When one ponders on the notion of white-collar and corporate crimes, usually images of massive company takeovers via blackmail and scheming lawyers, for example, spring to mind. Normally, one does not think how this form of crime can in any way relate to street crime in terms of public disturbance. However, white-collar crime can have direct and indirect consequences towards a single person, part of a society and can even span internationally. White-collar crime kept relatively low profile however, and thus it is difficult to pinpoint unhappiness it can cause as surveys focus more on the statistics of regular crime.
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It is certain that white-collar crime will cause direct and indirect victimization but recognition is needed in identifying its offences; for instance, corruption has a more scattered effect on the population whereas other white-collar offences can have a direct consequence on certain employees. Most offences are gradual and take time to be noticed, environmental crime for example. They lack the instant effect that a burglary or a murder can cause, particularly when it comes to the public’s attention. Instead, they affect institutions or commerce where most of the on goings is kept clear from public knowledge. Where there is no direct contact to the victim with no known motive or cause, there is less interest to be generated. Some offences are vague to whom exactly they harm and to whom they benefit. Friedrichs (1996) gives an example that there may be a public advantage in cost savings that results from governmental corruption where companies sell at a lower price to competitors. Even counterfeit goods can be seen as beneficial as consumers have a chance to afford designer products which in turn, creates jobs in the counterfeit company’s workforce. Of course, the counter argument to this is that the sub-quality goods can be harmful to the public and that employment in genuine companies is in jeopardy (Croall, 1998).
And so, much of white-collar victimization is not quite what one may expect as it does not have a direct impact on an individual. Some victims of this form of crime are accused of actually inviting the harm. There are several examples of these ‘willing victims’: investors risking their money rather than placing it in say, the safety of a pension scheme. Or perhaps, consumers who willingly buy the counterfeit products that are offered in the market. Or those who willingly choose to work in environmentally unsafe areas in promise of a higher wage. If an accident does occur, it is often the ‘careless’ workers’ fault not the company that employs them. Even if a woman’s breast enhancement surgery goes wrong, she might be blamed simply because she chose to have a surgery for vain, selfish reasons either than medical. These cases rarely provoke sympathy from the court
Nevertheless, there is a certain ‘image’ or ‘myth’ concerning victimization from white-collar crime. Regulatory law is set up in such a way that Croall (1992) states that consumers, workers and the public be protected from harm which they cannot combat. The consumer is unable to judge how genuine the product is, or if they are buying medicine, how harmful the side effects are. Thus if several people are killed in a workplace, the deaths are put down as something that could not be avoided rather than a company’s neglect. In this stereotypical light, the law regarding white-collar crime can be rather skewed and misguided. An organization can be criticized by its misuse of the environment but anything concerning the well-being of the workers it employs is ignored. If a company bus crashes, the deaths of the innocent passengers within will draw the sympathy and not the driver who probably will be blamed for the incident for his or her carelessness.
Victimization relating to white-collar crimes completely strays from the term ‘conventional victimology’ which describes victimization on individual, conventional cases. Instead, it belongs to ‘critical victimology’ which basically defines ‘victims we cannot see’ (Walklate 1999). White-collar offences are, practically, invisible
Despite all that, white-collar offences are quite capable of causing direct harm to a person and his finally. Trust is automatically lost and there is a sense of betrayal when financial fraud occurs and Levi (1999) states: “Fraud lead to broken dreamsâ€¦frauds can destroy happiness permanently, just as readily as any other crimeâ€¦Because victims know they have supplied funds or goods voluntarily and because the loss of their financial cushion makes meaningless all their lifelong savings and sacrifices.” There is also a sense of betrayed trust when death is involved amongst employees due to a company’s negligence. The grief felt is even heavier when the victim’s body takes some time to be recovered or one who has survived a horrible accident suffers from ‘survivor’s guilt’ (Wells 1995).
White-collar crime though often seen as indirect, can also cause physical damage to its victims and threaten the safety within one’s family home. For instance, counterfeit goods and mass-produced food can be harmful or even tap water which is not properly monitored and/or cleansed. Even one’s workplace could not be viewed as safe, say if a worker has strong allergic reactions to the pollen surrounding the area. White-collar victimization is not limited to humans; even the wildlife is threatened from pollution caused by large industries.
Corporate crime can even lead to the loss of a quality life within a community. A large industry can easily squash any fine balance within the community, whether it is environmental or economical. Examples of these are waste disposal, noise pollution, drainage in resources and a rise in taxes. Large corporations suddenly settling down in a quite community often and do threaten any local small businesses which used to reside previously.
Economic offences caused by white-collar crime are often felt by institutions rather than a single person’s misfortune. An institution can suffer from money theft and corruption but sometimes, in order not to lose a grip in the market, the institution will either lower salaries or raise prices to counter this. Even in the name of competition amongst themselves, companies will break rules and spy on each other or go as far as to sabotage each other’s projects.
White-collar crime also spans nationally and even globally. One might think that offences against a form of government might not deal with any victimization, but nonetheless it can indirectly affect individuals, such as increasing tax and decreasing public resources. In this case, it is hard to form any bonds of trust in organizations such as the police force if the latter is set deep into corruption. Globally, currency frauds particularly when it involves the Euro can lead to great losses and/or any frauds concerning public waste disposal and food will inevitably damage public health and safety. Either way, white-collar crime even if it seems impersonal can affect the individual.
It is often asked, ‘which’ individual is affected by white-collar crime and whether social status, gender or age comes into play. It is however, difficult to specify as white-collar crime is vague at best to begin with and crime surveys do not exactly touch that particularly subject as a result. Still, victimization does target several vulnerable groups more than others.
