"Crimes of the powerful go largely unreported, undetected, and unpunished." Discuss.

Essay by janeyangelladyB, August 2005

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In this age of an almost overwhelming profusion of criminal activity, it may seem surprising to discover that not all crimes and criminals are treated in the same manner. In fact, on closer inspection, research has suggested that there is a tendency for certain crimes and criminals to be positively overlooked, typically these being crimes of the powerful. (Ditton, 1977; Box, 1983; Chambliss, 1989; in Muncie, 1996)

Before embarking on the differential responses to the crimes of the powerful, it is prudent to clarify exactly what is meant by powerful and the nature of crimes they commit. Powerful is defined as being influential, dominant and authoritative. Studies have shown that the types of crimes committed by such individuals are often in the affluent, private sphere of business and commerce, with a stable family background who consistently possess a good character. (Hughes, Langan, 1996)

Studies by Sutherland (1949/67, cited in Hughes et al, 1996 p.244)

described the types of crimes the powerful commit as, "...violations of law by persons in the upper socio-economic class are, for convenience called 'white collar' crimes" There are many different kinds of white collar or "corporation" crime, ranging from fraud, embezzlement, insider trading, to health and safety, environment crime, tax evasion, and crimes against the consumer.

In considering the existence of corporate crimes and acknowledging that to each victim there is an individual cost, how can we explain the lack of reporting, detection and punishment?


In Henry & Milovanovic's "Prism of Crime" (1996, in Muncie, 1996 p.21), crimes of the powerful tend to have low visibility, have an indirect influence on society and elicit a conflicting response from the public. Crimes of the less powerful, by contrast, have a high visibility, a direct influence on individuals and provoke a response of agreement from the...