What do murder rates tell us about a country?
comment 5 Written by on October 14, 2009 – 7:22 am



Photo: Cape Town waterfront by Slack12 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

What do murder rates tell us about a country? So asked the Guardian yesterday in a blog listing global homicide figures.

I’d like to turn that round and ask: what does a murder rate tell us about tourist safety?

My answer would be ‘not a lot’. Not if it’s just a figure in isolation. Articles about tourism often throw in a national murder figure as if that neatly sums up a tourist’s personal chances. Two recent classics: the Mirror saying Americans would be crazy to go to Lewisham and an infuriatingly daft Guardian sports blog  implying that most people going to the South Africa World Cup won’t come back alive.

If the murder rate for a country is quoted as a reason not to travel to a country as a tourist, I’d I want to know these things:

a) how many murders were of random tourists (ie not gang crime, drug dealers or domestic disputes)?

b) how many were walking through supposedly tourist-friendly areas?

c) and how many where in areas tourists were advised not to go to?

Crime shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet in a bid to protect a country’s tourist-friendly front, but you need more info than a throwaway statistic to make an informed decision about personal safety.

If you enjoyed the article, why not subscribe?
Tags: ,

5 Responses to “What do murder rates tell us about a country?”

  1. When on your travels it is good to know the local culture.

  2. You’re right Ollie. And I’m not saying I’m not interested or I would rather put my fingers in my ears, but it’s when they’re thrown into pieces willy nilly, that’s what I find unhelpful.

    By Vicky Baker on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  3. As regards crime, the statistics for theft, assault and battery, and rape/attempted rape would be far more useful, don’t you think? Homicide is incredibly rare but, like kidnapping and sex offenses, very glamorous and media-friendly.

    There’s another problem. It’s often the case that the most ‘dangerous’ countries are underdeveloped ones, with very poor quality law enforcement. Many crimes, including theft and violence, go unreported. I personally know many victims of crime here in Buenos Aires (including me, several times) who never even considered reporting their case to the police.

    If I wanted to scare myself, I’d look at a country’s road accident statistics.

    By Matt Chesterton on Oct 14, 2009 | Reply
  4. It’s helpful to keep a few things in mind. Most victims know their murderers. In places like Mexico, the vast majority of murders are related to drug violence.

    The media is also a terrible barometer for determining how safe an area is.
    I lived in the Washington, D.C. area during the sniper shootings. During the few weeks that the snipers terrorized the city and suburbs and killed several people, even more people died as a result of “routine drug violence” in the city. The only difference was that the drug killings never made the news. (Except for a few months later when a report came out showing how biased the media’s reporting is about murder).

  5. I agree that murders rates, isolated from other types of data, do not tell us how safe/unsafe a country or city is.

    Usually, when a tourist is a victim of a violent crime, it’s reported by local news, so this would be a nice parameter to identify a threatening destination for foreigners.

    However, even if someone is not murdered during his/her trip to somewhere, feeling unsafe, being victim of petty crimes or scams aren’t good travel impressions.

    Actually, I think more travelers are killed in road accidents than by the hands of murderers…

Post a Comment

About The Author:

Want to subscribe?

 Subscribe in a reader Or, subscribe via email: