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Crime rates in the United States during World War II Essay

Crime in the United States is a fascinating phenomenon. It has changed throughout time and history. It evolved and progressed. There are visible waves in crime rates in the American history; this is often caused by changes in the economy, political situation as well as unemployment rate. Crime rates can also depend on the demographics of the area being studied. These are the several variables which can alter the outcome of crime rate measurement. The crime statistics in the United States, as well as the methods of their measurement, have changed in the past era very dramatically.

After the considerable rise in crime in the 1920s, during the prohibition era, the United States government decided to develop a system for gathering crime statistics. “The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program was conceived in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to meet a need for reliable, uniform crime statistics for the nation. In 1930, the FBI was tasked with collecting, publishing, and archiving those statistics. Today, several annual statistical publications, such as the comprehensive Crime in the United States, are produced from data provided by nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States.” (Federal Buerau of Investigation-Uniform of Crime Reports) The advantage of the UCR is that, it provides us with data from over seven decades ago. This allows us to compare the rates from 1930 to the present times. It is a great tool in the study of crime patterns and trends through time. It can also aid in its prevention.

Wartime can be especially straining on the societies morale and spirits. Poverty caused by instability in the country can contribute to the number of criminal incidences. War brings the ideas of bad political leadership, fear and uncertainty. Living in fright can be a great motivator; it can influence one to act a certain way, even to commit a crime.

World War II was one of the most horrible events in history; it brought change to Europe as well as the United States. With it came new crime rate statistics and crime trends. It has been previously established that most crimes are committed by teenage males or adult men. “In the United States in 1940, about 55 percent of all the boys and men who were finger-printed for crimes were between the ages of 18 and 35. In this age group fell 60 percent of those charged with criminal homicide (killing), assault, and theft, and 70 percent of those charged with robbery and homicide.” (historians.org) The draft enrolled 10,000,000 men in the age between 18 and 35 into duty; this was one of the main reasons for the fall in the crime rate in the years 1939 to 1945 from 10.0 to 8.7. These rates were based on one crime committed per 100,000 people in the community.

The men who stayed behind, unable to serve for health reasons or because of age restrictions caused the unemployment to disappear. Higher pay checks made the public more confident and positive, they also attributed to lower rate of crimes against property. They had fewer reasons to commit crimes such as robbery or larceny. Economic growth and stability typically contributed to the rise of crimes such as aggravated assault, which jumped from 46.5 in 1939 to 54.8 in 1945. This was most likely caused by overconfidence of the criminals.

“Improved economic conditions usually lead to an increase in crimes of violence, such as assault and manslaughter. ” (historians.org)”In the United States at least 90 percent of the recorded crimes are the work of males.” (historians.org) This statistic did not change during World War II. It is safe to conclude that even though women became empowered by occupying traditional male roles during the War, it did not influence their willingness or ability to commit crime. “Women commit only a small proportion of crimes in normal times. Murder is almost the only crime of violence in which they are likely to figure. There are almost no women robbers or burglars.” (historians.org) Most likely women’s participation in crime during World War II did not change from the previous years.

Not much data is available on the topic of crime against women such as rape or sexual assault during the years of 1939 to 1945. Our society’s mentality was very different in that time period. Sexual offenses were not discussed frequently. Furthermore, many of these crimes were disbelieved or more often, not reported.

Juvenile delinquency was clearly visible during the World War II. It was a problem caused by the absence of the fathers and brothers, who usually served as discipline enforcers to the children and youths in their families. Many children left without the direction of their male role models, engaged in criminal behavior. After 1938 there was a steady increase in boys’ as well as girls’ criminal cases reported to the court systems. This information was based on the Juvenile Court Statistics. ” The Children’s Bureau (within the U.S. Department of Labor) tabulated the information on each card, including age, sex, and race of the youth; the reason for referral; the manner of dealing with the case; and the final disposition of the case.” (Juvenile Court Statistics) This became very costly, therefore after 1940’s the statistics were based on the annual case counts.

“In 1943, the number of boys under 18 who were fingerprinted was 23 percent greater than in 1942; in 1944, it was 21.5 percent above the 1942 figure. Both years showed a progressive increase in homicide and assault charges against boys of this age group.” (historians.org) The rate of juvenile offences committed by boys was significantly growing during this time.

