Dark Figure of Crime – Definition, Examples, & Applications


The dark figure of crime is a term used to describe unreported or unrecorded criminal activity. Many criminologists and sociologists have estimated that up to half of all crimes are not reported, so they remain invisible in official records.

This means there are two ways in which the dark figure may emerge: through an increase in recorded crime rates or as a decrease in them. The latter will occur when people lose faith in public institutions such as police forces (or other policing mechanisms) and decide not to report any crimes they witness. This post will explore what the dark figure of crime means, how it affects sociological research, and how you might apply this knowledge in your work.

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What Are the Main Reasons For Dark Figure of Crime?

There are three main reasons for the dark figure of crime:

  • There is no intent on behalf of victims to contact authorities; this can be due either to fear of retaliation, lack of trust in the authorities to protect them, or a belief that their complaint will not result in any punishment
  • There is no intent on behalf of offenders to contact law enforcement and admit guilt for fear of arrest or prosecution; this can be due either to distrust in authority or concern about how they might face possible consequences if caught
  • Some crimes are never detected, such as those that go unreported or undetected.

-It has been argued that most crimes, including most murders and sexual assaults, happen within a victim’s social circle or family. This may be because it is much easier for victims to speak out about these offences than stranger crimes.

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What Are Some Examples of a Dark Figure of Crime?

For example, if a car is vandalized in front of an apartment building and the residents are not willing to contact authorities about it because they believe that their complaint will go nowhere or that there won’t be any consequences for the offender even if identified. The incident would remain invisible as both victim and perpetrator have chosen not to report what happened.

The dark figure of crime also arises when perpetrators are not caught, arrested or successfully prosecuted due to factors such as:

-Crime not reported by victims. For example, not reporting violence against women because victims are afraid to say it or believe that the police will not help them.

-Crimes that are unreported because there is no evidence or eyewitnesses. For example, rape from a spouse. The spouse (offender) may lie about the crime after committing it (e.g., claim that there was consent when there wasn’t). They might also try to cover up other crimes after the fact.  

-Crime committed by an offender who has been undetected for some time before being caught- but was never seen in the act. For example, a child abuser may sexually assault/rape multiple children but was never caught during the action due to not being caught by any witnesses.

-Inability to identify a suspect from CCTV or other surveillance films.

Apart from the dark figure of crime, there is also a “white” or recorded measure. Offense reported to police in England and Wales rose by 20% between 2008-2009. Still, some criminologists believe that this reflects an increased willingness among victims to report crimes rather than any actual increase in offenses.

The dark figure of crime may have economic costs due to the costs of investigating crimes that are never reported.

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Who Came Up With the Dark Figure of Crime?

Gary S. Becker first coined the dark figure of crime in 1968. It is named for the idea that some crimes are invisible to law enforcement officials because offenders do not report them or victims decline to take part in court proceedings due to fear and distrust of authorities, etc. The term can be used both positively and negatively to describe the criminal justice system’s failings.

The dark figure of crime is an essential concept in understanding how crime rates, especially violent crimes such as rape and armed robbery, are calculated because they may include unreported or underreported offenses, which will not be reflected in white figures. It can also help identify law enforcement’s priorities which need more attention as well.

What Are the Four Reasons for Counting Crime?

The four reasons for counting crime are:

  • to provide information about the prevalence and patterns of criminal activity
  • To compare different areas or jurisdictions that may have additional reporting rates, so that police can better allocate resources where they’re needed most
  • As an aid in identifying law enforcement’s priorities which need more attention
  • To establish trends over time so that police can make predictions about future criminal activity.

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What Are the Three Methods of Measuring Crime?

The three methods of measuring crime are:

  • Police records; include the number of reports and arrests made, as well as incidents reported to them by victims or witnesses
  • A victimization survey is an interview-based study that asks people about their experiences with criminal activities such as robbery or assault to get information on the prevalence and patterns of crime in a given area ;
  • Official statistics on illegal activity often rely on interviews with victims or convicted offenders.

What is Meant by the Term Dark Figure of Crime Statistics?

The dark figure of crime statistics refers to crimes that go either unreported or undetected.

