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About The Author:
John Schroder of Ascot Advisory Services writes articles for a number of publications and e-zines regarding topics and issues of interest or concern to clients.  As an expatriate himself, John has lived abroad for many years, and assists clients with services related to the topics on this web site.
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Is There Really More Crime  in  Other Countries or Less?
This was our challenge when we put together this article for you.  Which is to say, many people have been dissuaded from visiting or investigating some places simply because they had heard some rumors regarding crime issues.  Are the rumors true, or do the factual statistics tell another story?

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We have received quite a few letters recently from people that have said, John - we are interested in relocating to XYZ country, but are concerned about the crime rumors we have heard.  My reply is going to be - What are the rumors you have heard and from whom did you hear it?  In addition, is it true that there is more crime in the country you wish to relocate to, less crime or about the same (in comparison to where you are at the moment)?  Equally important, I believe, are some of cultural differences and reasons why the crime figures might be different somewhere else as well, which more importantly tells you something about the society (that perhaps you are thinking about relocating to).
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People have made comments to me that they have heard negative things specifically about the Dominican Republic, Belize, Argentina and a number of other places in terms of crime, the economy, levels of unemployment and so on.  However, I live in the Dominican Republic and have never, ever seen the kinds of things supposedly reported in some of these rumors, but I did witness a deadly assault on a New York City subway once, a very long time ago.  In fact, I grew up in New York City at a time when the crime issue was at its worst, and in comparison to then and now, Santo Domingo as a major city still seems to be safer to me than New York was or maybe even is today.  In addition, I would honestly have to say the same thing about Buenos Aires, Panama City, Santiago (Chile) and a host of other cities I have visited as well.  Which is to say, if you think there is NO crime anywhere there are people, and especially a metropolitan area, then you are kidding yourself.  On the other hand, the question is - are crime issues any worse or less in the place you might be considering.  Also, are the people telling you things in fact someone in the know, or are these people simply parroting rumors they have heard in a bathroom stall or a pub? 
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If you look at the statistics from Nationmaster.com (see link below) and you especially look at per capita crimes, we find out some very interesting statistics. However, keep in mind it is often clearer to look at the total number of crimes per thousand (per capita) as a much better indicator, rather than total number of reported crimes.  Obvious a country with a large population will have larger numbers of crimes reported as a function of the higher population, but the real key is relative criminal activity as a percentage:
According to what these statistics indicate, South Africa tops the list for Rapes World-Wide, is also number two in terms of Murders and is in the top ten for Burglaries as well.  However, the United States also in the top ten for Rapes World-Wide (number nine on the list) and overall crime (number eight) as well.  The most interesting thing about these statistics however involve so-called wealthier nations that one might assume would have lower crime rates in comparison to so-called poorer or less developed countries.  So, the complaint or comments from some people regarding certain developing markets is - Oh, there are very many poor people there.  Maybe, but then does that mean because a large number of people are less well off than you - that they are necessarily crooks or more likely to commit criminal acts?  According to the statistics on crime in comparison to the supposedly more wealthy (and some might say more civilized) nations, the answer is a resounding NO.
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For example, Australia tops the list with the highest ratio of burglaries worldwide and is number three in terms of the number of rapes per capita (what the heck is wrong with those Aussies?).  In addition, in terms of some other top ten countries on the list for rapes, burglaries and total overall crime, we see Canada, The United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Chile, New Zealand and the Netherlands as well (we have already mentioned the United State previously).  In fact, there are far more wealthy nations on some of these top ten lists than so-called poorer countries - so, what does that tell you?  Before you counter with the argument that these countries keep better statistics and reporting of such things, also keep in mind that smaller nations such as Jamaica, Chile, Latvia, Poland and so on ARE included.  Can it be true that the better off a country is economically; the more likely citizens are to commit crimes?  Does economic success breed contempt?
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Of the poorer or economically less well off nations, we are surprised to see the tiny English Speaking former British colony of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, which is a completely different Spanish speaking country) coming in at number two on the list in terms of burglaries per capita (remember that Australia is number one in that category), and tiny laid back English Speaking Dominica also NUMBER ONE is terms of overall TOTAL crime.  Some people would like to make the argument that a poorer nation and or one without the financial resources for law enforcement will have a higher crime rate, but with the exception of tiny Dominica, this argument just does not hold up.  In fact, many of the countries within the top 10 or 20 on these high crime list statistics are also some of the very same countries with some of the highest taxation rates in the world as well - so, where is all this money going to?  It must not be going into crime fighting, or if it is, the people in these countries must be so bad that no amount of money can help.  You know, I have often heard American news journalists and others state that the United States is a nation of laws - but too bad then it would seem that not too many people are obeying them.  Which brings us to another point about all this.
