The Green Criminology Monthly #11 – July 2013 – Green Crimes as Invisible Crimes

Welcome to the eleventh issue of The Green Criminology Monthly by the IGCWG. Written and reviewed by the members of the International Green Criminology Working Group, The Green Criminology Monthly is a source of original research and publication on green criminology, environmental crime, and other issues concerning criminology. Each month a issue of this publication will be posted to our blog.

The article is available below in its full form, and is also available as a downloadable PDF file on our Monthly Archive Page.

Green Crimes as Invisible Crimes

Tanya Wyatt

Department of Social Sciences and Languages
Northumbria University

In 1999, Jupp et al theorized as to why certain crimes and harms remain hidden from public knowledge and scrutiny though they cause suffering and victimization. Drawing on the work of Pearce (1976) and his explorations of crimes of the powerful, they developed the seven features of invisibility that interact to in effect make these crimes and harms ‘invisible’ though there is awareness of their existence. Their examples included violence against women, health and safety violations, and white-collar crime. In this short essay, I will be applying the seven features that make a crime invisible to green crimes in general. First, I will summarize what the seven features are and then I will go through each in turn using various examples of green crimes to illustrate the applicability of the feature.

The Seven Features of Invisibility

As Michael Long indicated in last month’s post, crime is a social and political construction and this is connected to the actions of powerful people who are able to control what is and is not defined as a crime (Pearce 1976). Additionally, Jupp et al (1999) argue even if something is criminalized, powerful actors are able to keep these crimes (and harms) hidden. They propose there are seven features that contribute to the invisibility of crimes – they are: no knowledge, no statistics, no theory, no research, no control, no politics, and no panic(!).

Both individual and public knowledge are lacking that a crime has been committed. This is connected to the fact that official statistics fail to record or classify the crime. Additionally, invisible crimes are not the subject of social research.
Criminologists and other researchers then do not attempt to explain the crime in terms of its existence or its causes. Furthermore, there is no formal apparatus for controlling or monitoring invisible crimes and they do not feature as a significant issue within the political agenda. Finally, these crimes do not generate a moral panic nor have those responsible been labeled as folk devils.

Not all of the features need to be present, but the degree to which each is expressed can make a crime more or less invisible. A crime’s degree of invisibility is also not static, but changes over time so will vary in different historical contexts. Each feature is both independent yet also able to interact and mutually reinforce the invisibility of the crime. For instance, if there is no knowledge of the crime, there would be no motivation to keep official statistics. This can lead to academics not researching the crime and/or not having data available to theorize about the causes and correlations. Furthermore, with no knowledge etc. there is no pressure for political engagement or for public reaction. The hidden nature of the crime then is reinforced by the interconnected nature of these features that if present would generate knowledge and understanding. Jupp et al (1999) intend for these features to provide a template to assess relative invisibility of crimes and to explore the mechanisms by which this invisibility is created and perpetuated. The rest of this essay will briefly undertake this for green crimes.

Green Crimes are Invisible

No knowledge as pertaining to green crimes is multifaceted. It may be that there is very limited or no knowledge because the crime is happening in a remote isolated place, i.e. deforestation in the Amazon and plastic islands in the oceans. It may also be that there is awareness and therefore knowledge, but the exact scope of the crime is difficult to quantify. For example, the BP oil spill was obviously known about, but the exact extent of the harm and damage may be too much for people to understand. Knowledge may not exist about a green crime because it is actively hidden. Factory farms have lobbied to ban filming of farming practices in the US thus hiding the abuse of the nonhuman animals.

As green crimes are marginalized by the criminal justice system and law enforcement, very few official statistics are kept to track the prevalence of these types of actions. By not counting them, they are in essence made invisible. This limits the amount of research that is done as well as the type of theorizing that can take place as to why green crimes occur and how they happen. Powerful gatekeepers in government and corporations can also block research access, which also results in no statistics and no theory. Us green criminologists are well aware of these last three features of invisibility in our struggle to find data for conducting research and generating theories on the range of green crimes from the actual amount of wildlife trafficked to the extent of pollution violations by corporations etc.

No control over green crimes is evident in the lack of environmental harm reduction and environmental protection in legislation around the globe. If there is control, it often falls to self-regulatory schemes and compliance officers to monitor green crimes and harms. This then can contribute to the lack of statistics, knowledge, research and theory as it is the industry policing themselves thus potentially giving them the opportunity to hide their actions. While there does seem to be some green concern in politics, it is still far down the list of priorities for politicians particularly in this time of austerity where the economy is the main concern. Australia’s current back pedaling on the carbon tax they initiated is evidence of this. And finally there is no panic about green crimes. The public awareness and concern have certainly increased over the years, but there is very little urgency to stop green crimes and even less attention paid to the perpetrators of environmental degradation and destruction.


This framework provides a starting point to challenge the invisibility that plagues green crimes. In researching and writing about green crimes, green criminologists can explore each of these features to gauge if each aspect has been sufficiently exposed in order to maximize the visibility of the crime in question. This can further support prevention strategies and policy interventions trying to curb environmental destruction. I welcome any discussion of how this framework might be improved upon.

Jupp, V., Davies, P., and Francis, P. (1999). ‘The Features of Invisible Crimes’. In Davies, P., Francis, P. and Jupp, V. (eds). Invisible Crimes Their Victims and Their Regulation. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 3-28.

Pearce, F. (1976). Crimes of the Powerful. London: Pluto Press.

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