled crime – it is now possible to print very robust, very powerful guns using a 3D printer, and (I imagine) you can pick up the specifications somewhere from the Dark Web.
It’s not just guns – printers can also be used to print access cards (swipe cards), and even drugs depending on the type of printer you have.
This is where a nation state engages in attacking government or Corporate systems in an attempt to bring down those systems. Russia has been accused of doing this recently by the U.S President Joe Biden.
NB – it may be difficult to pin the blame on the Russian State as they allegedly get criminal organisations to do this on their behalf and then make no effort to prosecute them.
Content analysis shows that the media exaggerate the extent of violent and sexual crimes, with over-reporting of such crimes giving us the impression that there is 10 times more of it than is actually the case according to sources such as the Crime Survey of England and Wales.
This blog post summarises some recent evidence demonstrating how the media exaggerate the extent of violent crimes and the extent to which they do this.
This should be a useful update for students studying both the Crime and Deviance and Media options as part of A-level sociology.
Violent Crime is exaggerated 10 times
Harper & Hogue (2016) found that in the UK sex offenses made up 20% of all crime reported by the media, but only 2% of all crimes were sex offences. So that’s an exaggeration by the media of 10 times the actual rate of crime. (Source.)
Twitter exaggerates the extent of violent Crime just as much as the mainstream media
An analysis of 32 million tweets in 17 countries in Latin America over 70 days in 2017 revealed that 15 out of 1000 were crime related.
The number of tweets about crime were then compared to the murder rates in those countries and the fear of crime as measured by surveys.
There was no correlation between the number of tweets about crime and the underlying crime rate.
Moreover, just like the mainstream media, tweets showed a ‘strong bias’ towards sharing information about violent and sexual crimes.
The study also found that 62% of accounts were linked to mainstream media accounts, meaning that only 38% of tweets were from regular users, many of which linked articles from mainstream media.
This suggests that Twitter is just an echo chamber for the exaggeration of violent crime in the media.
Latin America – people tweet a lot about Violent Crime, they are doing it to themselves!
One BIG STORY makes it worse…
One ‘big story’ can trigger an increase in similar stories. For example, Harper (2018) found that there was 300% increase in reporting of sex crimes against children when the news about prolific paedophile (and friend of Prince Andrew) Jimmy Saville broke in YEAR. (Source.)
Please click here to return to the Media and crime Hub Post.
Fraud and computer misuse now account for half of all crimes in England and Wales, but 80% of victims no NOTHING about the criminals who acted against them!
Fraud and Computer Misuse now Account for Half of all Crime in England and Wales (1) , this means that in order to fully understand crime today, students of A-level Sociology REALLY need to know something about these two types of crime.
This is not only an important update relevant to the crime and deviance aspect of the AQA A-level sociology specification, it’s also VERY IMPORTANT that students educate themselves about the risks of being a victim of fraud and computer misuse and take appropriate measures to protect themselves and stay safe online.
Defining Fraud and Computer Misuse
The Office for National Statistics defines these crimes as below:
Fraud involves a person dishonestly and deliberately deceiving a victim for personal gain of property or money or causing loss or risk of loss to another.
While Fraud can happen offline, most fraud today occurs online and the most common types known to include:
banking and payment card frauds
consumer and retail frauds
advance fee payment frauds
Computer misuse covers computer viruses and any unauthorised access to computer material, as set out in the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
This can include any device using software accessible online, for example: computers smartphones, games consoles and even smart TVs. It includes offences such as:
the spreading of viruses.
hacking – gaining unauthorised access to information
denial-of-service (DoS) attacks – the flooding of internet servers to disrupt or take down a network or website.
Both of these types of crime are types of Cyber Crime (most fraud and all computer misuse).
How much Fraud and Computer Misuse are there in England and Wales?
The latest data from the TCSEW show that Fraud and Computer misuse have been increasing rapidly in recent years, and now account for more than half of all crime in England and Wales.
Fraud and Computer Misuse were only added to the Crime Survey of England and Wales recently, and there are so many incidents that the Office for National Statistics records records two totals – one with these crimes and one without, so we can make a fair comparison of all other crimes over a longer time scale.
