Durkheim believed that is a normal social function, both necessary and indispensable, serving as a social function. (Edles and Applerouth 2015). What does this mean? The social function of crime is to validate the social norms, by going against these norms. Crime is a deviance, simply put, that goes against the set of norms established by a society. However, it should be noted that from a sociological perspective, no act is inherently deviant. (Edles and Applerouth 2015)
Deviance is defined socially, dependent upon one group to another and characteristic of members of a particular group or society. Just because one group believes that something is deviant does not mean that another group will agree the same act is deviant. We see differences in what society believes to be a deviance every day. This is what causes disagreements within cities and the root of political splits. Some groups rally for pro-life while others believe in pro-choice. Some groups believe it is a deviance, or crime for a company to discriminate against workers, while management may believe a worker is in social deviance to report corporate wrongdoing to authorities. However, once a society or other societal institutions agree that a deviance is severe enough to result in criminal punishment, laws are then set into place to be enforced by the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
This is where the court system is granted power to set offence levels. In the State of Texas, offences are designated as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are further broken down into class A, B and C categories according to level of seriousness. Felonies are similarly classified into five categories according to seriousness. These include capital, felonies of the first degree, second degree, third degree and state jail felonies.
Durkheim also focused on, “social solidarity,” or how a society works together and is organized (Edles and Applerouth 2015). He believed that society should be studied collectively and rejected the idea of individualism. Durkheim believed that stability in society is rooted in “social facts,” or the “ways of acting, thinking and feeling, external to the individual,” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 74). One of Durkheim’s main arguments is that crime exists, therefore, it must be performing a necessary function; if not – it would not disappear in an advanced society. (Hamlin 2009).
Taking the macro perspective on the question – why do we spend so much time and money to fight crime may be better answered by taking a few select topics of deviance to analyze, for more of a micro view as to why this is happening. Looking at the arrest statistics for the State of Texas for 2011 (TxDPS 2011) there were a total of 4,140 arrested for sex offenses (other than rape and prostitution, 1,756 arrested for rape, 108,414 arrested for other assaults (not aggravated) 5,417 for offenses against family and children and 69,770 arrested for possession of marijuana.
Looking deeper into the number arrested for sex offenses, other assaults and offenses against the family – this number combined comes to 119,727, for the entire state. An assault can be a number of things – anything from a slap in the face, a kick, throwing a ball at someone that got mad and decided to press charges. More than just sexual assault. Therefore, the total number of sexual offenses to be used is 5,896 (rape and sexual offenses combined). More data would need to be obtained to analyze if any of the “other assaults may have been sexual, so those are not being considered sexual for the purposes of this report, as the state did not report them as such.
Looking at a publication from Hope Alliance, their data shows that for 2011 there were nearly 178,000 incidents of family violence in the state and 18,088 incidents of sexual assault in the state for the same year. (Hope Alliance 2011). However, just looking at the sexual assault numbers that Hope Alliance is reporting, compared to the number of arrests for sexual assault (other than rape) the same year from the state – there is a huge variance – of 13,948, or 77%.
Now, we have numerous social service agencies that constantly strive to stop domestic violence. However, the numbers are lingering behind. In addition to the above numbers, it also states that more than 226,000 children will become victims of sexual assault every year, in 85% of the sexual assaults, the offender was NOT under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense and that victims are 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. (Dawgert 2009).
Victims of sexual assault have different ways of coping with the trauma. Those who have survived rape, 89% used cocaine for the first time after the attack. (Dawgert 2009). Data also shows that 73% of women in substance abuse programs were raped and that 45% were so multiple times. (Dawgert 2009). Both physical and sexual abuse show an association with higher rates of use of alcohol, marijuana and all other drugs. (Dawgert 2009). Considering this information. You have to wonder what the real problem is – drugs or sex.
Looking at the number of possession related arrests for marijuana – 69,770. The total arrest for possession all together for 2011 were 118,432. (TxDPS 2011). The totals include arrests for heroin, cocaine, narcotics and methamphetamines. When you look at data on the most dangerous street drugs, crack cocaine and heroin show up on the list, but marijuana doesn’t. However, the combined arrests for possession of cocaine and heroin for 2011 were 22,837, only 19% of the total drug possession related charges for the year.
