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The terms ‘international’ and ‘comparative’ criminology are often used interchangeably to refer to any research concerning crime or criminal justice that either takes place outside the researcher’s country of origin or involves more than one country. Each term refers to a wide body of rich comparative research that frequently intersects both theoretically and methodologically. This research paper gives a broad overview of comparative research, with a focus on (1) the methodological strengths and weaknesses, (2) the state of knowledge in macro- and microlevel comparative research, and (3) regional characteristics of crime.
- Comparing Crime across Countries
- Determinants of Crime across Countries
- Macrolevel Correlates of Crime
- Microlevel Correlates of Crime
- Regional Characteristics of Crime
Crime is a multifaceted problem that faces societies of every country and every historical period (LaFree, 2006). As such, criminologists are faced with a growing body of potential explanations and solutions to the widespread, but varying, problem of crime. It is the task of comparative criminologists to explore which explanations are universal, which operate according to situational context, and which are culturally specific (Karstedt, 2001; Stamatel, 2009). Comparative researchers have already made many important contributions to the understanding of crime, violence, and criminal justice, in some cases confirming and in others rejecting common explanations.
The terms ‘international’ and ‘comparative’ criminology are often used interchangeably to refer to any research concerning crime or criminal justice that either takes place outside the researcher’s country of origin or involves more than one country. Stamatel (2009) offers a more nuanced distinction between international and comparative criminology. International criminology is a general term that refers to crime or criminal justice trends in one or more countries. International criminology is not necessarily comparative since the focus of research may be on a single country; however, international comparisons are often implicit in single-country studies. Comparative criminological research is designed to investigate differences in crime and criminal justice organizations across borders. Often comparisons are made across international borders but may involve other units of analysis, such as cities, organizations, provinces, or regions. Falling under the banner of both international and comparative criminology is the more specific disciplinary term ‘cross-national’ criminology (Stamatel, 2009). Cross-national criminology refers to the study of crime across countries, typically with nations as the unit of analysis.
Overall, each term refers to a wide body of rich comparative research that frequently intersects both theoretically and methodologically. International comparative research covers everything from descriptive studies on the prevalence of theft in China, to multicountry school-based studies testing the universal relevance of self-control, to large-scale country-level studies testing theories of modernization. This research paper gives a broad overview of comparative research, with a focus on (1) the methodological strengths and weaknesses, (2) the state of knowledge in macro- and microlevel comparative research, and (3) regional characteristics of crime. It would be impossible to cover all of the many topics that fall under the label of ‘international’ and ‘comparative’ criminology, so for further reference please refer Section See also at the end of this research paper.
Comparing Crime across Countries
When comparing crime across countries, criminologists face two major roadblocks: the variation in legal definitions and recording, and the potential inaccuracy of reported rates. In general, it is well understood that most crimes are not comparable across borders due to fluctuations in official reporting practices and legal definitions (Neapolitan, 1997). Only homicide is comparable across countries, and this is because definitions of murder are generally historically and internationally consistent (Marshall and Block, 2004). Even so, international organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) must take special care to ensure homicide data collected from countries are comparable.
The European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics 3rd Edition (Aebi, 2006) provides detailed information on the contents of legal definitions of common crimes across 35 countries. The Sourcebook shows how hazardous cross-country crime comparisons are, even among countries with shared sociocultural histories. Table 1 illustrates the differences in legal definitions of robbery and intentional homicide in seven former Soviet Republics. In order to compare robbery rates in Ukraine to those in neighboring Moldova, one must take into account inflation in Moldova due to the inclusion of muggings and pick-pocketing in the reported rates. From Table 1 it is clear that comparing thefts across countries can be very difficult. In Armenia, burglaries are not explicitly defined in the criminal code, and so are classed as either thefts or robberies (Aebi, 2006). Moldova is the only country that includes embezzlement in the overall amount of thefts. Ukraine has the most restrictive definition of theft, including only burglaries and thefts of other items. Even considering that Lithuania, Estonia, and Russia have similar definitions, both Estonia and Lithuania have slight differences in what kinds of theft are included or excluded. Lithuania, for example, separates general theft apart from thefts of guns, drugs, or explosives, and has decriminalized simple thefts up to 125 Lithuanian litas (US $47) (Aebi, 2006: p. 31).