This bar chart gives you an idea of just how much Fraud and Computer misuse there is compared to all other types of crime:
The above chart shows incidents, and the ONS estimates there were nearly 10 million adult victims of fraud and computer misuse in the 12 month period to December 2020, that’s more than 1 in 5 adults.
The increase has been so rapid that the UK government has recently declared that there is a ‘new battle front‘ against these types of crimes.
The amount of Fraud has increased in the last two years.
76% of victims lost money, but around half lost less than £250.
Only 15% of fraud crimes were reported to the police
The likelihood of being a victim was generally lower in older age groups and greater in higher income households, there was little variation across gender and ethnicity.
In 63% of fraud incidents, there had been no contact between the victim and the offender.
Less than 15% of people could say ‘anything’ about the person who committed the Fraud against them – it’s a very ‘anonymous’ crime where the criminals are concerned!
Computer Misuse incidents have actually decreased in the last two years overall – especially crimes involving viruses being put on devices.
21% of computer virus incidents resulted in data being accessed or lost.
As with fraud, older people aged over 75 were less likely to be victims of computer misuse
Over 90% of people reported taking security measures to keep themselves safe online, which could explain the decrease in this type of crime.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
Students really need to pay attention to Fraud especially as it is the crime with the highest VICTIM count in England and Wales, so very relevant to victimology – and there is little variation by class, gender and ethnicity, only age it seems.
This material is also relevant to the media and crime topic, because more than half of all fraud is committed online, as are ALL crimes of computer misuse.
From a methods perspective, it’s worth noting that around 80% of victims of these crimes can say NOTHING about the people who committed crimes against them – these are truly faceless crimes, very possibly committed by criminals outside of the UK, so this is also relevant to the topic of globalisation and crime.
Students might like to do independent research on these types of cyber crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland to get a fuller picture covering the whole of the United Kingdom!
(1) Please forgive the slightly misleading title! The data on fraud and computer misuse are from England and Wales only, but for the sake of having a short, visible and digestible title I shortened this to the UK.
The government relaxed the restrictions on police stop and search during Lockdown and gave the police more freedom to stop and search at their discretion. The result: the number of black people stopped and searched (under section 60) increased dramatically.
They also report that black people were up to seven times more likely to receive a fine during Lockdown compared to white people.
Black, People, Racism and Human Rights is a recent report published in November 2020 which has a whole section summarising the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice System – from stop and search through to deaths in custody.
One interesting point to note is that families of people who have been through the CJS think that black men in particular are stereotyped by the CJS as being troublesome and violent.
This blog post summarises some interesting research published in 2016 that found ethnic minorities, especially black youths, featured heavily in ‘gang databases’ held by the London and Manchester police, even though such gang members had no formal history of violence. In fact the stats show that white people have higher rates of convictions for violent crime, but the police databases had disproprotionate amounts of black people on them simply for their being members of gangs.
This suggests an element of stereotyping the way policing was conducted.
The blog further summarises research of Prosecution teams who were more likely to draw on gang stereotypes (Rap music for example) when trying to convict black people compared to white people, and black defendants were also more likely to have their text messages used as evidence against them when undergoing trial compared to white people.
How do patterns of Victimisation vary by social class, gender, ethnicity and age?
Are some people more likely to be victims of crime than others? And how do the characteristics of victims vary by different types of crime?
This post has been written for students of A-level sociology studying the crime and deviance module, it is an introduction to the topic of victimisation, which is explicitly on the AQA’s specification.
NB some of the latest up to date information in this post may well contradict the very probably dated information in your sociology text books!
The statistics below focus mainly on the victims of crime in the United Kingdom?
Characteristics of victims of any crime by ethnicity, social class and age (TCSEW)
(NB it’s currently a telephone survey because of Covid-19 restrictions, before that it was a face to face interview survey, to which it may return at some point!)
The TCSEW reports the following variations in patterns of victimisation for the year ending March 2020:
People of mixed ethnicity were more likely to have been victims of crime than other ethnic groups
20% of people from mixed ethnic backgrounds reported being victims, but the victimisation rates were very similar across all other ethnic groups (varying from 14-17%)
Gender seems to have very little affected on reported levels of victimisation
There were very similar reporting levels for both males and females in all ethnic groups.