This goes back to the question, “if Durkheim is correct – that crime is normal in any society – then why do we spend such time and money to combat it within our society?” We all know that sexual assault is morally wrong. However, the data shows that we are obviously spending more money incarcerating people for marijuana than sexual crimes against people. I believe this goes into an even deeper question to be answered on this topic – why do we spend so much money focusing on some issues and not others? Why are we spending so much money focusing on something that may very well be a result of the root issue and not the issue itself? It appears from the information above, that society is spending money criminalizing victims.
There are some concepts in psychology that I believe apply to society in this case. How we cope with this bigger issues. First, I believe that law enforcement and the courts are practicing social solidarity on the basis of aim inhibition – that is lowering their sights on what seems more achievable. This is one of the first reasons there is so much money being spent on crime. I would say that we are stuck in a cycle where there is a positive correlation in the number of victims of unreported and unaddressed sexual related crimes and drug related crime. It is much easier to convict someone for possession that it is for sexual crimes against a person. I would think this is a good reason alone to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, so the focus and funding can be used in other areas, such as the investigation of more serious crimes against the person that are shown to lead to these later deviances in society.
Second, as a society, many people solidify on smaller topics and agree that addicts are deviant and do not want to hear about the root causes, even if there is data to validate it – such as sexual assault and rape. This is because issues like this cause uncomfortable emotions. This is a coping mechanism known as avoidance. However, at what point does society realize that living inside one’s own ego and comfort zone just isn’t working anymore? That to address this issues that everyone find’s so important, that they have to be willing to toughen up and deal with these things that nobody wants to deal with? The things that are quite uncomfortable to think about?
Considering that 226,000 kids will become a victim this year, (Dawgert 2009) I would say that is more than enough reason to face reality. The faces of the unknown victims to come are not known. Never know if it is going to be someone we know in our own family, church or neighborhood. Why wait for it to hit home – when it is too late?
We have our priorities distorted. We deal with what is comfortable for us to deal with. We avoid painful topics and pick and choose what is important to us. We ignore the obvious – playing the game of willful blindness in society. Choosing consciously, but sometimes not, to not see those situations where we “could know,” but we, “don’t want to know.” We really, “need to know,” but we would, “feel better not knowing.” We keep ourselves in the dark on the bigger things, because they are painful. I think we are doing this as a society, until somewhere down the road, it will come to a head and we will all ask ourselves, “how did we not see this?” Not seeing it makes us feel good about ourselves. Seeing the bigger issue, such as 226,000 kids to be sexually assaulted this year and only 13% of sexual assault cases being assertively taken care of will make us feel like a failure. Having to admit at that a large portion of the 118,432 people arrested for possession of drugs in 2011 were likely victims of sexual crime and the perpetrator was never convicted and is still free to take another victim is not a happy feeling.
However, if it is truly the root of the problem, facing the reality and the feelings associated with it are unavoidable. Until that happens, there really should not be any question as to why we are spending so much money on crime. If someone wants to ask that question and is uncomfortable in facing reality, then all they need to do to answer that question is go look at themselves in the mirror to find the answer to that question, if they have failed to do anything do change it. Are we asking this question while human children are being mistreated at the expense of more attention being put on if adult homosexuals can marry, or if pig wresting is humane? We need to stop pointing fingers at a faulty system and remember where we live and that we need to take accountability and enforce changes in the system through solidarity. Not fall into willful blindness, avoidance, aim inhibition and refusal to act on much larger issues that data shows to contribute to deviance in our society.
Dawgert, Sarah. 2009. “Substance Abuse and Sexual Violence.” Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Retrieved August 15, 2016 (http://www.pcar.org/substance-use-and-sexual-violence).
Deering’s California Codes Annotated Penal Code Section 1203.073 (2015).
Hamlin, J. (2009) The Normality of Crime. Durkheim and Erikson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology. UMD
Hope Alliance. 2011. “Facts & statistics.” Retrieved August 15, 2016 (http://www.hopealliancetx.org/education/facts-statistics/).
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.
TxDPS. 2011. “Crime in Texas reports.” Retrieved August 15, 2016 (https://www.txdps.state.tx.us/administration/crime_records/pages/crimestatistics.htm).