News & Politics

A Lot More of Us Are Committing Serious Crimes Than You Might Think

It may not be “American carnage," but Americans aren’t saints either according to a 2,000 person survey.

Photo Credit: arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com

During Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, he spoke puzzlingly of "American carnage," a crime wave sweeping the United States that to listen to him, had Americans cowering in their homes, afraid to walk the streets. But the truth, as is usually the case with our 45th president, is somewhat different. The crime rate in the U.S., while slightly higher than past years, is still at a historically low point in modern history.

With this in mind, safehome.org, a home security review website, decided to produce a snapshot of everyday American criminal activities—a nationwide rap sheet if you will. They surveyed over 2,000 Americans to find out who among us has broken the law. The results, if not quite American carnage, are eye-opening.

Most Frequently Committed Crimes

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When survey takers were offered a list of several crimes, both major and minor, and asked if they had committed any of them at least once, people answered yes to many of them. The most committed crime was a traffic violation, with 86% of survey participants admitting their guilt to anything from a parking ticket to running a red light to speeding.

Second on the list was downloading music, videos or software illegally, aka copyright infringement. Over three-fourths of the participants—76%—admitted to this crime, which if committed by a large corporation could result in billions of dollars in fines.

Further down the list, over half of the surveyed, 52%, admitted to possessing or using illegal drugs, and an equal number said they used prescription medicines that were not prescribed to them. While many of the crimes they admitted to were minor (urinating in a public place, throwing trash into someone else’s dumpster, littering), one major crime stands out at number 10. Forty percent of participants admitted to driving under the influence, a crime that kills 28 Americans a day and could land the driver in prison.

Top Major Crimes Committed

Most of the most commonly committed crimes are not in the “carnage” category, but Americans do admit to some major criminal activity. DUI, as noted, is the most egregious crime that is commonly committed, at 40%, but it is not the only one. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said they had driven recklessly; 27% said they had threatened (but not followed through) to hit somebody; and 23% admitted that they knew about someone else’s criminal plans but failed to report their knowledge to the police, making them accomplices.

Other major crimes committed include stealing personal property (18%), physically attacking someone causing injury (17%), selling illegal drugs (16%), and knowingly writing a bad check (10%).

Crimes by Gender

Both men and women equally commit traffic violations, but after that, criminal activity differs between the genders. For instance, 63% of men have peed in a public space, while only 41% of women have stooped to this level. Sixty-one percent of men have trespassed, while only 50% of women have done so. Conversely, 39% of women admitted to shoplifting, while this crime does not even register in the top 10 for male criminal activity. 

Switching it up, 47% of men have made an illegal bet, while women don’t register in the bookie pool. Eighty-two percent of the surveyed men said they had downloaded music, videos or software illegally, while only 69% of women did so. Interestingly, while 55% of the men used or possessed illegal drugs, compared to 49% of women, more women, 54%, admitted to using prescription drugs that were not written for them, then men, at 51%.

All in all, among the top 10 most female-centric crimes vs. male-centric crimes, men admitted their crimes more frequently than women.

Crimes by Religion

Atheists lead the minor crime parade, though the differences are minimal, with 39% admitting to committing minor crimes, followed by Catholics, Jews and Buddhists, all at 36%, and Protestants at 33%. However, in the major crime category, Catholics are the leaders at 13%, almost twice the major crime rate of the last-place Buddhists (at 7%).

In the middle are Protestants and atheists at 10%, and Jews at 8%.

Crimes by Party Affiliation

Not much difference here. Democrats commit more minor crimes, 38% to 36%, but Republicans commit more major crimes, 11% to 10%.

Crimes by Sexual Orientation

Self-identified bisexuals lead the pack in both minor and major crimes, with 41% admitting to minor infractions and 13% admitting to major crimes. Straight people come in at 37% minor and 11% major, followed by gay people at 36% and 9%.

Crimes by Region

At 24.96%, the American South harbored more admitted criminals than any other region in the U.S. But it is close. The lowest number of crime committers is in the East where 23.46% say they are at least minor criminals, followed by the West at 23.86% and the Central States at 24.44%.

Crimes by Association

Seventy-one percent of men say they know someone who has committed a crime, while 65% of women say the same. Twelve percent of men know someone who has committed a major crime, vs. 9% for women. Overall, atheists seem to know the most criminals, with 72% admitting to knowing a criminal, while Jews are the group least likely to know a criminal, at 58%.

However, Jews and Christians tied at 14% when asked if they know a person who has committed a major crime.

What Should Be a Crime?

It isn’t a shock to find that most of the crimes committed by the survey participants were crimes they don’t think should be labeled crimes. Seventy-eight percent do not think dumpster diving should be a crime, while 74% think betting should be legal.

An equal number think repairs or renovations to your home should not require a permit; 70% think it should be legal to be paid for sex, and an almost equal 69% think it should be OK to be the one paying for sex.

Other minor infractions the surveyed think should be legal include throwing trash into some else’s dumpster (68%), being drunk in public (67%), illegal downloads of music, videos and software (66%), peeing in public (66%), and taking someone else’s prescription meds (63%).

By gender, the top crime both men and women think should be legalized is dumpster diving, at 76% and 81% respectively. To the surprise of no one, men think it should be legal to pay for sex, 73%, to 65% of women. And perhaps in response to those long public restroom lines for women, 70% of them think peeing in public should be legal, vs. 62% of men.

See the entire survey.

Larry Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history.