Table 1. Differences in legal definitions of robbery and theft in postsoviet countries
Raw Data for the 3rd Edition (2006) of the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics 2000–2003.
In addition to varying legal definitions, international crime statistics may be inaccurate due to a country’s weak institutional capacity to detect and record crimes, or a political interest to make the country appear safer and the state more effective. Before 1989, for example, many researchers believed crime rates in Soviet states were significantly lower than in Western Europe (see Stamatel, 2008). This was in part due to ideological propaganda by Communist political leaders, and partly due to the idea that crime was strictly and forcefully suppressed (Shelley, 1981). On the contrary, Stamatel (2008) found that homicide rates were at least as high as in Western European countries and the United States prior to 1989. The increases in crime after this period that were commonly attributed to transition and democratization were already on the rise before the fall of communism.
In order to avoid these roadblocks, researchers can draw from a range of alternative statistical sources, including victimization surveys, self-reported delinquency studies, and public health data. Victimization surveys, such as the International Crime Victims Survey, aim to capture the number of crimes committed in each country by interviewing a sample of citizens and asking if they have been the victim of a crime in the past 6–12 months (Van Dijk, 2012/2013). Self-reported delinquency studies are more commonly carried out in a single international setting, and while these studies are informative for examining universal predictors of crime, they are not always comparable across countries. However, the second International Self-Reported Delinquency study (ISRD-2) (Junger-Tas et al., 2012b) was carried out in 31 countries to create internationally comparable statistics on crime prevalence and victimization among youth. Finally, public health data are available for lethal violence across a large sample of countries from the World Health Organization (2012). The benefits of public health data are that reporting does not depend on police practices and political motives, and that the definition of lethal violence is based on the standardized International Classification of Disease Codes (ICD). The ICD-10 (10th Revision) defines homicide as “injuries inflicted by another person with intent to injure or kill, by any means” and excludes injuries due to legal intervention and war (World Health Organization, 2010).
Determinants of Crime across Countries
International and comparative investigations of criminological risk factors tend to fall into two broad categories: large-scale cross-national studies and individual-level single- or multisite studies. Both aim to test whether theories and causal risk factors of crime are universal or culturally specific.
Macrolevel Correlates of Crime
Cross-national criminological research has shown a diversity of interests including economic development, modernization, culture, political organization, human rights, punishment, and population structure. Researchers have been gradually expanding the temporal and geographical domain of comparative criminology with the emergence of more and improved international data. Recent research syntheses show that the strongest correlates of national-level homicide rates are income inequality, poverty, human development, and population heterogeneity (Nivette, 2011; Pridemore and Trent, 2010). Table 2 shows the top 10 strongest indicators of homicide that have been tested in more than 10 studies between the years 1960 and 2010 (see Nivette, 2011). The strongest average effects, as measured by the standardized correlation coefficient (b), come from measures of income inequality (b = .22–.48), as well as measures of family and social structure such as the divorce rate (b = .28), female labor force participation (b = .22), and ethnic heterogeneity (b = .22).
Table 2. Top ten cross-national indicators of homicide with more than 10 contributing studies
Source: Nivette, A., 2011. Cross-national predictors of crime: a meta-analysis. Homicide Studies 15, 116.
However, Nivette and Pridemore, and Trent have reservations about the conclusiveness and reliability of cross-national results. National-level risk factors are often given little theoretical and methodological attention, and countries are frequently included on the basis of available data rather than theoretical purpose.
