Victim surveys in Europe
As part of the workshops organised by Crimprev, the network of European researchers associated with the Forum, a series of workshops was dedicated to victim surveys. Whilst we wait for the conference report by Renée Zauberman, here is a note on the workshop.
We need to distinguish between surveys on the feeling of insecurity and surveys on victimisation. Sometimes surveys mix these two together, often making their results ambiguous, especially in the commentaries that accompany the surveys.
Other than the UK and the Netherlands, European countries have only been using this type of survey since the 90s (Belgium in 1997, Italy with a timid attempt in 1990, and France in 1997 ), and with very different use in each country it is difficult to measure changes. The diversity of the sample group and the differences in the questions asked reflect in how results compare at the European level.
The UK and the Netherlands, along with Germany, are heavily dominated by research on financial and economic aspects, but they must aim to evaluate schemes in operation. There must also be a link between the survey results and the action that is taken.
The majority of these surveys are part of, at least at the national level, surveys on home life. This is the case in Flanders in Belgium as well as in France with the Insee (National Institute of Statistics) surveys on home life or even Italy with the Istat survey . In Spain it is the Sociological Research Centre, an independent administrative organ responsible for studying problems in Spanish society, which began raising questions on this issue. This leads to a debate on the title of the studies. There is the “crime survey” in the UK, compared to the “public security” survey in Catalunya, the Dutch “safety monitor” and the Belgian “security monitor”. The changes in titles represent the evolution of the issue of security. By including the issue of civil disorders, the surveys have a more sociological and social tone. Different forms of insecurity appear within the questions.
Victim surveys most regularly occur when they are based on a specific theme or a target group, such as women or school violence. The issue of young people is becoming more and more important. Until two years ago, the issue of young people was ignored in Italy, but this issue has begun to be tackled. The only victim survey aimed at tourists took place in Seville in 1992. Organised crime is completely ignored, except for Italy, which has made the mafia its principle target for a long time.
The surveys’ themes are mostly centred on families, on family life. Italy even carried out a survey on the mistreatment of pets. Public areas are victim to crimes from adjoining neighbourhoods. Thefts and attacks are the crimes which are the most committed. Crimes committed at home or around the home are the sources of the most feelings of insecurity.
Surveys are not regularly carried out, except in the UK, Catalunya and the Netherlands, which carry out a survey every year. The German Federal Justice Ministry will carry out a regular national survey from next year. The other countries instead witness an unregulated flourish of surveys at the national, regional or local level. Another obstacle in comparing surveys is that the budget attributed to each survey varies greatly.
The surveys are mostly carried out on the national and regional levels. Italy has had a regular regional project since 1995 aimed at “città sicura” entitled “devianza, sicurezza ed opinione publica”, which takes place in Emilia Romagna. France and Germany carry out surveys on a city level. Since 2000, Munich, Dortmund, Stuttgart, Lyon, Gent, Liège, Modena and Bologna are among the examples of cities which have been surveyed. Italy considers it difficult to define the target group at the local level. We must note that the majority of surveys aimed at the local level are conducted with a reduced sample (with around 400 people surveyed), as in Catalunya. The Belgian and Dutch “security monitor” studies both the national and local level, with the latter also being represented by the cities which have contracts with the state.
All of the surveys are coming up against the problem of unregistered mobile phones more and more often. The former East Germany has more mobile phones than landlines. This may well be the case for all Eastern European countries. Telephone remains the most expensive “face to face” method of communication. Germany is resorting to postal surveys, but the reply rate is at best 40-50%. The lack of the target groups’ scientific relevancy is compensated, it appears, by the best responses from people who replied alone.
It appears that surveys on specific themes have higher response levels. Spanish and Italian surveys on women had a non-response level of 5%. Perhaps the novelty of the surveys helps the response rate. It is also strongly advised to analyse why some people refuse to respond, with some citing sensitive issues and personal considerations in certain cases.
The Germans are considering a “national survey on students” as schools will allow the response level to be greater, as teachers will be able to oversee students completing the surveys. The public is within touching distance.
Use of the results is for the most part poorly developed. Quite often the official who ordered the survey doesn’t remember it or is no longer in his post; it appears that the ordering of a survey is an important moment, as is publication for Catalunya or Belgium, to spark a political debate, but apparently these surveys do not influence directly or indirectly the course of action taken. It isn’t necessary for the survey to have a scientific form, as long as it is certified or in the right form. Changes in security and prevention policies in Barcelona occured due to the successive mayors’ policies, and little to do with the results of the annual survey. It is different in the UK where the results are incorporated in political speeches and in financial decisions. We should note that the publication by the Italian Forum for Urban Security of the results of the national and regional 2002 survey shows that surveys have gone a long way in raising awareness among local officials of this issue.
The cost of the surveys varies, but remains at a level which threatens their regularity. The highest is in the UK, where 40,000 people were surveyed for a cost of £6 million.
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