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Generally speaking, government cannot regulate the morality or ethics of the local population.  In the United States for example, we know that in many places (with the exception of Nevada) prostitution is illegal, yet that has not stopped prostitution.  The United States has some very strict handgun regulations, yet the crooks always seem to find a way to get their hands on the guns.  The only thing some of these more restrictive gun ownership laws do is make it even more difficult for the average citizen to level the playing field, by getting a gun too.  But let us forget about some of these issues for a moment.  Let us instead talk about some very basic things, such as robbery, petty theft and so on because this really is what most people are concerned about when considering relocating to another country (and the related rumors that tourists and foreigners are supposedly being robbed left and right all day long in other countries).
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If we think about nations and cities, with the wealth, sophistication and police presence to in theory offer up a safer environment and much lower rates of petty crime, such as London, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Paris, Tokyo, etc, - is it true there is no chance of getting your pockets picked or becoming a victim of robbery at all in these places?  One might argue that while you can just as easily be robbed or pick pocketed on the Underground in London as you could say in Belize City or Panama or Santo Domingo - the selling point of the argument is going to be that this is less likely in London than these other places.  But is this really true?  Better stated, in a country with more police and more sophistication, such as the United States (which prides itself on being a nation of laws) is it really true that there are more criminals elsewhere, less or about the same?  Well, if you consider the fact that the United States has more of its own citizens in jail in comparison to almost every other nation on earth, it makes you wonder.  Is it the case that the police in the US are simply better at catching crooks and locking them up - or are there really more crooks per capita inside the US?
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The general claim about crime is that criminal activity always increases when the economy turns for the worse and when unemployment is highest.  Statistically there is of course come correlation to support this.  However, on the other hand, getting back to issue of culture and morals of a particular country, the unemployment rates for Argentina, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic also have been reported to be as high as 25 percent in very recent years (2003 -2004).  This is very interesting because this was the unemployment rate of the United States during the so-called Great Depression of the 1930s.  So, we have an unemployment statistic TODAY that mimics the worse case ever regarding unemployment in the United States, yet IS there a tremendous emotional and social break down of society in these countries?  If not, then why is this not the case?  If unemployment numbers ever hit 25 percent in the US or Europe, would the result in terms of society and how people reacted to it be the same, or not?  I think this is a very important issue to think about, because again, just because one country has a larger poor population than another, or even have an economic situation worse off than other, this does not mean that the level of crime is necessarily greater.  Also, it could be the case that two nations have the same economic scenario, yet very different social outcomes.
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In the US at the moment, the new trend lately has been for upper middle class gated communities.  Why do many people in the US feel they need to live inside a guarded gated residential community today, whereas this was not the case fifty years ago?  What has changed, and with all the recent economic problems in other countries - why is it that the reaction is seemingly different elsewhere?  In addition, speaking of the poorer group of nations - why is it that two countries with perhaps similar divisions of the population in terms of percentage of wealthy and percentage of poor, and somewhat similar economic situations have very different crime statistics also?  Could it be the difference is culture and composure rather that strictly economics?  Is the driving force behind the motivations of a society (both good and bad) always about money?  Could it really be true that people in some nations are actually more moral than in others?
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I will offer some of my own insight and opinion in terms of some of the third world or emerging market countries on this list.  In the case of South Africa, I tend to think the local populace is frustrated.  The vast majority of people in that country thought that changing the skin color of those in government were the answer to their prayers.  Which is to say, the common thinking was (and correct in some respects) that the white minority of the country that controlled the government and most of the business enterprises was holding back the rest from obtaining upward mobility, politically and economically.  So, Nelson Mandela and related affiliated political parties were swept into power.  But has that alone been enough to change the plight and status of the average citizen?  What were the vast majority of people thinking - That a simple change in the name on the door of the Presidents office would offer up miracles?  Were they hoping or looking for a new kind of social welfare state whereby the new government would confiscate all the wealth in the country and redistribute to everyone for free?  It can be hard to analyze, but certainly change and effort comes from within.  A government can of course try and make the playing field more fair and level, legally and economically.  However, no government can force people to do what they themselves should be doing if they (the people) want to change their status or situation.  Meaning, the government can create a more positive or fairer environment, but at the same time the government cannot FORCE people to wake up, exert some effort and take advantage of it.  This is what I think has happened in South Africa, and this is why the crime rate, especially violent crime has gone to the moon in terms of the crime rate.  Which is to better explain, the population psychologically does not want to recognize this, nor can they bring themselves to blame the government they forced so hard to bring into power either (nor can they really in all fairness).  Instead, these frustrations and taken out in other ways, and perhaps why violent crimes such as rape especially is so high.
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In regards to Columbia, a country mentioned high on the list in terms of murders, for sure the high level of drug related violence and scuffles with rebel groups, such as FARC, have pushed these numbers up.  Is it really the case that average Columbians though have a higher propensity than the people of Chile, for example, to kill each other?  Or is it true that there might be some other dynamics at work in the statistics?
