Myths and Reality of Crime

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crime essay

The contemporary justice system is more focused on street crimes and often ignores crimes of powerful, including state, corporate, and white-collar crimes. It is much more significant problem that should be solved by authorities. Let us imagine just for a moment that we addressed to 100 strangers, asking them to describe their opinion of crime and attitude to street and crimes of powerful. When taking these directions into account, it is easily predictable that at least 70-75% of respondents are more likely to speak out for revealing and punishment for state, corporate, and white-collar crimes rather than for simple street crimes, although people are afraid of street crimes more, as these issues can happen to everyone in relation to their material interests, health, or even life. That is why the majority of respondents will support implementing the preventing measures against street crimes more than white collar and state crimes as they are not related to them directly.

The negative attitude to the crimes of powerful is observed in the society, but people mostly do not know these persons, and it creates the room to the common myths. The most significant of them are: “powerful are allowed everything” and “none can do anything” to prevent crime acts at the highest level. The myth of the so-called “allowed” crime goes back to the Middle Ages, when in Europe, especially in the UK, kings, queens, and lords, as well as the pontific and bishops, were granted the undeniable power.

For instance, in Great Britain, some of the elite representatives were granted the right of the “first night”. Certainly, nowadays it is an unacceptable right, but then it was treated as normal among peasants who had got used to their role as the representatives of the “lower class”. “The jus primae noctis was, in the European late medieval context, a widespread popular belief in an ancient privilege of the lord of the manor to share the wedding bed with his peasants’ brides” (Wettlaufer, 2000, p.111). The lords showed symbolic gestures, followed by the “humiliating signs of superiority over the dependent peasants in the fifteenth century, a time of diminishing status differences”, trying to display their power, based on “the psychology of coercive social dominance, male competition, and male desire for sexual variety” (Wettlaufer, 2000, p.111). It could be regarded as a crime, like a rape, but none of the victims could even try to report about it and deny this cruel custom. It proves that at various stages of its development, society defined the concept of “crime” differently. What now is regarded as crime was not a crime at all in the past centuries, and otherwise.

The definitions of crime in contemporary judicial practice are created in a way of reworking and developing some moral values, traditions, and customs that are independent variables, as they can remain almost the same through the centuries. In most cases, the society decides what to define as unintentional crime in relation to their religious beliefs, moral values, everyday practical life, imagination, plans and views for future, etc. The government plays just an intermediary role between the members of the society with the opinions of crime acts and contemporary legislation and judicial system. 
In the contemporary society, there is a common thought that crimes, in most cases, are caused by social deprivation. Many people naively think that crimes are commonly committed by poor people with lack of opportunities, or by those who experience a significant gap between aspiration and reality. In any case, it is just a myth, and truly, many crimes are committed by wealthy people of status and power: “We know that companies  and government institutions kill more people, maim more people, injure more people, steal from more people than all other forms of crime together” (Whyte) This type of crimes committed by people with wealth and status was first called “white-collar crime” by Edwin Sutherland  who first focused the attention of the society on this problem in symbolic form (Sutherland, 1949). This type of crimes is committed in a way of false accounting to steal from employees or hide taxes, stealing from the clients, etc. For instance, the case of multimillionaire Robert Maxwell, who had stolen millions of pounds from pension funds of his company, is not just impressive, but shocking. The other examples of state crimes of powerful are 2003 Iraq invasion that some researchers regard as “an international crime of aggression” (Whyte); pollution, lack of food, and unsafe situation in the country (explosion of BP Oil Refinery in Texas that happened in 2005 and killed 15 workers). In the latter case, senior management realized the danger of the situation, but they did nothing at all to warn people and inform them about the danger.

The myth of committing crimes by poor people with lack of opportunities is difficult to abandon as the issues are mostly related to the street crimes that happen every day, especially in big cities. In any case, in some parts of the world, people are still facing with the problems of crimes against humanity, like poor living and even hunger, initiated by the government. When going back to the history of the XXth century, hungers were initiated in Ukraine by the Soviet Union. Nowadays, people experience hunger in Africa. The “invisibility of crimes of the powerful” is a “result of the process of constructing of valid criminological knowledge, this is not simply a self-contained disciplinary weakness in criminology”, but “the production of academic knowledge” that is “mediated by political decision making” (Whyte, 2003, p. 15). It gives all reasons to future researches in this field.

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