The chart below demonstrates the remarkably similar patterns in victimisation by both ethnicity and gender (the only ‘significant’ difference being the higher reported rates for mixed ethnicity).
Younger people are more likely to victims of crime than older people
The chart below shows percentage of people reporting having been a victim of crime by age group – you’ll notice it generally declines as people get older, and there is a marked difference if you compare the 55s and overs with youngest three categories:
There is no obvious correlation between social class background and being a victim of crime.
In fact the picture is complex – there is no variation by class for white people, for black people, the unemployed report much lower levels of victimisation compared to professionals and for Asian people there is a slightly lower chance of being a victim the higher your social class background!
Data from the 2018 CSEW shows that 74% of victims of violent crime were victims once, whereas 26% were victims twice or more (7% three times or more) in the previous year.
Limitations with victimisation data from the TCSEW
These data look at ALL crimes, and the most common types of crime (which have INCREASED MASSIVELY in recent years) are fraud and computer misuse – which are quite likely to be ‘gender/ class/ ethnicity neutral’.
and it may be the case that for more serious crimes there are still significant variations by class/ gender and ethnicity – such as violent crimes including domestic violence and hate crimes.
These data may be invalid because the reporting rates might vary by social class, gender, age and ethnicity – a recent report on the victims of violent crime (see section below) for example found that children were twice as likely to NOT report a crime compared to adults. Also where being a victims of Domestic Violence is concerned, with women more likely to be victims than men, this isn’t the kind of thing you can easily report over the phone, during Lockdown.
And let’s not forget the crimes the TSCEW doesn’t cover victims of State Crime.
Who are The Victims of Violent Crime?
It’s worth looking at who the victims of violent crime are as the impacts are likely to be felt more severely than other types of crime, such being a victim or fraud or burglary.
Extremely low numbers of people are victims of violent crime each year. The report estimates that 2-3% of adults are victims of violence each year, and only 1 in 250 require some kind of medical treatment for their injuries.
Males were at greater risk of violence – both for adults and children
Younger people were more at risk than older people
People from deprived areas were were more likely to be victims – adults from the 10% most deprived areas were almost twice as likely to be victims of violent crime compared to adults from the 10% most affluent areas.
ethnic minorities in general were less likely to be victims of violent crime
The report states that 36% of violence experienced by adults, and 70% by children does not come to the attention of police or a medical professional
Who are the Victims of Domestic Abuse?
One type of violent, interpersonal crime probably not covered in a representative way in the above research is Domestic Abuse, because of its very low reporting rates.
Safe Lives reports the following patterns of victimisation for this type of crime:
90% of victims are women, only 10% are men.
Women from low income households (less than £10 000) were 3.5 times more likely to be victims compared to women from households earning more than £20 000.
The majority of victims are in their 20s and 30s, so as with crime in general, young people are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than older people.
NB the above stats are based on people seeking help and advice about domestic abuse, so many of these won’t show up on the TCSEW.
If these domestic abuse stats are valid, then women are actually at greater risk of violent crime overall than men. Safe Lives reports that 100 000 women are currently at risk of severe violence at home. (This assumes there isn’t just as many male victims of any violent crime NOT coming forward and reporting their victimisation!).
REPEAT VICTIMISATION is also a horrible feature of Domestic Abuse – SafeLives reports that the average victim is a victim of abuse 50 times over, something which you generally don’t find to anywhere near this extent with being a victim of other types of crime.
Who are Victims of Hate Crime?
Hate crimes recorded by the police have been increasing in recent years according to a recent Home Office Briefing (from 2020).
The vast majority of hate crimes are due to someone’s ethnic background (so basically racist abuse) followed by religion, and around 50% of religiously motivated hate crimes are against Muslims. Anti-semitic crimes have also been increasing steadily.
Crimes against LGBT and Trans people are also higher than you might think – the report notes (based on data from a 2017 survey) that 54% of Trans people have reported experiencing a negative incident outside their home, as have 40% of LGBT people).
The vast majority of victims said they did not report the hate crime against them.
46 million Victims of UK State Crime?