The dark figure or hidden crime disparity is the difference between recorded and reported crime figures. The disparity arises because of imperfections in the way crimes are measured. Therefore, dark figure statistics do not represent an actual change in the rate of criminal activity but rather a change in measurement methods over time.

Sometimes when there is significant attention on particular types of crimes, it can increase reporting rates, resulting in more crimes being counted under the crime statistics. This is referred to as “the Audubon effect,” after a notable counterexample to the dark figure of crime disparity observed in U.S. cities where media coverage of bird killings led to increased police reports.

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What is Meant by the Term White Figure of Crime Statistics?

The white figure of crime statistics refers to crimes that have been reported and detected. The white figure or recorded crime disparity is the difference between reported and recorded crimes. The white figure of crime statistics refers to actual criminal activity.

What Are the Six Sources of Error When Counting Crime?

There are six sources of error when measuring crime:

  • Administrative errors; for example, when police record a minor offense as attempted murder;
  • Underreporting; this occurs when people do not report crimes to the police, perhaps because they fear reprisals; and is more likely to occur in domestic violence situations or when victims are drunk or drugged at the time of the incident;
  • Changes in reporting rates, for example, after a major crime wave. This results in police records counting both actual increases in crime and increased reporting;
  • Changes in the method of measuring crimes, {such as ‘flagging’} incidents which are transferred to another department for investigation. This leads to over-counting;
  • Misclassification or miscoding; this is when an incident is recorded under a different category than the victim intended;
  • Crime rates can change as the population changes and affect the number of people who contact criminals.

What is Meant by the Term Crime Index?

The crime index is a method used to measure crime levels in a given area. It divides the number of crimes into three categories:

  • Violent crimes such as murder and assault
  • Property crimes such as burglary and vandalism
  • Total crimes, which are an equal mix of both violent and property offenses. The crime index is used to give an overall impression of the level of crime in a particular area. It is the most commonly used measure in the United States, but it can be criticized if the types of crime are not weighted equally.

What is Meant by the Term Crime Rate?

The crime rate measures how common a particular type of offense in a given area is per 1,000 people. The more crimes there are, the higher the crime rate will be.

The crime rate is often calculated as a dark figure because it considers all crimes that have not been detected. This means that it is generally higher than the white figure because crimes that have been reported will always be counted under the crime rate.

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What Are the Two Ways in Which Crime Rates Can Be Interpreted?

Crime rates can be interpreted using either the number of offenses per thousand people or an absolute number. For example, if a country has 100,000 violent crimes per year and a population of 10 million people, it has a crime rate of 100 for every 1,000 people.

If our same country had 20,000 violent crimes and doubled its population to 20 million, then the crime rate would remain at 100 (per thousand). The absolute number of violent crimes would be 20,000 in the first example and 40,000 in the second. If it is known that the population has increased, then a crime rate difference between the two areas may not accurately reflect a fundamental change in crime levels.

One way to get around this problem is to look at crime trends over time – if both sets of figures are taken from the same year, then a change can be more confidently attributed to an actual change in offending.

What Are the Components of a Crime?

A crime has four main elements:

(i) Victim

(ii) Time and place

(iii) Offender or suspect

(iv) Offense

When collecting information about crime, all of these aspects must be recorded accurately.

Why is it Important to Record Crime Correctly?

The purpose of measuring and recording crime is to obtain information about the prevalence and patterns of criminal activity in a given area so that policies can be implemented to reduce crime levels. If the data is flawed, then this hurts policy decisions. Inaccurate crime figures may lead to the wrong policies being implemented.

What Are Some Possible Reasons for Under-reporting, Over-reporting, and Inaccurate Reporting in the Collection of Crime Statistics?

Under-reporting can be referred to as failure to report crimes because the victim fails to report it due to fears that there won’t be any consequences for the offending party;

Over-Reporting occurs when someone intentionally misrepresents an offense, usually for some personal gain or to have an offense taken more seriously;

Inaccurate reporting is the erroneous recording of statistics. Errors may be accidental, made by honest mistake due to human error in typing numbers from reports into a system, or misinformation being provided deliberately by an offender. This can contribute towards over-counting crime and under-reporting crime.

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What is Meant by the Term False Reporting Rate?