One example is the positive link between income inequality (most often measured by the Gini index) and homicide rates. It is clear from a multitude of studies that measures of income inequality are associated with homicide, but one has yet to firmly grasp specifically why, how, and where inequality is detrimental. Indeed, a number of scholars have questioned the inequality–homicide link on both theoretical (Chamlin and Cochran, 2005) and methodological (Pridemore, 2008) grounds. Chamlin and Cochran argued that income stratification is not inherently damaging to social institutions and social relations unless it is founded on ascribed characteristics. When inequalities are ascribed, individuals perceive economic institutions as illegitimate and subsequently withdraw participation and commitment from institutions that provide social control. As such, common explanations for the effects of inequality that are based on psychological strain may be misguided, and any measures that do not distinguish between meritocratic and ascribed inequalities may have low concept validity. Pridemore (2008) argued that the inequality–homicide link is only prevalent due to model misspecification. Specifically, he questioned the absence of indicators of poverty in cross-national research, and attempted to replicate prior studies after including a proxy for poverty (the infant mortality rate). He found that in two of the three studies he reexamined, the inequality–homicide link disappeared when poverty was added to the model.
In order to rigorously test macrolevel theories and risk factors, such as the inequality–crime link, cross-national researchers require larger and more diverse samples along with clear and testable mechanisms connecting the indicator to the outcome. Despite these limitations, however, macrolevel comparative criminology has advanced our understanding of the causes and consequences of criminal behavior within and across a variety of cultural and national contexts. In Stamatel’s (2009: p. 18) words,
Because cross-national research asks fundamentally different research questions, emphasizes macro-level conditions and processes, and makes time and place central to its inquiry, it is well positioned to make unique contributions to both the breadth and depth of knowledge in criminology. Not only are contributions valuable in their own right, but they can also be applied to intranational research questions, like crime changes in the United States, and they can inform pressing contemporary crime problems, such as terrorism and other transnational crimes.
Microlevel Correlates of Crime
Comparative microlevel studies of crime typically examine the effects of individual, family, school, or neighborhood causal risk factors on criminal behaviors. According to Murray et al. (2009: p. 3), “[r]isk factors are correlates that are shown to predict delinquency. To demonstrate something is a risk factor, a study needs to demonstrate correlations, and the variable be shown to predict the outcome.” Despite a growing number of international studies searching for universal or culturally specific risk factors, there is still little conclusive evidence supporting one or the other (Eisner and Nivette, 2012).
Certain theories, such as Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory of crime, are explicitly framed as universal theories, essentially rejecting the idea that macrolevel structural and cultural factors play a role in causing crime. A universal risk factor, like Gottfredson and Hirschi’s self-control, is expected to predict crime by the same mechanism across all situations and contexts. A culturally specific risk factor, such as the concept of ‘machismo’ in Latin America (Neapolitan, 1994), is one that is defined by the context in which it operates, including the cultural values, situational contexts, and structural factors that determine the effect of the risk factor on crime (Karstedt, 2001).
Some risk factors have strong international support. For instance, low self-control has been shown to be a robust correlate of criminal and other problem behaviors both in the United States and cross-nationally (Rebellon et al., 2008). Rebellon et al. (2008) examined the salience of self-control on self-reported property crime and violent crime using the International Dating Violence Study (IDVS). The IDVS sampled over 20 000 university students across 32 countries, measuring a range of potential individual and social risk factors. They found that while low self-control proved to be a significant risk factor across all nations, there is evidence that individual self-control is conditioned by the macrolevel context of parental neglect.
The ISRD-2 was designed by Junger-Tas et al. (2012b) to generate comparable measures of self-reported offending and associated risk factors across 31 countries. The ISRD-2 measures a range of individual and social risk factors associated with social control, self-control, opportunity/routine activity theory, and social disorganization. So far, support for these concepts has been mixed. Generally, Junger-Tas et al. (2012a) report that certain risk factors related to the above concepts are relevant across all 31 countries, but not all. In relation to social control theory, Junger-Tas et al. (2012a) found that only measures of family bonding and parental supervision were related to delinquency in the ISRD-2 study. Gatti et al. (2011) found that associating with deviant peers is positively related to delinquency and substance use across all countries. Junger-Tas et al. (2012b) found that school-related risk factors, including school disorganization, truancy, and school bonding, were important correlates of delinquency. Additionally, Steketee et al. (2013) report that perceptions of neighborhood disorganization, individual low self-control, and positive attitudes toward violence all significantly increased the likelihood of delinquency across all countries.