At time of writing 46 million people have received at least one dose of one of the Covid-19 vaccinations. The live count is here.
It is possible to interpret these people as having been victims of one of the largest ongoing State Crime of modern times.
The UK governments has consistently declared the vaccines to be safe, whereas the simple and objective truth is, that by regular medical-trial standards scientists simply don’t yet have sufficient data to comment on the safety of these vaccines.
The fact that the UK government has not been clear about this means that they have misled the British public into taking part in a country-level medical trial without their full and informed consent.
This is in breach of people’s human rights as UN conventions clearly state that citizens have a right to not take part in medical trials.
Now it’s a stretch to make the case for this being a State Crime, as people have the choice to not get vaccinated, but there is pressure there – and the government is a leading voice in this, which could be interpreted as coercion, which opens up the door to defining this scenario as a state crime with 46 million victims and counting.
Pegasus Spyware – an example of corporate enabled state crime breaching the human right of privacy in 2021
Pegasus Spyware is software which is able to bypass your phone’s security and gain access to data on your device, such as:
Your GPS location
It can also switch on your microphone and camera and record what you are doing without you being aware.
Pegasus is the most sophisticated piece of Spyware ever developed and it takes surveillance to its most intense and intrusive level ever.
Pegasus Spyware is the main product of the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group who sells its surveillance software to governments around the world.
The company says it ‘vet’s governments and only sells software to clients involved in combatting terrorism and other serious crimes – by infecting suspected terrorists’ phones and subjecting them to intense surveillance.
However, according to a recent Guardian investigation, a recent leak of NSO files has revealed that some of government’s clients have been using their Spyware to target journalists and other dissidents who are perceived to be critical of their regimes. Some of the countries who use the software with bad records of human rights abuses include:
The leaked records include 50 000 phone numbers of people whose phones may have been hacked – The Guardian recently investigated hundreds of these numbers and found that in dozens of cases the software was indeed on their phones and in some cases the people who have been under surveillance, or people close to them have been murdered, possibly by agents of the state in an attempt to silence them.
(NB the company denies these allegations and says its software is only used legitimately by ‘vetted’ governments.)
The most serious consequence of this level of surveillance used in this way is that it poses a threat to democracy. Dictatorial states are obsessive about surveillance in order to crack down on opposition and this software increases hugely their capacity to do just this.
It also reveals as a ‘fantasy narrative’ the idea that surveillance companies and states work together to only surveil ‘criminals’ in order to keep ordinary citizens safe. In these examples it is the citizens who are being kept under surveillance and having their right to privacy undermined as a result, without their consent.
A Corporate-State Crime
This seems to be a good example of a corporate enabled state crime, with the governments identified above being the criminals and the victims being anyone who has had their phone hacked.
Privacy is a fundamental human right defined under the United Nation’s Human Rights Convention, and in the above examples there are 5000 potential cases of individuals having their right to privacy denied by governments, in breach of their human rights.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This material is relevant to both the crime and deviance module and the media module, especially the topics of state crime and surveillance.
Find out More
This video provides a good overview of the Pegasus Surveillance Project.
This link to The Guardian provides an excellent way into exploring all aspects of this issue.
Studying State Crime is an explicit requirement for students studying A-level Sociology, as part of the compulsory Crime and Deviance Module.
Below I have highlighted five countries who are responsible for some of the worst state crimes in recent years….
I’ve tried to select examples of mainly developed countries committing state crimes, to demonstrate that it’s not all impoverished, war torn countries or ‘rogue states’ who are state-criminal actors.
It is, however, important to realise that I have been selective (so there is some selection bias here and these examples will lack representativeness) but I think it has to be this way to make this topic manageable. I have included links below where you can search for further examples of State Crimes.
NB – this post is a work in progress!
Countries Committing State Crimes in 2020-2021
I’ve listed these in rough order of the number of victims. The United Nations and Israel deserve their places at the top given the fact that, following Noam Chomsky, they are the two worst terrorist organisations/ rogue states of modern times, even if in the last couple of years their crimes against humanity may have been out of the spotlight!
1. The United States of America
Historically, there’s only one real contender for the the worst state criminal in all of all of human history – the USA.