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The true test of any country and of any society is NOT what people do or how they behave when there is a policeman on every corner, but rather what they do when there is not.  In terms of these statistics, it seems very odd to find out some of the wealthiest nations, and those with extensive social welfare programs score highest on the list for burglaries, murders and so on.  It is also interesting that many of the countries that do have perhaps higher rates of poverty or have severe economic problems are NOT on the higher end of the lists as well.  People often ask me if I feel comfortable living in the Dominican Republic.  Why not?  I have had a few clients after taking a tour around the country make some very intriguing comments to me afterwards.  They have said to me: You know, I made a very interesting observation about this country.  What was that I asked?  Well, there are many poor people in the Dominican Republic, but they are clean, well presented, with ironed shirts on, etc.  What does that tell you I asked?  Well, there are many poor people, but they are not unruly or unsocial in any way.  Plus, they take pride in themselves regardless of their financial situation.  So, if there is one country with a large number of poor people that do not create havoc and mayhem (do not rob and steal), what is it about the society that holds them together?  Is the glue of the society something other than money - and whether they have money or not, does this social binding things on an even keel regardless of economic differences?  Is the glue that binds modern, wealthier industrialized countries money, and money alone - and does this explain why all hell could break loose when many people no longer have any?  
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When I was planning a trip to Argentina in 2003, I was warned by some people not to go.  They told me, the economic crisis there is terrible and crime has gone through the roof, etc., etc.  Not only that, my poor wife was turned into a nervous wreck before-hand from people that told her the Argentines are racist and not very friendly to someone who is not white (my wife is dark skinned).  Needless to say, all of that was baloney.  I found the Argentines to be wonderful people.  My wife forgot her handbag in a Buenos Aires taxi (which is very much not like her at all) and two hours later, the taxi driver came back with not one cent or anything else missing (just try that in New York or London, I dare you).  More often than not, people stopped me on the street and asked if I needed any help (as I had my trusty tourist map butted up against a tree in the park announcing to all my status as a tourist of course).  Then, when they found out we were from the Dominican Republic, of course the conversation turned even friendlier.  As for the racism comment, well, let me just say my wife and her two teenage nieces who traveled with us got more whistles than Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lopez or Haille Berry combined.  At one point walking through one of the public parks, a fellow selling ice cream from a cart on the sidewalk yelled out - How man, its not fair, you got three, give me one.  Same comment came from a security guard outside a bank in the downtown area.  I had to laugh and besides, I felt a bit cheated as no one was whistling at me (oh well).
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In any event, the point is this.  I continue to be impressed to some extent with the Dominican people, the Thai who have gone through a gut wrenching economic adjustment in recent years and have keep their personal decorum in tact, plus the Argentine people as well (especially with a sever economic crisis in the recent past and 25-percent unemployment).  All these countries mentioned had their ups and downs when it comes to the economy or levels of unemployment, yet things did not get out of hand socially.  Has crime gone up in some cases, when the economy has taken a turn for the worse?  Sure to some extent, or at least the statistics say so, but even so, how bad is it really in comparison to where you are living right now?  Is it enough to keep you from traveling or relocating there?  Is it any worse than anyplace else, or maybe even not as bad?  I would say do not let ridiculous rumors or tall tales stop you from investigating things for yourself.  I would also say take some things with a grain of salt in terms of what you hear on the news or from your neighbor that never went anywhere as well.  Try to keep an open mind about what is simply myth or opinion versus the fact or reality.  The numbers and statistics do not lie.  Countries with higher levels of poor people or even unemployment do not necessarily mean a higher level of crime or criminals for that matter - and this is a very important indicator about the local society you are planning to move into as well (if you might be investigating a place for retirement or relocation).  Likewise, what do these statistics really tell us about the social fabric of the wealthier industrialized nations should trouble come calling versus how people in so-called poorer nations have behaved?
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I wonder what would happen in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Paris, and other so-called modern and wealthier places if the unemployment rates ever hit 25 percent?  I wonder how people in Chicago would react if the electricity went out in some neighborhoods for 24 hours as could happen and does happen in the so-called third world cities?  In the backwards, poor, third world countries, what have the people done (and what do they do now) when faced with some of these problems.  Do they riot and go off on crime sprees because the lights go out, or do they calmly light some candles and chat with neighbors instead?  Where would you rather be, if some of these problems cropped up?  Where you are at the moment, or someplace else?  When investigating crime and other related social issues as it might pertain to a new country of residence for yourself, surely this these and other questions are something to think about.  In addition, do not let negative comments and rumors from the uneducated deter you either (better yet, show them the statistics although these folks will not want to believe it even if you do).  Go see for yourself, and find out if what you heard is just so much sour grapes.  Remember, misery loves company and no one wants to believe you can be happier elsewhere.  No one wants to see you with a success story elsewhere either.  In addition, in my case, had I listened to all the people that attempted to discourage me, I would have gone no where (and would have missed out on quite a bit as a result).      
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