Drawing from a multiethnic sample in Zurich, Switzerland (N = 1229), Ribeaud and Eisner (2010) examined a wide range of cognitive, personal, familial, social, and contextual risk factors on adolescent delinquency. The strength of the Zurich sample is in its sample composition: almost half of the children in the sample (46%) have parents born outside Switzerland. Additionally, parents immigrated from a diverse range of countries, including Germany, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.
Ribeaud and Eisner found that individual, parental, social, and school risk factors were significantly related to delinquency, whereas parental socioeconomic characteristics were not. Significant cumulative risk factors include externalizing and internalizing aggressive behaviors (e.g., aggression, attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder), perinatal factors (e.g., maternal depression), internal individual factors (e.g., self-control, sensation-seeking), indoor leisure activities (e.g., extended TV exposure), family structure (e.g., broken home), parenting factors (e.g., lack of parental involvement, use of corporal punishment), school environment (e.g., school disorder), and peer status (e.g., low popularity, low trustworthiness). Sociodemographic characteristics of the parents, such as low parental education, low socioeconomic background, and whether or not the parent was a migrant, were not associated with adolescent delinquency.
Regional Characteristics of Crime
As comparative criminological research expands to every corner of the world, one is gaining a better understanding of levels and characteristics of crime across regions. Macrolevel research has identified regions that tend to share certain characteristics and trends of crime, such as high homicide rates in Latin America, low homicide rates in East Asia, or the convergence of crime rates in Western and Eastern Europe (Gruszczynska and Heiskanen, 2011; Nivette, 2011; Ouimet, 2012). This section reviews new and unique global and regional research on trends, risk factors, and types of crime in order to demonstrate the wide range of topics concerning comparative criminologists. In addition, it is possible to highlight some potential common characteristics, risk factors, and consequences of crime across such diverse social, political, cultural, and economic contexts.
Table 3 provides a summary of total and gender-specific homicide rates (i.e., violent deaths per 100 000 persons) across eight broad geographical regions in 2008 (World Health Organization, 2012). The lowest homicide rates can be found in Europe (M = 2.8), Oceania (M = 3.3), and Central and Western Asian countries (M = 3.8), whereas the highest are on average found in sub-Saharan Africa (M = 18.6) and Central and South America (M = 21.2). On average, males across the globe are victimized by fatal violence more than females (Mmales = 15.7; Mfemales = 3.2).
Table 3. Average homicide rates (deaths by violence per 100 000 persons) in 2008 by gender across eight geographical regions
Note: The percentage of poor data was calculated as the percentage of countries in the region where most data for cause of death were unavailable, meaning rates were estimated by the World Health Organization using country-specific information and cause of death patterns from other countries in the region. Source: World Health Organisation, 2012. Disease and Injury Country Estimates. http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/estimates_country/en/ (accessed August 1, 2016).
However, these global estimates must be considered with caution. The extent of uncertainty in certain regions is evident by the variation in the percentage of poor data quality. In many African and Asian countries, information on cause of death is unavailable, meaning the World Health Organization must estimate the number of deaths due to violence using country-specific information and death registration data from other countries in the region (WHO, 2012). For regions with widespread missing data such as Africa, this means homicide rates are based on very few available cases, and as such are likely to be unreliable. This unreliability is apparent in some countries more than others. For example, the World Health Organization estimated a homicide rate of 1.5 deaths per 100 000 persons in Somalia, a complex country that has been plagued by clan-based violence, state collapse, and invasion since 1988 (Linke and Raleigh, 2011).
In Europe, trends in homicide leading up to and following the Second World War are largely described by convergence (Eisner, 2008; Gruszczynska and Heiskanen, 2011). Eisner (2008) reported that shortly after the Second World War, homicide levels in Western Europe were the lowest in European history (ranging from around 0.2 per 100 000 in the Netherlands in 1957, excluding infanticides, to 0.97 per 100 000 in Austria in 1966). These trends remained relatively similar as homicide increased in the late 1950s and 1960s, peaking in the 1990s and returning to hover around 1 death per 100 000 persons (Eisner, 2008; see also Marshall and Summers, 2012). The fact that the increases and subsequent declines occurred across Western European states (as well as the United States and Canada; see Zimring, 2007) suggests some similar underlying cause. Zimring (2007) argued that it was a number of factors, e.g., the decrease in number of young males, expanding welfare policy, increases in police numbers, and incarceration, that led to the ‘great American crime decline’ in the 1990s. However, he admitted these changes did not occur in Canada, where a similar crime trend was observed, and differences in policy and social structure are even more acute between Western Europe and the United States.