Below is a useful summary video which takes a trip through some of the War Crimes committed by the United States of America since the end of World War Two.
2. The State of Israel
Israel has been committing crimes against Palestinians in the occupied territories for several decades now – there are presently almost 7 million Palestinian victims of Israeli apartheid policies which forbids Palestinians from having equal access to regions across Israel. This 2021 reportfrom Human Rights watch explores this. A more accessible report might be this one from Amnesty international .
Some of the crimes the state of Israel commits against Palestinian civilians include:
Prevention of freedom of movement
The Human Right’s Watch Global Report 2020 singles out China has being increasingly repressive in recent years. It notes that ‘….the detention of more than one million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang to pressure them to abandon Islam and their culture, the crushing of Hong Kong’s freedoms, ongoing repression in Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and the crackdown on independent voices throughout the country. This has been the darkest period for human rights in China since the 1989 massacre that ended the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.’
Even in its post-communist years the Russian State has a long history of not allowing freedom of assembly to protest, and the censoring of journalists who criticise the state, and even the murdering of those who oppose the State.
5. Syria and Turkey
War Crimes are still being committed by Syria and Turkey in Syria – including the arbitrary killing of civilians, forced detention, which can lead to the death penalty, looting of property and displacement of peoples – there are now 6 million refugees from the region.
Interestingly the report also labels neighbouring countries as committing crimes by blocking access to these refugees!
6. War Crimes in War Torn Countries (Special Note)
NB – you will find plenty of examples of many state crimes in war torn countries such as Yemen for example, but it seemed a little bit too easy to focus on those, I’m trying to be critical here!
Three organisations which monitor state crimes:
Amnesty International has a useful hub page here which will allow you to explore contemporary case studies of States involved in various crimes – such as disappearances, political violence, torture and states denying citizens freedom of expression.
Human Rights Watch– monitors all sorts of State crimes – they cover some of the same ground as Amnesty but also focus more extensively on issues such as women’s’ rights, and reproductive rights and lots more. Their reports page is well worth a browse!
Transparency International – monitors global political corruption – they’ve developed an index based on surveys which asks people questions such as ‘have you paid a bribe to access a public service in the last year’ – they rank countries according to how corrupt they are and do research into corruption in several countries. You can access the latest world corruption report here.
The UK Parliament voted on Tuesday to cut Overseas Aid from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% of GDP, a cut which The Guardian refers to as a ‘hammer blow’ for some of the world’s poorest peoples facing persecution in countries such as Yemen and Syria.
This is an important update for any student studying the Global Development Module as part of A-level sociology.
Previous to the cuts the UK had the second highest aid budge relative to its GDP compared to any other country besides Germany and was among one of very few large developed countries to have met this Millennium Development Goal target. (NB that’s not a typo, the 0.7 of GPD target was set as part of the MDGs 1.0 back in the year 2000, even though they ended in 2015 to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, still only a few countries met that pledge even in all those years).
Now we’re back in mid-league obscurity for aid donors by proportion of GDP.
The stated reason for the cuts to foreign aid are that the UK has spent over $400 billion on combatting Coronavirus and that next year our debt will exceed the total value of our economic output.
Boris Johnson says the cut from 0.7% to 0.5% is temporary and will return to 0.7% when economic circumstances allow
Arguments against cutting aid
It’s worth noting that every living prime minister besides Boris Johnson is against cutting aid
There’s been quite an active response outlining the impact of the cuts from various activists such as this tweet from Malala Yousafzai:
Spoke with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson this morning. I applaud his dedication to girls' education – but I am concerned he won't reach his goal of helping 40M girls go to school unless the U.K. recommits 0.7% of national income to aid and pledges £600M to @GPforEducation.
Some further arguments against cutting aid include…
UK is already spending LESS on UK aid anyway, it’s down from $14 to to $10 Billion this year compared to the previous year already, because our GNP has already shrunk due to the pandemic. Thus the link between the economy doing worse and aid spending being cut is ALREADY in place!
It’s a relatively small amount money that will do very little to help the UK get back on its feet, whereas the difference this money might make abroad is huge.