Interpreting the data leads us to the conclusion that crime rates such as criminal homicide, robbery, burglary and larceny decreased during World War II. The rate of aggravated assault rose, most likely due to economic growth. Children and youths were left to their own devices, which resulted in delinquent behavior. Juvenile offences became a big problem, even among girls. The amount of crimes committed by women did not change greatly.

Ergo, these statistics translate to one thing, and that is the fact that the instability brought on by war time and the unsteadiness of the economy were the biggest influences on crime rates in the United States during World War II.

With time came great changes, not only to the economy, societal factors, and politics but also to the trends in crime in the United States. As mentioned earlier, crime rates fluctuate do to many specific factors. The differences in crimes committed during World War II, and present times are undeniable and clearly visible.

Homicide is of interest not only because of its severity but also because it is a fairly reliable barometer of all violent crime. At a national level, no other crime is measured as accurately and precisely. Homicide rate rose in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to a peak in 1991 of 9.8 per 100,000. From 1992 to 2000, the rate declined sharply. Since then, the rate has been stable. Today the rate is at a low seen last in the 1970’s.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics; Males represent 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of offenders. The offending rates for males were 8 times higher than the rates for females…Approximately one- third of murder victims and almost half the offenders are under the age of 25. For both victims and offenders the rate per 100,000 peaks in the 18-24 age group.( (buerau) This data is very similar to the one from the years 1939-45. It is safe to assume that the age and gender statistics of homicide offenders did not change significantly throughout time. More so, they have been parallel through history, exhuming the same characteristics.

The reasons for the sever decline in the homicide rates in recent years, are debatable. Some, credit it to the standard of living in the United States. The poverty rates have gone down in recent years therefore many scientists believe that, it has influenced the homicide rate. It has been recorded that with the decline of poverty the homicide rates decline appropriately.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a “Cross-National Studies in Crime and Justice,” in 2004 which examined what might have been responsible for the decline in crime rates. “With respect to murder, for example, the cross-national study found that between 1981 and 1999 the U.S. justice system increased the severity of punishment – doubling the actual number of days served in prison — and as severity increased, the homicide rate fell.” ( Telling America’s Story). Therefore, the degree of punishment might decrease the homicide rate in the United States. What is more interesting is that even though the homicide rates have fluctuated since World War II, the demographics of the offenders stayed very similar. To this day, just as it was in 1939, 90% of all crime offenders are males, between the ages of 18-24.

Another significant difference in crime trends between the recent years and 1939-45 are the rates in rapes. There is not enough significant data from the World War II years regarding the trends in rape to compare to the present. Fortunately, the statistics concerning rape in the last decade are easily obtainable to anyone interested.

The United States has the highest rape rate among the countries which report such statistics. The United States Crime Index notes that for every 100,000 Inhabitants in the country, 30.0 become the victims of sexual crime. Women are much more likely to become the targets of sexual assault. “Women are 10 times more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault (National Crime Victimization Survey, 1997).” A study among college women has shown that 1 out of every 5 college age women report being forced to have sexual intercourse. (1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey). These are only the incidences which have been reported, therefore it is reasonable to assume that the actual rate is much higher than the statistics may display. Only 16% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police. In 1995 there were 97,460 rapes reported to law enforcement officials. At a 16% reporting rate, this means that there were actually closer to 649,733 rapes in the United. (Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. 1992).

What is more unsettling is the fact that most of the perpetrators are known to the victims, 78% of women raped or physically assaulted since they turned 18 were assaulted by a current or former husband, live-in partner or date. 17% were victimized by an acquaintance, 9% by a relative other than a husband and only 14% were assaulted by a stranger. (National Violence Against Women Survey, 1998). These numbers are terrifying. What is even more disturbing is the outcome of a rape because it causes indescribable damage to those unfortunate ones who had experienced it. Most rape victims suffer from chronic psychological and physical conditions following the incident.

Rape is not the crime that sparks the most ferocity and anger in society. That description is reserved to a sexual abuse of children. Over the past 25 years, the problem of child sexual victimization has received significant attention from researchers, clinicians, and policymakers. Yet underreporting of sexual offenses against children has made it impossible to gauge either the frequency of such incidents or the size of victim and offender populations. In addition, deficient research methodologies have yielded incompatible or contradictory findings with regard to the characteristics, motivations, and recidivism rates of offenders. As a result, critical decisions about offender dangerousness, control, and treatment have been made in the absence of a sound knowledge base. (Robert A. Prentky, 1997).

