The "dark figure of crime" is a phrase that criminologists use to acknowledge the number of crimes that go unreported or undiscovered. Because statistics only catalog reported or proven crimes, the dark figure of crime illuminates the glaring inaccuracy of crime rate statistics.
Crimes go unreported for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes because a person failed to realize that something illegal occurred. In a society such as the United States, where so many people from different cultures and legal systems coexist, a recent immigrant may not recognize it when someone violates a privacy or domestic abuse law.
Fear prevents a large amount of people from reporting crime when they see or experience it. The shame and fear resulting from sexual crimes such as rape, abuse and harassment can often deter victims or witnesses from reporting crimes. Experts state that many people refuse to come forward with knowledge of a crime for fear of retribution.
Lack of evidence or conviction constitutes a third reason why some crimes go unreported. People who can't produce sufficient evidence for a crime simply cannot prove a crime took place. Unfortunately, even if the authorities know that a crime occurred, they may not report the crime if not enough evidence is available to substantiate it.