The false reporting rate is the percentage of reported crimes that were determined to be baseless. It generally represents a combination of administrative errors, underreporting, misclassification, miscoding, and crime rates related to changes in population size. The higher the false reportage rate, the more likely it is that police are overprescribing crimes.

Underreporting rate (UCR)= Number of unreported incidents/Number of incidences that should have been reported x 100 = Actual UCR;

CR = number of crimes reported; and NIR= Number of incidents recorded by police, including both reports and investigations.

Underreporting is a significant problem in crime reporting, especially for certain types of crimes such as rape and domestic violence. Typically, victims will not report their offense because the police won’t believe them or take some action against them.

In these situations, the victim may decide not to report it because they would rather have the matter taken care of privately than risk involving the police.

Another reason for underreporting is that some victims feel ashamed to tell someone what happened to them, so they decide not to tell anyone and try to deal with it themselves.

These people may not report an incident because of their personal feelings such as guilt or shame. They feel that they deserved what happened or that others will think less of them because it was not a “real” crime.

In some cases, the victim may report the crime to the police but may add unnecessary details to make it appear more severe than it is. This helps support either their feelings about themselves or makes them look more like a victim.

Over-reporting can be considered the opposite of under-reporting and is especially common when individuals or groups identify with a particular crime, such as sexual harassment or police brutality.

It may also occur when an individual or group wants to develop support for a specific issue by showing that it is more common than previously thought. Under any of these circumstances, a seemingly insignificant incident may be transformed into something that appears more significant than it is.

Inaccurate reporting occurs when numbers are incorrectly recorded and thus affect the accuracy of crime statistics. Inaccurate reporting can include typographical errors or cases where data entry clerks change reported figures to reflect the actual number of reported crimes more accurately.

False reporting may also occur when data is incorrectly entered into the computer, such as a report of a stolen laptop computer being accidentally entered into the system as a stolen lawnmower.

Examples of Inaccurate Reporting/Recording of Crime

Examples 1:

Incorrect recording or transcription of offense codes can lead to inaccurate crime statistics. For example, an assault against a police officer might be recorded as an assault against the officer’s spouse. The resulting crime statistics will show a reduced number of assaults against law enforcement, which will affect priorities and funding allocations for law enforcement agencies.

Inaccurate reporting may also occur when reporters deliberately misreport data or provide false information to obtain some advantage from authorities (such as responding to a survey). An example of this is an individual arrested for drug possession, denying the allegation and instead claiming that the drugs belong to someone else (perhaps a friend), even though he was caught in possession.

A more mundane form of inaccurate reporting results from simple mistakes made by agencies recording data, such as typographical errors or numbers transposed. Sometimes, individuals who report crimes do not provide accurate information, to begin with (for example, an individual reports a car stolen when it was sold); in these cases, agencies may record the correct data but still show inaccurate numbers.

In some jurisdictions, an agency that has discovered errors in its reporting procedures can submit a “corrected report” to the FBI and request that the new report substitute for (or “correct”) the erroneous one. The FBI allows such corrections but demands that agencies explain the error and actions taken to remedy it.

Inaccurate reporting is not limited to governmental agencies. Individuals may commit inaccurate reporting when they incorrectly record or misreport crime data, such as in a news story.

Examples 2:

Inappropriate coding or classification occurs when agencies improperly record crime statistics based on offense codes that do not accurately reflect the nature of the reported crime. False charges for offenses may lead to inaccurate reporting for a variety of reasons.

This may include failure to report duplicate crimes (which were committed by the same individual on two or more occasions), failure to include all offenses in statistics, and reporting a violation that does not conform to the exact definition of a given crime.

Examples 3:

Intentional or grossly negligent failure to report known information is considered inaccurate reporting and can affect crime statistics. For instance, some agencies do not submit reports of burglaries if nothing was stolen.

Similarly, some agencies do not report many rapes or other sexual crimes if the victim did not receive medical attention (to avoid the cost of treating the victims without compensation from insurance companies).

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What Are the Limitations of Crime Statistics?