Within Europe, there are, however, several points of divergence. After 1989, crime and violence increased dramatically among postcommunist states, but more recently show decline and stability (Andresen, 2011; Marshall and Summers, 2012). Certain postcommunist states still have relatively higher levels of violence, particularly the Baltic region (i.e., Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), with an average of 10 deaths per 100 000 persons for the period 1990–2008 (Marshall and Summers, 2012: p. 59). Gruszczynska (2004) pointed out that since independence in 1989, some postcommunist states have become ‘corridors’ for drug trafficking, car theft, and the expansion of organized crime rings between east and west. The problem has only intensified since Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia gained membership to the European Union, requiring these states to more actively police their borders with Russia and Belarus (Ceccato, 2008; Gruszczynska, 2004).
The UNODC’s Global Study on Homicide 2011 provides detailed information on the weapons used, age of the offender and the victim, and circumstances surrounding themurder where data are available. UNODC (2011: p. 40) reports that firearms are used to commit homicide more frequently in the Americas than in Europe. The percentage of homicide cases in 2008 involving a firearm ranged from about 6% in Eastern Europe to over 70% in South America. In Europe, homicides were more frequently committed using a sharp object, such as a knife.
Although data are sparse for most African countries, the Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011 reports that in South Africa, “firearm homicide has been singled out as the leading cause of death for young men aged 15–21” (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011: p. 162, citation omitted). Pierre du Toit (2001) argued that the resistance to apartheid, coupled with recent civil wars in the region, contributed to the proliferation and flow of arms in South Africa. While this may contribute to South Africa’s high firearm homicide rates, the Global Burden of Armed Violence also implicates high levels of income inequality, unemployment, and poverty.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of lethal violence and the persistence of civil conflict are often highly correlated (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011). However, the context in which high rates of firearm homicides occur differs in Central and South America. UNODC (2011) reports that high homicide – in particular homicide by firearms– is not entirely attributable to conflict in Latin America and the Caribbean regions. Instead, firearm homicide is associated with organized crime and gang activity. Importantly, they are clear that organized crime/gangs are not necessarily the cause of high rates: “many countries in the region were vulnerable to crime and violence for a number of reasons, including their legacy of armed conflicts and violence, the easy availability of guns, chaotic urbanization, high income inequality, a high proportion of youth, local gang structures, as well as organized crime and drug trafficking” (UNODC, 2011: p. 49).
National-level rates can often mask gang-related intrastate variation, as in the case of Mexico’s escalating drug war. Mexico’s overall homicide rate has remained relatively stable from2004 to 2009 at 11.5 deaths per 100 000 persons (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011). However, in the state of Chihuahua, the homicide rate was 108 per 100 000 in 2009, which the Global Burden of Armed Violence attributes to an increase in drug trafficking, organized crime, and confrontations with the Mexican government. In fact, in 2010, 41% of Mexico’s homicides occurred in four states: Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, and Baja California, which together account for 11% of the total population of Mexico (UNODC, 2011). Furthermore, UNODC (2011) reports that in 2008–09, two-thirds of homicides in Chihuahua occurred in Ciudad Juárez, and three-fourths of homicides in Baja California occurred in Tijuana. This means that the nature of homicide in Mexico – particularly in areas affected by drug cartels – differs significantly from most homicides occurring in Europe, and so researchers must be careful when considering broad cross-national explanations of crime.
Comparative criminology is essential to understanding these transnational organizations and their impact on local social order and crime. International organizations and national governments are increasingly concerned about cross-border criminal activity, such as human, drug, and weapons trafficking; wildlife smuggling; the spread of organized crime syndicates; and terrorism.
For example, since the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, the study of terrorism has become a hot topic in comparative and international criminology. However, until recently, very little was known about the spatial patterns of terrorist activity and associated risk factors (LaFree and Ackerman, 2009; LaFree et al., 2010).