Most abused and neglected children never come to the attention of government authorities. This is particularly true for neglected and sexually abused children, who may have no physical signs of harm. In the case of sexual abuse, secrecy and intense feelings of shame may prevent children, and adults aware of the abuse, from seeking help. Therefore, official government statistics do not indicate actual rates of child abuse. Government statistics are based on cases that were reported to social service agencies, investigated by child protection workers, and had sufficient evidence to determine that a legal definition of “abuse” or “neglect” was met.

Therefore using self-report surveys to measure the number of child focused sexual behavior became an alternative in the Child Sexual Molestation: Research Issues Report published by the United States Department of Justice. “Perhaps the most dramatic offender self-report data on victimization rates come from research in which investigators recruited 561 subjects through a variety of means (e.g., health care workers, media advertising, and presentations at meetings).” (Robert A. Prentky, 1997) The offenders were given a lengthy structured clinical interview covering standard demographic information as well as history of deviant sexual behavior. The 561 subjects reported a total of 291,737 “paraphilic acts” committed against 195,407 victims under the age of 18.

The five most frequently reported paraphilic acts involved criminal conduct: Nonincestuous child molestation with a female victim (224 of the 561 subjects reported 5,197acts against 4,435 victims). Nonincestuous child molestation with a male victim -153 of the 561 subjects reported 43,100 acts against 22,981 victims. Incest with a female victim -159 of the 561 subjects reported 12,927 acts against 286 victims. Incest with a male victim -44 of the 561 subjects reported 2,741 acts against 75 victims. Rape -126 of the 561 subjects reported 907 acts against 882 victims. Child molestation has rapidly become a great concern not only to law makers but also to care givers and parents of young children. (Robert A. Prentky, 1997).

In the beginning of the nineteenth century many educated people believed that child molestation was not an issue. Furthermore, most of them blamed the children, concluding that they were seductive and not as innocent as others believed them to be.

“In the early part of the century, psychoanalytical writers maintained steadfastly that sexual abuse was the fault of the child, not the adult that it occurred because aggressive children “seduced” innocent men. (Salter, 2003) Salter brings up and example of a psychiatrist Lauretta Bender who wrote in 1937, that sexual assaulted children derive fundamental satisfaction from the relationship, and do not completely deserve the cloak of innocence with which they have been endowed by moralists, social reformers and legislators.As proof she offered her conclusion as to the children being “unusually charming and attractive and asked that society view the children as “the actual seducer rather than the one actually seduced”. (Salter, 2003) In my opinion the difference between the years 1939- 45 and the present time is in the perception of what child molestation is. Today every one (who is not a sexual offender) agrees that sexual offences against children are especially gruesome and cruel. No one blames the victims, because they are guilty free. Their offenders are the ones that are being held responsible for the crime. The way sexual predators were seen in the past has changed dramatically. Not many believe anymore, that the victimized child was being “seductive” toward their offender.

A type of crime that is very common in all societies is aggravated assault. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines aggravated assault as an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. The Program further specifies that this type of assault is usually accompanied by the use of a weapon or by other means likely to produce death or great bodily harm. Attempted aggravated assault that involves the display of-or threat to use-a gun, knife, or other weapon is included in this crime category because serious personal injury would likely result if the assault were completed. When aggravated assault and larceny-theft occur together, the offense falls under the category of robbery. There were an estimated 855,856 aggravated assaults in the United States during the year 2007.

An examination of the 10-year trend data for the rate of aggravated assaults revealed that the rate in 2007 declined 21.5 percent when compared with the rate for 1998. The rate of aggravated assaults in the Nation was estimated at 283.8 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007. In 2007, 21.4 percent of the aggravated assaults for which law enforcement agencies provided expanded data involved a firearm. The use of firearms during aggravated assaults decreased 2.8 percent when 2007 data were compared with 2006 data. (Federal Buerau Of Investigation, 2007). The percentage of aggravated assault is undeniably very high, but in comparison to the data available from previous years it has been dropping noticeably.