The limitations identified by the International Association for Criminal Statistics and Research (IACSR) in their publication Crime Stats are:

Crime statistics should be collected, fused, and analyzed to reflect both local needs and national priorities. Police-recorded crime data should not only relate to offenses reported to police to appropriately account for dark figure crime but also reflect the changing social context and victimization in reporting;

Crime statistics should recognize that not all crimes are reported or dealt with by police. The different ways in which members of the public react to criminal activity and how they report it differs over time due to political, economic, or cultural development.

What Are the Limitations of a Victimization Survey?

The International Association for Criminal Statistics and Research (IACSR), in their publication Crime Stats, have identified some issues with victimization surveys that make them less than ideal sources for criminal statistics:

Victimization surveys face methodological challenges such as low response rates, non-random samples, self-selection bias, and problems with questionnaires. There is also difficulty in coding the data into a homogeneous classification system;

Victimization surveys suffer from high levels of under-reporting or non-reporting of crimes. In particular, certain types of crime (e.g., hate crime) are notoriously difficult to measure using victimization surveys;

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What Are the Limitations of Official Statistics on Criminal Activity?

The International Association for Criminal Statistics and Research (IACSR), in their publication Crime Stats, have identified some issues with official statistics that make them less than ideal sources for criminal statistics:

Official statistics suffer from crime going undetected. Unless it is reported to the police and successfully investigated, officially recorded crime statistics are incomplete;

Official statistics suffer from crime going unreported. Many crimes go unreported because victims do not believe the police will help them or fear repercussions for reporting a crime. Official statistics often rely on interviews with victims or convicted offenders.

What is the Grey Figure of Crime?

The GREY figure of crime is the term used to refer to all crimes that were not white or dark. It includes those instances where people have reported a crime, but for which there is insufficient evidence (such as when someone reports being robbed at an ATM, and no money was missing) or where police cannot identify the criminal from victim statements alone.

The GREY figure of crime should be considered in conjunction with the white and dark figures to provide a complete picture. All three are important for understanding the extent, patterns, and trends of crime across an area or jurisdiction.

They can also help identify law enforcement’s priorities that need more attention and establish trends over time so that police can make predictions about future criminal activity.

What Are Clear-up Rates?

The concept of clear-up rates is a measure used in criminology, which stands for the number of crimes solved out of all those reported. Clear-up rates are calculated by dividing the total number of arrests made over one year, or any given period, from reported crime by the annual total volume and type (or category) of offenses.

What Are the 4 C’s of the Criminal Justice System?

The four C’s of the criminal justice system are: (i) catching a person committing an offense; (ii) charging that individual with a crime; (iii) convicting them in court, which requires proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or removing all possible doubts about their guilt to secure a “not guilty” verdict; and finally, (iv) sentencing them to punishment.

What Are the 8 Part 1 Crimes?

The eight Part I crimes are those criminal offenses in the United States for which Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) data have been collected since 1930. They include homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft or theft of property from a motor vehicle (including cars and trucks), and arson.

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How Do Types of Crime Affect Society?

Crime can be defined as any unlawful act that is punishable by law. In sociology, crime covers various behaviors from minor violations like trespassing to murder and rape.

While some crimes are committed in the heat of passion or on impulse (such as homicide), many crimes involve planning and premeditation – such as robbery, theft, and fraud.

Crime causes many social problems for society as a whole such as the cost of incarceration, increased fear among citizens that lead to less tolerance of others who may look or act differently from themselves, lower economic growth rates due to decreased productivity in certain sectors (such as tourism), and more violence between people who are struggling with their self-identities.

There are several activities that sociologists can do to help prevent crime, such as researching how people become criminals and looking for ways to make rehabilitation programs more effective.

What Should Be Included in the Section on Solving Crimes? What About Confessions?

People often think they know who committed a crime before they are caught. Many different types of evidence can be used to solve and prosecute a criminal case, such as eyewitness accounts or confessions from the accused (realized when they plead guilty).

The clearest type of confession is when an offender admits their wrongdoing after being questioned by police officers. It’s important for law enforcement officials to consider the suspect’s mental state, age, and other surrounding factors before they are questioned.

There is no “magic bullet” that will always bring criminals to justice, but it is important for law enforcement officials to use all the tools at their disposal.

One way of getting information on suspects can be through lineups where eyewitnesses try to identify the perpetrator.

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What Does it Mean for a Crime to Be “Cleared Up”?