Gary LaFree and Laura Dugan (2007) have improved the comparative study of terrorism by developing a systematic database of both domestic and international terrorist events dating back to 1970. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) uses media and other open-source databases to compile a comprehensive list of events that include information on the attacker(s), intended target(s), country of origin, country of incident, number of fatalities, number of injuries, weapons used, and intention (e.g., assassination, political protest).
LaFree et al. (2010) examined the trajectory and spatial distribution of terrorist attacks across countries using the GTD. They found that most fatal and nonfatal terrorist attacks since 1970 were clustered in four regions: Latin America (30.43% of all attacks), Western Europe (20.75%), Middle East/Persian Gulf (15.41%), and South Asia (14.45%). Terrorist attacks were least frequent in North America (1.24% of all attacks) and East/ Central Asia (1.19%). LaFree et al. (2010: p. 633) point out that Latin America and Western Europe likely have more attacks because of “long-lasting and stable terrorist groups that often claim responsibility for their attacks.” For example, in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have been operating for decades, as have the Basque Fatherland and Freedom in Spain, and the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland (Global Terrorism Database, 2013).
Using trajectory analyses, LaFree and his colleagues identified several countries with rapidly rising number of terrorist attacks since 1999, which they characterized as ‘hot spots’: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Kashmir, Nepal, Rwanda, Thailand, and West Bank/Gaza. However, LaFree et al.’s (2010) analysis of ‘hot spots’ only includes incidents up to 2006, meaning recent surges in attacks from Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya are not included in LaFree et al.’s analyses (Marchal, 2009; Africa Research Bulletin, 2013). Further, the cases of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab show the limitations of using incidents of attacks to predict future terrorist attacks. According to the GTD, since 2006, there have been four total attacks attributable to known groups in Rwanda, whereas there have been 205 in Somalia and 159 in Nigeria. (Counts only include attacks that have been attributed to a known perpetrator by the media, meet terrorism criterion 1 (political aim) and 2 (coercive intent), and exclude ambiguous and unsuccessful attacks (see Global Terrorism Database, 2013).) Predicting the success and decline of terrorist groups is understudied in comparative criminology, but recent research suggests that the size and political/religious ideology of the group contribute to their longevity (LaFree and Ackerman, 2009).
Individual-level research on terrorism has examined a range of possible causes, including psychopathology, personality, trauma and alienation, personal status, moral neutralization, demographics, employment, education, marriage, group-level grievances, and socialization (LaFree and Ackerman, 2009). In their review of potential causes, LaFree and Ackerman find little empirical evidence to support psychopathological perspectives, which propose that terrorists disproportionally suffer from mental disorders, cognitive maladaptations, or other risk factors associated with suicide (in the case of suicide bombers). They found general support for a relationship between individual trauma or alienation and terrorist attitudes and behaviors. They argue that “while not genuinely causal in nature, trauma, perceived injustice, and alienation can be termed facilitative variables in that they may act to make individuals more antagonistic toward outgroups, more vulnerable to terrorist ideologies, or more open to mechanisms of self-justification for the use of violence” (LaFree and Ackerman, 2009: p. 350). While there is evidence that terrorists tend to be young males, other known criminological correlates of crime are not supported by evidence: employment, marriage, parenthood, and education. More generally, they find that comparative research on individual-level causes and correlates of terrorist activities is vastly underresearched.
Comparative and international research is also useful for illuminating the universal and culturally specific dangers women face across the globe. Women are more likely to be killed by a family member or spouse than men in the United States, Israel, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and across Europe (UNODC, 2011). UNODC (2011: p. 58) show that for a selection of European countries, 77% of all victims killed by their spouses or exspouses were women. This suggests that situational risk factors for female victimization are similar across countries; however, the form of victimization may vary.
The Global Burden of Armed Violence discusses a number of ‘hidden forms’ of violence against women, including ‘honor killings,’ ‘dowry deaths,’ witchcraft killings, gender-related forced suicide, and genital mutilation. Official data on violence against women likely underestimate the true levels due to underreporting and the ‘hidden’ nature of domestic violence. Because of this, comparative researchers often rely on secondary sources and media outlets to gain information on the characteristics and levels of ‘hidden forms’ of violence against women.
