Digital displacement of youth offending: scoping and understanding the issue

Published date15 June 2022
Date15 June 2022
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
AuthorAlex McCord,Philip Birch,Lewis A. Bizo
Digital displacement of youth offending:
scoping and understanding the issue
Alex McCord, Philip Birch and Lewis A. Bizo
Purpose Global evidence suggests that youth offending has reduced; however, this study aims to
suggest a more complex picture, with youth crime potentially being displaced to the digital space.
Historically, young people and crime have been synonymous with public spaces and being visible. A
shift or expansion to online offending requires revision of how the justice and educational systems
respondto youth offending.
Design/methodology/approach A systematic literature review explored keywords related to age,
digital offence or harm and criminalor harmful nature, using a search, appraisal, synthesis and analysis
Findings Three emergent areas of digital youthcrime are discussed: digitally assisted crime, digitally
dependentcrime and digital harm.
Practical implications The shift in youth offendingrequires response adjustment from prevention to
detection. Opportunitiesmay exist to disrupt or redirect youthbefore they offend. Further data specific to
digitaloffending is needed. These findings seek to provide a possibledirection for future research.
Originality/value The concept of digital displacement of youth offending is progressively emerging.
This paperexamines types of offending categorisedinto three areas of interest.
Keywords Digital criminology, Cybercrime, Youth offending, Crime prevention, Offenders,
Crime prevention and reduction, Risk
Paper type Literature review
Youth crime has declined in most developed countries since the 1990s (Farrell et al., 2014;
McAra and McVie, 2019). It has been theorised that youth offending has dropped due to
increased surveillance resulting in less opportunity for crime to occur (Farrell et al.,2015),
and early intervention efforts to disrupt or redirect youth from traditional crime (Griffiths and
Norris, 2020;Svensson and Oberwittler, 2021). In addition, a decline in risk-taking
behaviours such as substance use and physical fighting has been observed in multiple
jurisdictions (Harding et al.,2016;Lewycka et al.,2018). However, it is of significance that
the recent trend in youth crime is based on traditional crimes in the public domain. Within a
similar timeframe, young people’s use of digital technologies has significantly expanded.
Adolescent use of the internet ranges from 94% to 97% across the USA, UK, Europe and
Australia, with initial mobile phone acquisition between ages 7 and 10years (Australian
Bureau of Statistics, 2018;Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2020;
Childwise, 2021;Rideout and Robb, 2019;Smahel et al.,2020). The reduction in traditional
youth crime may, at face value, seem positive. But, when considered alongside the increase in
youth technology usage across the same period, it raises the question of whether the
reduction in youth crime is an actual decline in criminal and delinquent activity or whether a
form of displacement has occurred. McAra and McVie (2019) raised the idea of a
“displacement effect” where risky or harmful behaviour among you th may be migrating to
landscapes with fewer capable guardians such as surveillance meas ures or traditional law
Alex McCord, Philip Birch
and Lewis A. Bizo are all
based at the Faculty of Arts
and Social Sciences,
University of Technology
Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
Received 22 March 2022
Revised 11 May 2022
Accepted 31 May 2022
DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-03-2022-0014 VOL. 8 NO. 4 2022, pp. 243-259, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGICAL RESEARCH, POLICY AND PRACTICE jPAGE 243
enforcement monitoring. Miro-Llinares and Moneva (2019) discuss a shift in opportunities to
offend driven by the evolution of technology, which may provide new and less v isible areas in
which to engage and, consequently, drive down traditional offending. This pa per seeks to
build upon the suggestion a displacement effect or shift is taking place by exploring whether
youth crime is occurring digitally and is, therefore,less detectable through traditional reporting
While a decline in youth offending has been well documented (Birch and Sicard, 2020;
Farrell et al., 2015), this analysis has largely overlooked the digital space. A gap in
cybercrime metrics has also been acknowledged, with official data focused on traditional
crime reporting (Cobb, 2020). It has been argued that traditional crime data cannot show
evolving digital patterns without including cybercrime metrics and therefore risks bias
(Caneppele and Aebi, 2019). This gap has been described by US law enforcement as a
“hidden iceberg” of crime, with investigators arguing that cybercrime cannotbe analysed or
properly addressed without data reporting changes (Baker, 2018). This reporting gap may
also be particularly relevant to the youth population, given their increase in digital activity.
The notion of digital displacement of youth offending is supported by the mo vement of leisure
activities from outdoors to online (Miro-Llinares and Moneva, 2019). Furthermore, a steady
increase in time spent at home has been identified across the same period as the drop in
crime (McCaffree and Proctor, 2018). As opportunities for traditional o ffending have
decreased, increased opportunities to engage in various levels of devi ant behaviour online
have been identified (Goldsmith and Wall, 2019). It is possible that youth criminal or delinquent
activity has shifted towards the digital space where there is l ess visibility to the community and
law enforcement. This paper examines global trends in the di gital displacement of youth
offending, with implications for further research.
An initial systematic literature review to scope the topic explored relevant academic and
grey literature using a search, appraisal, synthesis and analysis framework (Grant and
Booth, 2009). Keywords were identified in three categories of interest: the type of digital
offence or harm, age of the perpetrator(s) and criminal nature, separated internally by the
“OR” Boolean operator and combined usingthe “AND” operator. A pilot search yielded over
800,000 sources, requiring the addition of “NOT” operators to exclude articles examining
emerging or young adults, victim impact studies or crimes committed against minors by
adults. The complete keyword list by category is detailed in Table 1 below. Databases
searched included Web of Science, ProQuest, EBSCO, SAGE, Science Direct, Informit,
Taylor and Francis, Lexis Nexis and SCOPUS, in addition to Google Scholar and article
reference searches. This process initially yielded 2,690 sources. Appraisal began with a
staged review to eliminate duplicates and evaluate the remaining articles by title or
abstract. Exclusion criteria included the absence of at least one keyword in each category;
age groups solely or primarily over 18years; activities of a non-delinquent or non-criminal
nature; or studies focused on the impact of criminal or harmful activity. Quality assessment
criteria included a requirement that academic articles be peer-reviewed with full-text
availability, written in English and published since 2012. Grey literature sources included
publications by commercial technology developers, cybersecurity firms and criminology
agencies and local and national media reports of criminal proceedings. This assessment
yielded 156 sources from North and South America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region,
which were initially read and analysed by the primary researcher, and then discussed with
the co-authors for consensusas themes emerged.

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