Numerous organizations have applied various risk factors such as “personality traits like impulsivity, family factors like poor parental supervision, school experiences like poor grades and peer factors like gang membership” as to the probability of one committing aggravated assault. I am certain that, every one of us has witnessed, assaulted someone, or became very close to committing assault. It sounds terrifying, but unfortunately it is true.

For the sake of argument, let’s just take these examples under consideration: in a daily commute to work or school one may encounter an agitated driver on the brink of developing road rage; While shopping during the holiday season it is not unusual to observe a stream of threats and menacing gestures between store patrons and employees; At sporting events such as a basketball scuffle between players and spectators or coaches; Social activities such as bars or parties where inebriated individuals often threaten or engage one another. Elementary and Junior High Schools also find themselves with a disproportionate number of schoolyard violent acts.

The reality is that, we are surrounded by incidences ready to advance to assault and most of us do not even realize it. It is very important that, we understand when to accept defeat in an argument with a stranger, because in most cases we underestimate the capabilities of another human being. Although the rates of aggravated assault have declined in recent years, it is not unlikely to suffer from an attack of another member of the society. Aggravate assault will occur anywhere, where tensions run high. This type of crime has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to, regardless of the changes in the societal factors.

The Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report contains reliable data and relevant research to provide a comprehensive and insightful view of juvenile crime across the nation in recent years. Citing FBI and other data sources, the Report demonstrates that the rate of juvenile violent crime arrests has consistently decreased since 1994, falling to a level not seen since at least the 1970s. However, during this period of overall decline in juvenile violence, the female proportion of juvenile violent crime arrests has increased (especially for the crime of assault), marking an important change in the types of youth entering the juvenile justice system and in their programming needs.

As in the past, most future murders will probably be committed by males. However, the average age of the perpetrators is declining, and today the doer of the crime is more likely to be a teenager than ever before in history. “In 1995, at least 3,800 teenagers between the age of thirteen and eighteen were formally arrested for murder in the United States. That number represented approximately 20% of all murder rates for that year.” (D.Kelleher, 1998) As disturbing as that is, it is not as unsettling as the fact that in 1995, well over 2 million juveniles under the age of eighteen were arrested on a variety of charges that ranged in seriousness from curfew violation to murder. (Federal Buerau Of Investigation, 2007)In 1999 juveniles comprised only 17 percent of all arrests and 12 percent of all violent crime arrests.

In 1999 the juvenile murder arrest rate fell 68 percent, to the lowest level since the 1960s, and juvenile arrests for violent crime dropped 23 percent from 1995 to 1999. In 1998, 23 percent of the juvenile court caseload involved crimes of violence, females committed 28 percent of the violent crimes, and children under age sixteen accounted for 64 percent, and 62 percent were committed by white youth and 35 percent by African-American children. Thus the juvenile population of violent offenders in 1998 was comprised of more females, more white children, and younger juveniles then in the years prior.

The biggest problem the juvenile court system is faced with is gang violence. Juvenile gang members are responsible for a very large number of crimes against property as well as homicide. Many of children who enter gangs are under the age of twelve. “The number of cities reporting youth gang activity rose from 300 in the 1970s to nearly 2,500 in 1998.” (DEWEY G. CORNELL)In the 1970s only nineteen states reported gang problems, but in the 1990s all fifty states reported gang crimes. It is obvious that the problem of gang association has been visible for three decades. Still not many laws have changed to accommodate underage gang offenders.

In 1999 there were approximately 26,000 gangs and 840,500 gang members in the United States. Also, the average age of gang members increased; gang members aged fifteen to seventeen decreased 8 percent from 1996 to 1999. (DEWEY G. CORNELL) Youth gangs continue to be a major problem that the juvenile justice system has not yet begun to control.

The World War II juvenile offenders differ from the ones presently active. The juvenile offenders who are in the system, have a greater accessibility to weapons, they have a greater source of information in the form of the internet. They are smarter and more experienced, with greater knowledge of the consequences of their actions. The delinquents of our times have an obvious advantage over their victims as do all of the criminal in comparison to their predecessors form the 1939-45 years. Another advantage of the criminals of our times is their knowledge of the criminal system. They have the knowledge and understanding of the cost of crime and are willing to do anything not to pay for their actions.

