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Fears about crime wide of the mark

Vandalism was one issue tackled by researchers (Techtrain)

Public fears about organised crime are greatly exaggerated, says a new study, which shows that the real danger is closer to home.

Domestic violence is far more dangerous and widespread, according to seven-year research programme by the National Science Foundation.

Some SFr8 million was spent on 31 research projects. Eighteen looked at violence in daily life, focusing on issues such as vandalism, racism and violence at school and among young people.

The 13 others investigated different aspects of organised crime including drugs, money laundering, prostitution and corruption.

"The most striking aspect is the demystification both of violence and organised crime," said money-laundering expert, Mark Pieth, professor of criminal law at the university of Basel and president of the research programme's steering committee.

"We've created these images of organised criminals and what emerges is a relatively banal picture of small-time, disorganised criminals," he told swissinfo.

Domestic violence

The researchers concluded that domestic violence is far more widespread and serious than is generally appreciated.

Its true extent is little known because it is rarely confronted and often denied by both victim and perpetrator.

Studies also showed that victims of domestic violence often later turn to violence themselves.

"Violence in the family is neglected in public discussion," said steering committee member, Karl-Ludwig Kunz, professor of penal law and criminology at Bern University.

The experts added that the authorities often lack the awareness and skills to deal with the problem.

Crime rates

By international standards, crime and violence rates in Switzerland remain relatively low.

"The public discussion focuses on violence in the streets and from foreigners and this is certainly over-estimated," Kunz told swissinfo.

He said media preoccupation with violence committed by foreigners had distorted the picture because it did not compare like with like.

"Concerning violence from people coming from abroad, you have to compare those rates with the rates of Swiss people living in the same situation."

"So you have to take into account that foreigners are mostly male, that they are young, that they have no family in Switzerland [and] so it is no wonder that they have a higher rate of criminality."

One of the aims of the government-funded research is that legal and political decisions on preventive and intervention measures can now be based on accurate information.

"We hope that the results are taken seriously and that they could initiate social discussion on real risks of crime in society," Kunz told swissinfo.

"Those risks are generally over-estimated and an important task of empirical research is to show the real danger which is typically less than foreseen."

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

crime facts

The study found that domestic violence is far more widespread and serious than thought.
The authorities often lack the awareness and skills to deal with the problem.
Fears about organised crime are exaggerated.
Crime and violence rates in Switzerland remain relatively low.

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