No. XXIX-XXX (2008)

Does a “Dark Number of Crimes” Exist?

Janina Błachut
Jagiellonian University

Published 2008-04-01


  • Dark Number of Crimes,
  • delinquency,
  • penal law,
  • criminology research

How to Cite

Błachut, J. (2008). Does a “Dark Number of Crimes” Exist?. Archives of Criminology, (XXIX-XXX), 75–80.


The author of the article ponders whether the term ‘dark number’ of crimes should be used in criminology. The starting point is a detailed clarification of the term’s components. Błachut points out that defining both disclosed and undisclosed crime depends on the individual approach of criminologists. Different interpretations of the issue result first of all from different perceptions of social phenomena that are considered as crime. According to the article, crime is identified with social constructs, which involve assigning an adequate meaning to human behaviours. The social constructs that criminologists use are mainly crime statistics, which are not just a source of data about crime, but an individual object of research. Crime statistics are thus equated with the product of social, organisational, and political processes. Depending on the standpoint adopted by criminologists in defining the phenomenon of crime, they also study its extent differently and express their views on the legitimacy and necessity of using the term dark number. The author argues that the use of this term may not be fully accurate, because crimes do not function autonomously in the social space. We can only talk about them after conferring meaning to certain behaviours of individuals. Moreover, the classification of an act as a criminal offence is decided by authorised bodies, so behaviour that has been recognised as criminal must be classified as such. In this situation, talking about undisclosed crimes, described as the dark number of crimes, may seem illogical; therefore, the term should be examined only as conventional. At the same time, the author notes that criminologists need to develop their research methodology by looking at new sources of crime data. She lists the following ones as the most useful for the development of criminology: experiments, participatory observation, andsurveys (self-reported and, most importantly, victimisation surveys). Hence, the study of undisclosed crime aims to determine the total scale of real delinquency. The text seeks to familiarise the audience with the way criminologists use the definitions that they construct to measure crime. For efficient calculations, the concept of crime has been mapped with appropriate terms for crimes, such as recorded, found, detected, and judged. The article also highlights the superiority of citizens and social institutions over law enforcement agencies in revealing crime.


  1. Błachut J., Problemy związane z pomiarem przestępczości, Wolters Kluwer Polska, Warszawa 2007.
  2. Domański H. (red.), Encyklopedia socjologii, t. 5, Oficyna Naukowa, Warszawa 2005.