Crime Statistics as Constructs: The Case of Swedish Rape Statistics

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Abstract

Using Swedish rape statistics as a focus, this article aims to empirically describe the way in which different factors affect official crime statistics produced at the national level. It is argued that cross-national comparisons of crime levels are extremely hazardous when based on official crime statistics, since the construction rules vary widely. International comparisons of crime levels should as a rule be confined to findings of international victim surveys. The example of rape statistics in Sweden - about three times higher when compared to other countries in the European Sourcebook - is used to explain what factors can influence statistics. Statistical, legal and substansive factors are to be taken into account. The author shows that changes in statistical routines, the legal definition of rape and changes over time all influence the statistics in a substansive way. This article indicates the great extent to which crime statistics are a construct, whose appearance is very sensitive to the rules applied in the process of construction. In order to employ statistics appropriately, a thorough knowledge of the principles guiding this process is therefore essential.