Related to point 2, this could well be false economy – that money could prevent further strain on the UK economy, OR help the UK economy, especially since UK aid is now organised through the FCO rather than DFID, and the former is more cynical in the way it spends UK aid money anyway – more likely to use it to benefit the UK economy.
Contrary to the news reporting about Philanthropists ‘stepping in’ to plug the UK aid cuts, this isn’t true – the aid cut is worth around $3 Billion the ‘pledge’ is currently at around $100 Million – 30 times less. This is a good example of media bias, the mainstream media REALLY should be more critical of these global elites!
The AQA Sociology Crime and Deviance Specification specifies that students must examine (among other things!) ‘globalisation and crime in contemporary society’.
Questions sociologists might ask about Globalisation and crime….
How has globalisation affected crime in contemporary society?
What are global crimes?
What is the extent of global crime?
What are the consequences of global crimes for individuals and society? (relating to crime control)
Why has global crime increased? (It’s a reasonable assumption that it has as it’s relatively new on the specification, albeit 20 years out of date as is often the case with AQA A-level sociology).
You will need to be able to link your answers to these questions to other aspects of the Crime and Deviance Specification (when talking about consequences you might distinguish between effects on men and women, for example), and you need to be able to apply sociological perspectives.
Before we turn to looking at the relationship between globalisation and crime, it is worth reviewing the concept of globalisation, itself one of the most important concepts A-level sociology students need to know!
What is globalisation?
In short it’s the different regions across the world becoming increasingly interconnected resulting in increasing flows of the following:
economic globalisation means more global trade (the increasing movement of goods and services between countries) and more Transnational companies.
cultural globalisation means more communication between people and the intermixing of ideas, often resulting in ‘hybrid’ cultures.
There is also the increasing migration of people – for study, work, flight from wars (refugees) and (for the wealthy) holidays, which has elements of both cultural and economic globalisation.
Globalisation can be physical – the movement of people and objects across borders, as well as virtual – the increasing significance of the internet in our lives has really pushed globalisation forward.
There is thus also a ‘technological’ underpinning to globalisation – transport and communications technologies especially.
There is debate over whether globalisation is mainly a one way process from the West to the developing world, or more of a two way process; and a debate over whether it’s good (optimism) or bad (pessimism) and also those who believe it has been exaggerated, or in reverse, all of which you can apply to our coming discussion of the relationship between globalisation and crime!
There are different ways of classifying global crimes, but one way we can do this is as follows:
Trafficking – moving drugs, people and/ or weapons across international borders
Cyber Crimes – such as phising attacks, extortion and fraud
Financial crimes – such as tax evasion.
Most (if not all?) green crimes are also global in nature.
Some of the above global crimes are carried out by loan operators, some by organised criminal networks (some people consider ‘organised crime’ to be a category of crime in its own right), some by governments themselves (state crimes) and some my Corporations.
What is the extent of global crime?
The Global Financial Integrity Report on Transnational Crime estimates that the total global value of all trafficking is between $1.6 to $2.2 trillion, with drug trafficking making up the largest share, around 30% of this, with a global value of around $500 billion.
According to The United Nations 2021 Drug Report , globally in 2018 an estimated 269 million people had used a drug at least once in the previous year, equivalent to 5.4 per cent of the population. This is projected to rise by 11% to 299 people by 2030.
Most of the increase will be in developing countries, with high income countries projected to see falling numbers of drug users in the next decade.
Cyber Security Ventures estimates that Cyber Crime will cost the world $5 trillion in 2021, and estimates that cost will grow to $10.5 trillion by 2025.
NB you might want to be cautious with these statistics because I think the company which did the research sells cyber security protection, so it’s in their interests to exaggerate the risks!
Nonetheless this is something governments and companies take very seriously.
A couple of important aspects mentioned in the article are that RansomWare is one of the fastest growing types of cyber crime – where your computer is hacked and data frozen, only to be released when you have paid a ransom (this may not be too much of a hassle for an individual, but if companies or government agencies are victims this is a much bigger dea.
Also, a lot of cyber crime takes place in the Deep and Dark Web, thought to be several times greater than what we can see online (visible, accessible public networks), and that This is also related increasingly to drug trafficking – increasingly people buy and sell drugs via the deep and dark web.