For example, although honor killings have existed in many different cultures for centuries, reliable data on honor killings are scarce (Goldstein, 2002). Goldstein argues that the absence of data is possibly due to an unwillingness to report crimes, a lack of legal recognition of honor crimes, and the tendency for honor killings to occur during times of war. Country-level estimates of the number of honor killings range from 400 in Yemen in 1997, to over a 1000 in Pakistan in 1999, to over 5000 worldwide each year (Goldstein, 2002: p. 31). According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (see Jahangir, 2000), honor killings have been recorded in a diverse range of countries, including Bangladesh, Ecuador, Great Britain, India, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey.
Sev’er and Yurdakul (2001) used a sample of honor killings reported in the media and by other academics to examine the characteristics of female honor killings in Turkey. The authors (2001: pp. 964–965, citations omitted) define honor killing as “the premeditated murder of preadolescent, adolescent, or adult women by one or more male members of the immediate or extended family.” They further describe the circumstances under which honor killings tend to occur in Turkey: “These killings are often undertaken when a family council decides on the time and form of execution due to an allegation, suspicion, or proof of sexual impropriety by the victim” (p. 965). They found that most honor killings occurred in rural populations characterized by low incomes, low education, early marriages, and a ‘feudal type of land ownership’ that leaves “nothing to the majority of disenfranchised men (except power over women and children)” (Sev’er and Yurdakul, 2001: p. 989).
Survey-based studies of honor killing are rare. However, recently Eisner and Ghuneim (2013) conducted one of the first studies to use psychometric instruments to measure attitudes toward honor killing.Among a convenience sample of 856 ninth graders inAmman, Jordan, the authors found that 46.1% of boys agreed with items stating “It is okay for a man to kill his daughter [sister, wife] if she has dishonored her family” (p. 411). By contrast, only 22.1% of girls supported honor killings. Adolescents who supported honor killings were more likely to come from low education and ‘breadwinner’-type families (i.e., mother is a house wife), espouse traditional attitudes (i.e., patriarchal and anti-Western values), believe that females should remain chaste, and rely on moral neutralization techniques to excuse violence more generally (pp. 410–412). The authors conclude that “any meaningful attempt to reduce attitudes in support of honor killings therefore probably requires a broader societal commitment to changing the underlying cultural support for patriarchal dominance, including moral justification of private violence against transgressors” (p. 415).
In sum, geographical and cultural regions face many different challenges to social order, but there are also seemingly common characteristics and risk factors found in different contexts. Across the globe, men are more likely to be the perpetrators and victims of lethal violence, whereas women are more likely to be victims of lethal domestic violence. Certain individual and socioeconomic risk factors of crime, such as moral neutralization, income inequality, poverty, and lack of education are likely related to a range of criminal activities, including honor killing, terrorism, organized crime, and gang violence. Finally, crimes tend to be spatially concentrated. Within Europe, crime is generally higher in Eastern Europe; however, east/west trends are likely to converge, and homicide tends to cluster in Central and South America as well as in sub- Saharan Africa. A review of violence in Mexico revealed that crimes are likely further spatially concentrated within countries. Terrorist attacks are concentrated in Latin America, Western Europe, and the Middle East.
Although this suggests criminal behaviors have some common roots across countries, more comparative and international research is needed to explore universal and culturally specific risk factors and contexts of crime. It is important to remember that universality and cultural relativism are not inherently antagonistic to each other. In Karstedt’s (2001: p. 302) words,
we should shift our perspective systematically from differences toward universals and vice versa. Indigenization does not imply that universals or a universal theory are useless, but to the contrary: It directs attention to the culture-bound quality of those theories that we rate as universal theories, or directs the search toward hitherto neglected and potential universals. Any such tendencies toward such dichotomies are inimical to the development of the discipline.
What comparative and international criminology makes clear is that “we are a criminally challenged planet” (Adler, 1996: p. 3). While there are many methodological and theoretical problems to overcome, comparative research is nevertheless imperative to our understanding of crime.
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