When police officers can solve crimes, they refer to this as clearing them up or solving cases. Different types of offenses have different clear-up rates – those that involve physical evidence such as DNA or blood are more easily solved than those that rely on eyewitness accounts.

What is the Difference Between an Arrest and Prosecution?

An arrest is when a person has been taken into custody but not yet prosecuted by the state (or penalized). The prosecution phase of this process happens in front of a judge and jury to determine guilt – either guilty, innocent or not formally charged with an offense.

What Are Some of the Major Types of Social Control?

There are many different ways that people can be controlled, including being forbidden from doing something (legislative or regulatory) and punishment for violating a law. Punishment could involve fines, time in jail, having items taken away such as money or property (such as a driver’s license), or a combination of these.

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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Punishment?

The advantage is that it can immediately discourage people from committing crimes in the future. Still, some disadvantages, such as punishing someone for something they may not have done (false accusation) and being seen as unfair if punishments are not equal for all people.

What is the Difference Between a Crime and a Misdemeanor?

A felony generally refers to more serious crimes or higher penalties, such as murder, rape, robbery, drug trafficking, or terrorism. Misdemeanours often consist of minor violations like trespassing or vandalism. A misdemeanour is a less serious offense in the eyes of the law than a felony, but both can carry penalties like fines and time served in jail as well as other consequences.

There are many different definitions of crime, and what is considered a criminal act can vary from country to country. The dark figure of crime refers to the crimes that haven’t been reported or accounted for in official statistics. It’s difficult to determine an accurate number since most countries only report on their recorded cases, but it has been estimated at between 50-90%.

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What Other Theories Discuss Crime?

The term ‘dark figure of crime’ was popularized by Edwin Sutherland. He used it to illustrate that criminals can commit crimes without being caught. He also argued how this affects criminology and criminal justice, saying that the emphasis on official statistics leads us to believe crime rates fall when they aren’t.

Many different theories discuss the reasons why crime happens and persists in society.

The conflict theory of criminology states that people commit these illegal acts because they enter into a series of conflicts with their surrounding community. They need to do this to meet their basic human needs.

Another popular theory is control theory, which looks at criminals as rational actors who choose to commit a crime based on the costs and benefits. It says that criminals try to get rewards such as money, power, or revenge while also trying to avoid punishments for being caught.

The social learning theory is based on the idea that people learn to commit criminal acts through their interactions with their environment. It also says that most crime is committed by juveniles and young adults who are still learning how to interact with society.

The differential association theory looks at different types of deviance in tiers, examining how various crimes can be learned and the subculture’s part in encouraging these actions.

The rational choice theory uses economic theories to explain why people commit crimes. It states that criminals are rational actors who decide which actions they choose to take based on the expected benefits and costs of their involvement in illegal activities.

According to control theory, we can understand crime by studying the social rules placed on people. Social controls like norms, laws, and institutions influence what we do.

Social norms are the informal rules that people use in their daily interactions to regulate behavior. Norms tell us things like how to dress or which language we should speak, but they also tell us when it’s appropriate for someone to follow these rules. The more people comply with a norm, the more a norm is considered to be valid.

Social norms come into play when we start talking about deviance. Deviance describes any behavior that breaks the rules of society. Crime is one example of this, but other types of social control can also be used to determine what is deviant, including family values, religious beliefs, or local customs.

The Dark Figure of Crime and Sociology

Most crimes, including most murders and sexual assaults, happen within a victim’s social circle or family. This may be because it is much easier for victims to speak out about these types of offenses than stranger crimes.

Crime is also often reported as a result of retaliation. This means that the victim may report the crime to get revenge or stop the perpetrator from doing it again.

If someone commits a crime, they don’t know what will happen to them until it’s committed; this can create some anxiety. This anxiety might make them feel like they are being watched, which can lead to more crime.

The different actors in the criminal justice system try to prevent this type of anxiety. For example, one very popular theory today is deterrence, which tries to discourage people from committing crimes by using punishments. There’s no way to know exactly how well deterrence works because it’s impossible to measure the amount of crime that would have happened if penalties didn’t exist.

Males commit the majority of crimes, and this gap has been increasing over time. The most common age group found in crime statistics is 18-24-year-olds. One theory that explains this could be the anomie theory.

