Netherlands/Belgium: The link between crime and ethnicity

Netherlands/Belgium: The link between crime and ethnicity

In the Netherlands, half the Moroccan youth get in trouble with the police by the time they're 22. A third of this group are repeat offenders with more than 5 incidents on their record, according to a new study published in the recent issue of the Tijdschrift voor Criminologie (Journal of Criminology).

To the surprise of the authors, it turns out Moroccan girls commit three times as many crimes as Dutch girls. An multiple offenders are on average not more violent than people who commit a crime every now and then. According to another study in the same issue of TVC, asylum migrants commit more crimes than ethnic Dutch or regular migrants. An evaluation of of both studies, and the question is whether this study can be generalized for Belgium. Not so.

This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog -

The link between ethnicity and studying criminality is a sensitive issue. Registration of somebody's ethnic background soon brings charges of 'racism'. In Belgium there are no studies about this issue, but in the Netherlands there are. TVC devoted an entire issue to this subject.

A new study by Arjan Blokland, Kim Grimbergen, Wim Bernasco and Paul Nieuwbeerta is central. They followed everybody who was born in the Netherlands in 1984 (!) until they were 22. They checked how many times these people got in trouble with the police for a crime.

Such a study was never done before. Though it did appear already before that that the number of immigrants in the annual group of suspects in the Netherlands is twice as big as their part in the population. And also that about a third of all registered crimes in the Netherlands are committed by a non-Western immigrants. And you had another study by the city of Rotterdam, which showed that in 2007, more than half of the Moroccans in Rotterdam aged 18-24 got in trouble with the police at least once for a crime. The recidivism in this group is around 90%. These studies were snapshots and could therefore be biased. Never before was a complete birth 'cohort' (a group from a certain birth year which is followed for years) from across the Netherlands followed. That did occur now.


What are the most important results?

* 14% of these youth from 1984 got in trouble with the police at least once. Among Dutch men that was 20%, among Moroccan men 54%.

* Immigrant youth got in trouble with the police for a crime more than ethnic Dutch. This is true for all immigrant groups (Moroccans, Turks, Antilleans, Surinamese..)

* Moroccan boys are on average the youngest when they were first registered (17.6). The average starting age for Dutch men is 18.5. Moroccan boys also got in trouble with the police most often, on average (4.1 times).

* Turkish men commit mostly violent crimes, Dutch men are registered for destruction, disturbing the public order and traffic offense. Moroccan men commit property crimes.

* 5.4% of all girls born in 1984 got in trouble with the police at least once as perpetrators. For Dutch girls that was 4.5%, for Moroccan girls 16.6% (3.7 times as many). In the crime statistics, not only are Moroccan boys overrepresented by also Moroccan girls. This finding undermines the widespread idea that Moroccan girls are much better behaved than Moroccan boys. By Moroccan girls the crimes were mostly property crimes (presumably shoplifting) and very little violence. Girls from all backgrounds are less violent than boys.

With the group of criminal girls, Surinamese and Antillean girls commit percentage wise three times as many violent property crimes as Dutch girls.

* What's the situation with repeat offenders? The authors define anybody who was registered more than five times for a crime as a repeat offender. Among men, that was 3.4% of all men born in 1984, or 14.9% of all criminals in this group. But the differences between the ethnicities are great. For Dutch men, it's 12.8% of all criminals, for Moroccan men it's 32.3%, almost three times as many. Most repeat offenders committed at least one violent crime, but in general their criminal career is not more violent than that of other criminals. The latter also surprised the authors.

Repeat offending is a man's thing: the number of men who do it is 11 times the number of women who do it. However, it's remarkable that the percentage of repeat offenders among Moroccan girls (7.4% of all female criminals) is twice as high as that of ethnic Dutch (4.8%). In total, barely 0.3% of all women born in 1984 is a repeat offender, and the same goes for 5.4% of all female criminals.

* Delinquent immigrants are more violent than delinquent ethnic Dutch. That is true both for one-time criminals and for multiple offenders.

* The Turks are most like the Dutch, though they too commit more crimes and are more violent than the Dutch.


The authors don't bring any real explanation. They do discuss all possible options.

* They say that the cultures and religions of these groups differ enormously. Therefore, the explanatory factor can't be that.

* The lower social-economic position of all immigrants certainly plays a role, for three reasons:

- Because in the lower circles have more negative "role models" (people who made it socially thanks to crime) than in the higher ones.

- Because the process of becoming an adult takes longer, and therefore the "criminal transition in puberty" also drags on longer and the risk is greater that this criminality would be lasting.

- Because various social factors can have negative neurological effects for small children, which encourage aggression.

But.. the lower social-economic position is not the decisive factor, since Dutch from the same low social class get in trouble with the police less for crimes than immigrants from that class.

* Being well or badly integrated in Dutch society also plays a small role. It's been suggested that for Moroccan boys, the criminal group is better integrated than the not-criminal group. Moroccans with a strong focus on the Netherlands are often more frustrated that they can't realize their desires from their disadvantaged position than Moroccans who aren't focused on the Netherlands, say the authors.

* Social control does seem to be an important factor. This social control plays out both in the family and in the community. Social control could explain why Turks score so 'well': the Netherlands has a strong Turkish community, but that doesn't apply to the Moroccans. Moreover, the Turks see petty crimes as "losing face" and that doesn't apply to the Moroccans.