Tax Havens and Tax Evasion
The IMF estimates that there are $ several trillions of dollars of Corporate Funds stashed away in tax havens, costing the tax payer from between $500 to $600 in lost tax revenue (so a similar financial cost to the value of drug crime).
Estimates for how much individual wealth (rather than Corporate wealth) are stashed in tax havens are more varied, given the secrecy surrounding these funds, but two estimates cited by the IMF are from between $8 trillion to more than $30 trillion, costing the taxpayer around $200 billion a year in lost revenue.
There is a conceptual problem with labelling the use of tax havens as ‘criminal’ – companies and individuals often use loopholes in the law to get their funds out of countries where they are taxed and into tax havens where they are not taxed, or taxed at a very low rate, so we have to use a broader definition of crime as something which is harmful (through lost tax revenue) to ensure we include the use of tax havens in our examples of global crime.
Trends in global terrorism are actually going down (so some rare good news!).
According to the Global Terrorism Index, in 2019 ‘only’ just under 14000 people died in global terror incidents, the fifth year of decline since a peak of 34500 deaths in 2014.
Most terrorism deaths are located in a small handful of war torn countries, mainly Afghanistan, where 40% of deaths from Terror attacks occur.
While terrorism is often very locally felt, many of the groups who claim responsibility for these attacks are responding to global dynamics and see themselves as part of a global network, so they are a response to globalisation.
How has globalisation affected crime in contemporary society?
This is one of the more complex questions we can ask in A-level sociology, and there are several possible ways we can break down our analysis, and a lot of interconnecting ideas where ever we start.
Below I’ve started with the concept of globalisation and considered how economic and cultural globalisation have opened up more opportunities for people and organisations to engage in certain types of crime and how the nature and extent of crime has changed as a result.
Economic globalisation and global crime
Economic globalisation refers to increasing amounts of global trade and money, the increasing role of Transnational Corporations, the spread of an international division of labour, and (importantly from a broadly Marxist point of view) increasing amounts of inequality between rich and poor regions around the world.
Increasing amounts of trade of goods across international borders and the fact that some countries tax certain goods, such as alcohol and cigarettes, have lead to increasing amounts of smuggling of such highly taxed products -organised criminal networks have emerged (e.g. think of the Mafia) who smuggle cigarettes and alcohol from countries where they are produced very cheaply to countries where they are taxed very highly, such as the UK – this is simple demand and supply, albeit illegal, and very common: there are plenty of poor people in the UK (for example) who want cheaper booze and fags, and plenty of poor people in developing countries who are willing to risk jail time to traffic non-taxed booze and fags to countries such as the UK.
The above also applies to the illegal trade in counterfeit goods, from clothes to electronics – all of these goods (as well as fags and booze) may present themselves as genuine, but in reality they are fake – but when there are so many containers of goods moving around the world (global trade is massive) there is significant opportunity for organised criminal networks to smuggle their cheaper counterfeit/ untaxed goods into shipping containers and get them to willing and often unwitting consumers in their destination countries.
Marxists are keen to point out that it’s not just criminal networks involved in global economic crime – so are many Transnational Corporations -it’s a bit more difficult to analyse the role of these in global crime as they are more likely to engage in ‘law evasion’ rather than actual crime – for example Shell extracting oil in Nigeria and taking advantage of the laxer pollution laws in that country, committing effectively no ‘crime’ by Nigerian standards, but an environmental crime nonetheless.
TNCs also engage in tax evasion as do many wealthy individuals by stashing their wealth in tax havens, again, not technically illegal, but harmful due to lost tax revenue.
Another way in which economic globalisation might fuel global crime is through increasing inequality – one rather horrible aspect of this is sex trafficking – there are plenty of men in developed countries looking for cheap prostitutes prepared to travel to countries such those in Eastern Europe to get what they want – and the young women they find there may well have been trafficked into sex-work on the promise of something else by organised criminal gangs – one of the darker sides of the global economy.
The supply of drugs from poorer countries to richer countries is another aspect of inequality fuelling this global trade.
Cultural globalisation and global crime
The increasing communications between cultures may have lead to more cultural clashes the world over, more ‘ordinary people’ coming into conflict with their more traditional political orders.