Anomie describes the feeling of alienation or disconnectedness that comes from a lack of social norms. This could be very true in young people because many moves to new places and may not know anyone, so anomie is possible.

One example of a commitment mechanism is an approach-approach conflict, which is when a person has two very attractive options but can’t choose between them. If people have a very short time to choose from, they are more likely to commit crimes because they can’t choose the best option. Commitment mechanisms prevent this by essentially making it impossible for people to commit certain offenses.

Why is Measuring Crime Difficult?

Measuring crime is difficult because many criminal acts go unreported. This can occur for many reasons, such as the fear that the victim will not be believed or wants to protect their identity.

Crime statistics are primarily based on victim reports, meaning that those crimes which go unreported will not be included. There is also a problem with recording crime data for individuals because it does not account for the severity of the criminal act or how often it has been committed.

Crime definitions vary by country and can be complex. For example, some crimes might not be recognized as criminal acts in one culture or social context but would be considered a crime in another.

This is why it’s difficult to compare crime rates between different countries because they measure the frequency of reported offenses differently and may have different standards for what constitutes a crime.

In the United States, crimes are criminally charged by law enforcement officials if they believe that there is probable cause to think someone has committed wrongdoing or violated a criminal statute. A person can also be arrested without charges being filed against them in some cases, such as when grounds of arrest do not exist and police need time to investigate their suspicions.

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What Are Offender Characteristics?

Offender characteristics are factors that may contribute to a person’s criminal act. They can include family background, age, gender, and ethnicity, as well as other circumstances or events that might have led up to the crime.

The following are examples of offender characteristics:

-Family history of criminality -Abandoned by their parent(s),

-Childhood abuse

-History of drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, homelessness.

-Unstable employment or social life

-Age -Teenagers often commit more crimes than adults because they have less responsibility and feel invincible; some believe this is due to hormone changes during puberty that makes teens more impulsive.

-Gender -Male inmates are more likely to commit assault and robbery than females, whereas women may be more vulnerable to sexual assault or domestic violence.

Crime statistics are generally only collected based on the offender’s gender; however, there has been some discussion about including other characteristics to understand better what may drive crimes against particular populations. For example, women may be more vulnerable to sexual assault and domestic violence than men.

Is Kidnapping Mala Prohibita?

Yes, kidnapping is a malum prohibitum crime. Under the law of most states in the United States, any person who takes or holds another person against their will and carries them into another country without that other person’s consent is guilty of international parental kidnapping. International parental kidnappings are often committed by parents seeking to gain leverage in child custody disputes.

What is the Difference Between Mala in Se and Mala Prohibita Crimes?

Mala in se crimes are also known as common-law offenses, which include:

-Murder -Armed robbery -Assault and battery.

Whereas mala prohibita crime is a term for any offense that is not considered malum in se. Mala prohibitia crimes may encompass actions such as shoplifting or theft.

What is the Importance of Mala Prohibita?

 Malum prohibitum crimes are not as severe and result in lesser punishments. The difference between malum in se criminal act such as murder versus shoplifting is that the latter will have fewer consequences for the offender than with the former due to no intention of bodily harm or injury.

Mala Prohibita crimes are considered “victimless” because the offender is not hurting someone they know, making it difficult for some people to understand or sympathize with them.

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The Dark Figure of Crime is the term used to describe the crime that has been committed but not reported. This “dark” figure can be estimated by looking at how many crimes are known and extrapolating or calculated from surveys. The dark figure is vital because it estimates the extent to which crimes have gone unreported, which may distort our understanding of crime statistics. 

The dark figure of crime has applications in sociology, such as measuring victimization rates and understanding how certain criminal events affect communities more than others (e.g., white-collar crime) or understanding the effects of media representation in encouraging crime (e.g., if it is romanticized, such as with bank robbers).

Crime statistics are essential because they provide an idea about what crimes have been committed and against who. This can help law enforcement officials plan strategies to reduce certain types of crimes. Governments also utilize these statistics when assessing whether there is a need for more police and prisons.

Crime statistics also help countries understand their crime rates to make international comparisons in regards to everything from prison populations to recidivism rates. 

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