The ultimate goal of crime prevention is to develop a highly reliable method for forecasting future crime trends and problems. If we can predict crime, we can develop prevention and reduction measures. But like reliably forecasting the weather, there are many errors in our methods and gaps in our skills. Crime is a phenomenon which has excised since the beginning of time. Even though we have had more than 2000 years to observe study and predict it, we are still learning what it might become in the future. As I mentioned earlier, many things can influence crime patterns and rates.

The most obvious are: demographic factors, such as age, sex and race, do have effect on crime. Generally, this method involves looking at changes in the crime-prone age categories (adolescents and young adults). Economic environment, such as recession or high levels of unemployment may also be compared to changes in crime. Further, the growth in female and juvenile participation in crime is accounted for by the increased participation of women in activities outside the home and by the decline of an established role for juveniles in society.

When trying to predict the future of crime rates and patterns in the United States, we must take all of the above in to consideration and draw our own conclusions.

In recent years the abortion rates have dropped to all time low. If we take that under consideration we come to the conclusion that the drop in the number of abortions attributes to a larger number of births. Abortion has become a very expensive procedure and therefore a large percentage of women cannot afford the procedure. This ultimately leads to a larger number of unwanted children being born and consequently contributing to the rise in crime.

I also believe that, criminals’ accessibility to transportation will ultimately shift crimes from the neighborhoods to rural areas. Crime will become free of geography. The numbers of cars are increasing every year, thus giving the future criminals more options. The crimes committed in the past were highly concentrated in the cities because of the dependence on means of transportation. Today, the amount of cars will contribute to the rise in crime rates and larger area of their occurrence.

Another, in my opinion, very obvious and important reason for which the numbers of crime will increase in the next 10 to 20 years are the advances in technology. As much as new technology aids law enforcement, it also helps the offenders.

Until few decades ago, no one anticipated sending photos, receiving videos or hacking into federal data bases through computers. Today, computers have become a necessity in most homes. There are also many facilities which allow anyone to use a computer at their leisure. For just a few dollars, anyone can access the internet at a place other than their home. This not only allows criminals to use technology to their advantage, as an aid in criminal act, but also helps them stay anonymous. Pedophiles, hackers and identity-thieves are just a click away from their next crime.

In recent years, internet access has been offered through mobile phone companies. This fact has made criminal acts easier to commit.

Future technology may be used as tools in the commission of crime. For example, cordless power cutting tools in burglaries. Technology makes our lives much easier, but it also gives criminals more, advanced opportunities.

Experts say the recent mild decline in crime is due to the aging of the Baby Boom generation. If we take this fact under consideration, we will have to agree that the next generation will have a significant impact on the increase in crime rates. In the future the number of 15-25 year olds males will increase and with that, so will the number of crimes. As mentioned earlier 90% of all crimes are committed by males in that age group, therefore the conclusion is clear. Aging of the baby boomers will cause an increase in crime rates in the next 10 to 20 years.

My conclusion is that crime rates will increase significantly in the future due to new technologies; more means of transportation, aging baby boomers and lower abortion rates. The solution is one. Our society must put all of its resources and efforts into the prevention of future crimes. This means more prisons and harsher punishment for chronic offenders. I strongly believe that we should abandon early release from correction facilities because it this sends the wrong message to future criminals. We should also focus on the education of law enforcement and the public. We should try to prevent crimes rather than suffering their effects on our reality.


Telling America’s Story. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.america.govD.Kelleher, M. (1998). When Good Kids Kill. Westport: Praeger.

Dewey G. Cornell, D. C. (n.d.). Answers. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.answers.com/topic/juvenile-justice-systemFederal Buerau Of Investigation. (2007). Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/Justice, U. D. (n.d.). Buerau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from Office of Justice Programs: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance.htmRobert A. Prentky, P. A. (1997). Child Sexual Molestation: Research Iissues. National Institute of Justice Research Report.

Salter, A. C. (2003). Predators, Rapists, and Other Sexual Offenders. New York: Basic Books.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, Criminal Victimization 1996, (November 1997)Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. 1992. National Victim Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, University of South Carolina, Charleston.

1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey.” Journal American College Health (Sept.1997)Federal Buerau of Investigation-Uniform of Crime Reports. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2008, from Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htmhistorians.org. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2008, from http://www.historians.org/projects/giroundtable/CrimeWave/CrimeWave3.htmJuvenile Court Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2008, from National Criminal Justice Reference Service:

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