An obvious example of this is ‘liberated’ women in Iran posting pictures of themselves on Instagram and the State ‘cracking down on them‘, but there’s much more to it than this – radical interpretations of Islam have made their way to Britain and other European countries, shared and circulated online and contributed to various terror attacks over the last couple of decades.
However, it’s important not to exaggerate the extent to which exposure to new ideas results in ‘violent cultural clashes’, it’s quite possible that for the most part people online are just stuck in their bubbles (their social media bubbles, not meant here in the Pandemic sense of the word) and for the most part not inclined to criminal behaviour!
We could also point to the emergence of a set of ‘global human right’s outlined by the United Nations which proclaim that Nation States (governments) are not permitted to breach certain rights of individual citizens – making illegal at a global level things such as genocide, which opens up the possibilities of governments being held accountable as criminals, which couldn’t have happened before the UN HUMAN RIGHTS CONVENTION immediately after World War Two.
The Internet and Global Cyber Crime
The instantaneous connectivity through the internet deserves special mention in its own right in relation to global crime.
This probably more than ANYTHING else has changed the nature of crime across societies as it creates so many more opportunities for people anywhere in the world to commit crime and for people to be unwitting victims of crime.
It’s possible for one individual to send out literally millions of phishing emails or comments to millions of people in a single day in attempt to get them to click on a link which will (variably) try to elicit their personal information from them or get them to download some dodgy software which will collect their data from their computer.
The Deep Web and Dark Web also make it easier for people to trade in illegal goods and services online and to network and have conversations which may result in very serious criminal activities – think terrorist cells and child abuse rings – all made easier to maintain via the Dark Web.
What are the consequences of global crimes for individuals and society?
Here we really need to take a global development perspective and think of winners and losers at a global level.
Certainly global crime has created many losers from developing countries – anyone trafficked into the sex industry or any drug mules caught and sent to jail, and several migrants who have paid their life savings to then NOT be transported successfully to their destination countries.
But then again, you could see this as an opportunity – drugs are part of global trade – and there is more money to made in growing Cocaine than Coffee for some farmers in Colombia – possibly opening up better opportunities than ‘free trade as usual’ – NB not to say this will always be the case as being involved in the global drugs market probably isn’t that SAFE.
And it’s not necessarily the case that the consumers in the west are the winners – they may also be victims, of poor quality fags and booze for example.
Where cyber crime is concerned it’s more hidden – there are probably more victims alive today that DON’T know about it than ever before in human history.
Finally, global crime is a problem for governments – it takes a lot of resources and co-ordination to combat global crime, especially when so much of it is online and thus not visible.
And where some of more heinous crimes are concerned, this increases our sense of fear and vulnerability and uncertainty – such as with global terrorism.
Why has global crime increased?
It’s easy (lazy?) to see the increase of crime as an ‘inevitable’ response to Globalisation – with more flows of goods and people and ideas, SOME of that is going to be illegal.
There’s also an underlying technological change we need to consider – the internent does make crime easier.
But to answer this question with any analytical depth, you need to be able to apply the perspectives.
From a Marxist point of view this is due to the spread of Global Capitalism – creating more inequalities which results in inequities in supply and demand – plenty of poor people who can’t make decent money growing coffee would rather risk growing Cocaine, for example.
Another aspect of a Marxist analysis is the spread of TNCs engaged in law evasion and also tax evasion by elites.
Misha Glenny has researched the role of Organised criminal networks in facilitating the rise of Global Crime (the McMafia as he calls them) pointing out that the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s resulted in a massive increase in organised crime in countries such as Bulgaria – trafficking a lot of goods to Western Europe – here it’s not so much ‘legal capitalism’ which is the problem, rather criminal gangs operating outside the law in several countries.
You can also apply Feminism in order to help understand sex trafficking in particular.
Interactionism is also relevant because changes in international law, and national laws can criminalise acts and thus ‘increase’ global crime overnight – the United Nations Human Rights Conventions did this with State crimes, for example. And the same thing is happening with many green or enviromental crimes.
Not to say that these legal changes are bad, but they do increase the amount of crime simply by making acts illegal that previously were not, such as genocide and several forms of pollution.
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