There is a difference in victimization where gender is involved, as several feminist criminologists will argue. For instance, any fraud and accidents caused by pharmacy products usually affects the female population. Even in the workforce, women seem more vulnerable simply because they lack the ‘technical expertise’ and thus render them more open to fraud scams. Even larger cases are schemes involving companies and falsely researched contraceptives which led to birth defects, infection and abortions/miscarriages. This did not stop the companies from distributing their dangerous products to needy, lower-classed countries. Even women seeking to enhance their looks with beauty products can be harmed. And those having breast surgery are not exempt either. In addiction, a wide array of side effects can follow dietary pills; there are 35 recorded deaths in the United States from these pills during the 1970s and 1980s. Products which are not genuine can often contain dangerous ingredients such as certain acids which are not labeled down.
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Corporate crime certainly expands to victimization of women in the workforce, for example Pearce and Tombs (1998) note that 20 million women work in conditions there are toxic risks – a rather disturbing figure indeed. Furthermore, many women suffer from sexual harassment during work hours, particularly from their superiors, but are often forced not to seek legal help due to blackmail and fear of losing their jobs. There are many cases where men use their ‘trustful’ profession of, say, a doctor in order to sexually harass their female patients.
Even if white-collar crime does not harm a woman physically, it can still harm her economically. Expensive label products boasting miracle results are released daily, boxed in even more expensive, fancy packaging. These sort of products aim towards the disillusioned housewife who wishes to beautify herself and again the marketing behind the product takes advantage of the assumption that a woman lacks the knowledge in financial matters. Of course, this also boils down to false advertisement; the ‘miracle results’ that the product claims to achieve are very misleading. More so, the product’s container is ‘double walled’ thus containing far less than they should. Illusions of a product’s results are not just based on make up; salesmen, builders and investors often take advantage of the situation by catching a customer unawares.
Despite the fact that victimization seems to be based on gender, women are not the only ones who are targeted by white-collar offences. Men are also in great risk; they can suffer from neglect concerning the rules at highly dangerous workplaces such as an oil rig or a mining tunnel. Still, women are more susceptible to product scams it seems, forever seeking ways to ‘beautify themselves’ as society dictates them to.
Corporate offences do not stop at gender, they continue to differences of age as well; the young and the old who in reality, need to depend upon others. The old are often victims when there is a serious neglect in food rules and regulations and often contract illnesses as a result. And like women, they also avidly spend a fortune on anti-age products which falsely advertise. Both children and the elderly can suffer physical and sexual abuse and usually they cannot complain; the elderly confused with their old age and the children too young to understand the meaning of morals. Most of the times, the old suffer when they are placed in an old people’s home- there, they are frequently neglected, fed unhealthy foods and given the wrong medicine which can be proved fatal. Children fall victim to unsafe toys and students can fall victim to their landlords where they are forced to inhabit an abode which fails all of its safety regulations due to their limited finances. Most famous of all are the pension schemes and home security. The elderly often fear of burglary and this can be taken advantage of selling them alarm systems that are counterfeit.
White-collar crime often gives out the misconception that the poorer classes are robbed so that the rich can benefit, however its definition and the cases regarding it are much more complex than that (Van Swaaningen, 1997). Sometimes it is the rich that are targeted, lured into risky investments or those ‘miracle’ beauty products simply because they believe that they have the money to spend it all. After all, how can a woman of the lower classes be able to afford breast surgery? Then of course, one might argue that that particular woman will probably be forced to buy a counterfeit product just because she could not afford the genuine article. Furthermore, evidence leads to state that the impact of larger scale corporate offences are more scattered; a train accident due to poor engineering and the deaths that follow regardless of social status, age or gender. And yet, one can not ignore how age and gender is significant to victimization. These conflicting discussions are coined by Levi (1995) as a ‘complex moral arena’.
To further complicate things, it is general knowledge that well-to-do organizations will have an effect on struggling small businesses such as, buying them out or stealing their customers. Or, small businesses will target their poorer customers. Another fact is that it is the poorer consumer that feels the need to buy the cheapest product available and accidents in the workforce are usually workers who are confined to menial labour. Even on a global scale, it is usually a third world country that receives the waste dumping. To put it bluntly, it is the lower classes who feel the effect of corporate crime as they cannot compensate any resources stolen or wasted unlike their richer counterparts. They cannot seek legal advice as confidently as those who are more knowledgeable in matters regarding the market and thus, usually avoid any financial scam in the form of bad investments or dubious pension schemes. In short, those desperate few who lack the necessary information will most likely be targeted.
Unfortunately, white-collar victimization is not even listed in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and any other organizations that deal with victim support. There has not been any organized movement in support of this particular victimization (there was a movements in the United States that seemed promising but over exaggerated). This is due to the fact that white-collar crime is not viewed as dramatic and important as normal street-crime victimization; the victims often do not report their grievances, most of their misfortune is viewed as trivial and often blamed upon themselves. Unlike, for instance, victims of abuse, they do not form conferences and unanimously protest. In any event, the only movements that are formed are often associated with the environment or food. There is hope however. A victim does have the right to pursue legal action such as a law suit but sadly, the only time that a group is formed is usually after a large-scale calamity. Still, an organized group has a better chance of actually having something done rather than an individual struggling on his own.
Therefore, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of white-collar and corporate crime is certainly not ‘victimless’. It is merely neglected as such offences are often not reported and thus it is unable to be proven clearly on a crime survey. It is not seen as something dramatic, unlike a vicious murder and is put in the ‘backburner’ in favour of conventional criminology. People do suffer from white-collar crime, indirectly and directly and it does affect the standard of living whether it is based on local conditions or expanded over the world.
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