And yet, social control can't explain everything either, since Moroccan girls are highly controlled, probably more than Dutch girls, certainly in their family, and they also score extremely high in the statistics.

* Does registration by the police play a role? A study from 1999 showed that there is little evidence that immigrants are treated differently than ethnic Dutch by the Dutch police. The fact that HALT cases (alternative sentences for petty crimes by minors who confessed) aren't included in the statistics, since in such cases there's no record, can mean that the number of ethnic Dutch is underestimated, because this group is over-represented in HALT. And the policy to focus on certain disadvantaged neighborhoods and repeat offenders can lead to an over-representation of Moroccans.

On the other hand, it seems that the differences between immigrant and ethnic Dutch are even bigger in studies in which everybody says which crimes they've committed, than in the police statistics. And so the effect of the registration factor could be limited.

The authors conclude that linking ethnicity and risk-factors for criminals on individual, neighborhood or social levels is a complex issue. "The danger exists that people will see ethnicity and culture as an explanatory factor, while ethnicity is just a social category which at best refers to other underlying causes," they argue.


In the same issue of TVC Jan de Boom, Erik Snel and Godfried Engbersen published a study about the link between 'asylum migration' and crime. They checked how many asylum migrants were suspected of a crime in 2004.

Asylum migrants include both asylum seekers and recognized refugees, even those who got Dutch citizenship. Also rejected asylum seekers (ie, illegals) are included in the term 'asylum migrants'.

3.4% of the recognized refugees were registered as suspects in 2004. This figure increased to 5.4% among asylum seekers (who were still in the process) and 10% of rejected asylum seekers. There more crime among asylum migrants - with an average of 5.1% suspects - than among ethnic Dutch and regular migrant groups, say the authors. In 2004, 1.5% of all ethnic Dutch were registered as suspects, 6% of Moroccans and 7.5% of Antilleans. But the data is difficult to compare, because asylum migrants are a specific group: (then still) mostly young men with strong social frustration and deprivation.

Mostly it's petty property crimes (16% committed a single theft or shoplifting, 9% a robbery), and forgery (using false documents). According to the authors it's notable that the worse the legal status of an asylum migrant, the higher their criminality.


What's the situation in Belgium? We don't know. In the Netherlands you can register the ethnic origin of perpetrators and suspects, compare databases and do scientific research on this subject. In Belgium - mostly due to the pressure of the PS (Socialists) and the privacy commission - not yet. In Belgium just recording somebody's ethnic origin is 'racist' for some groups.

The few studies about the over-representation of foreigners (in Belgian studies that's mostly people with a foreign nationality), the crime statistics in Belgium are invariably focused on possible police and court racism and on social exclusion. Cultural explanatory models are taboo here. As the reactions to the studies of Marion and San showed..

Comparisons between Belgium and the Netherlands and generalizations from one country to another should be done carefully. For multiple reasons:

- The Netherlands has certain groups of immigrants (Surinamese, Antilleans) that Belgium doesn't. Belgium does have others (Congolese, Black Africans). These groups have different cultures and can't be all thrown together. It should be said that the Dutch study of Blokland and co was about people who were born in 1984 in the Netherlands. This means that a number of ethnic groups now present in the Netherlands and Belgium (Russians, Kosovars, Serbs) weren't included, since in 1984 they were behind the Iron Curtain.

- In Belgium a study like that of Blokland and co isn't yet possible, because our country only has such crime statistics since 2000. So it's not that simple.

- Integration is different. Moroccans are probably better integrated in the Netherlands than in Belgium. The employment percentage in the Netherlands is any case higher than here. In Belgium unemployment among immigrant youth in Brussels is up to 50%. It's not clear what role this plays in criminality.

- The dutch police works - at least on the local level - more efficiently and professionally than the Belgian police. It's not clear what the results could be: more registration of Moroccan suspects (through possible racism) or less (due to no-go-areas)?

If the Belgian police and courts are more racist than their Dutch counterparts is doubtful. A study by the Comité P showed that just 16.4% of the complaints lodged against the Belgian police for racism between 2005 and the end of 2008, were founded. And the only study about possible discrimination in the detention of Moroccans - the study by Dr. Walter De Pauw from the Department for Criminal Policy about the handling of drug crimes - showed that there was no discrimination.

The scientific study of the link ethnicity-crime is still unexplored terrain in Belgium. TVC explains the big difference between Belgium and the Netherlands by the 'tendency of the government to keep the crime problem in relationship to migrants out of the discussion'. TVC moreover thinks that 'The Belgian migration debate threatens to be reduced to a debate about Islam. That debate drives apart supporters and opponents and doesn't only disturb the social dialog between population groups, but also the climate in which scientific research is done.'

But the Belgian attitude is more the rule than the exception in the West. According to TVC, the crime-migration relationship can only be spoken of in England if it's brought up as a question of selective policing, racism and deprivation. Germany is very cautious about studies about people's ethnic background since WWII, and in France there are only French, no Frenchmen with another ethnic origin.

However wants to have a crime policy, both preventive and repressive, must abandon these taboos. The fact that the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism is now asking for ethnic registration (specifically to research the social evolution of regularized illegals) is a positive sign.

See: TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR CRIMINOLOGIE, Criminaliteit, migratie en etniciteit, 2010, (52)2, Boom Juridische Uitgevers, Den Haag

Source: John De Wit, GvA (Dutch)

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