Survey to come up with “Depravity Scale” for crimes

July 10th, 2010 - 5:48 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, July 10 (ANI): American researchers have kicked off a project that aims to standardise the degree of a crime’s depravity. The initiative will also try to assign a clearer definition to words such as “heinous,” “cruel,” “atrocious,” “depraved” or “evil” - that are regularly used to describe crimes.

In a bid to come up with the “Depravity Scale” scientists are asking for people’s inputs through online surveys.

“Our feeling is that if we establish some kind of fair threshold system, then the worst crimes will separate themselves out — not because the press makes it sensational or the victim is attractive or the perpetrator is unlikable, but because of something evidence-driven,” Discovery News quoted Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine, as saying.

“We hope that Discovery readers are not only interested in criminal sentencing, but that they weigh in,” Welner, who is also the chairman of The Forensic Panel, a forensic science consulting firm, added.

The public survey, located at, quizzes respondents about race, gender, education level and religious beliefs. Thereafter, it plunges into the hard stuff - asking people to rank 26 features of theoretical wrongdoings on a scale from most to least depraved.

Examples include: Bombing a crowded building in the middle of the work day in order to kill as many as possible; wanting to watch a victim die; victimizing the disabled; massacring obviously harmless villagers during wartime; and being able to carry out regular activities as if nothing happened after a crime.

In an earlier first phase of the study, based on responses from over 16,000 people, Welner and colleagues found that, regardless of background, Americans thought the worst of crimes were those that caused grotesque suffering, with near-consensus on 16 of 26 categories.

The research has also found greater differences between countries in how people rank crimes than within countries.

Now in the next two phases, with 14,000-plus responses and counting, the project aims to establish exactly which features of a crime make it seem especially abhorrent to people.

The ultimate goal is to give prosecutors, defence attorneys, judges, juries and law enforcement officers a formula that they can use to figure out just how depraved they should consider a crime to be. (ANI)

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