Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Print ISSN: 1544-0036; Online ISSN: 1544-0044)

Research Article: 2021 Vol: 24 Issue: 4S

A Study on the Perception of Law Students about the Severity of Crimes in Saudi Arabia

Awad Ali Alwitheri, Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University

Citation Information: Alwitheri, A.A. (2021). A study on the perception of law students about the severity of crimes in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, 24(S4), 1-9


This study empirically examines the perception of students who majored in Law in College of Business Administration at Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University towards the seriousness of 26 crimes for the academic year 2020-2021. This study's results reveal that the students' view in the seriousness of the 26 listed crimes was identical in 19 cases, and it was significantly different in seven cases between males and females. Additionally, the results depict that the respondents believe that 20 crimes of the listed ones were high in the degree of their seriousness, and the rest six crimes were moderate in level of their seriousness. The most severe ranked crime was murder, and the least serious ranked crime was begging. In general, females are more opposed to crimes than males in which they believe that the listed crimes were considered more severe. This study has several implications for legal policy and regulations making in the country as it provides a deeper understanding of the perceptions of crimes by female and male students who, after graduation, would work in fields rated to the judiciary and the courts.


Crimes, Law Students, Saudi Arabia.

JEL Classifications

K1, K2, K3, K4.


The legal definition of crime is that a crime or offence (or criminal offence) is an act harmful not only to some individual but also to a community, society, or the state ("a public wrong"). (Oxford Dictionary of Law). One proposed definition is that the crime is defined as every perverted and illicit human behavior either positive (act) or negative (refrain or avoid), intentional or unintentional, that is punishable as a criminal offence (Al-Saifi, 1994). Crime is studied to prevent it. The most recent World Crime Index report in 2021 rates Saudi Arabia 118th out of 135 countries (World Population Review, 2021). This indicates that Saudi Arabia's crime rate is low compared to the global crime rate. It is rated as 0.8 per 100,000, compared to the global rate of 7.6 per 100,000 (Okaz, 2019). The nature of Saudi law is that of integration of Islamic principles and contemporary civil law. The State has obliged a unique legal system that relies on modern civil law. In parallel, courts apply Islamic principles in the absence of legislative text that is enacted by legislatures. Therefore, the Sharia applies the main source to fill the legislative gaps and interpretation of the law (Alanzi, 2020).

According to the recent comprehensive study about the examination of university student’s perspectives and views towards seventy-five crimes in Mexico, that was conducted by Petrified and McGee (2020), showed results based on the gender inequalities and differences regarding the opinions of the students as since in most cases crimes are rated on a scale of 1to 100. There was no significant difference between the mean scores of males and females in the 46 out of 75 cases. Women were rated with more severe and particular crimes than men in the other 29 cases. Besides, the examination and study of the US citizen’s perceptions regarding the relativity and seriousness of tax evasions to other violations and crimes were conducted by Burton et al. (2005). According to the results, tax evasion was ranked 11th out of the 21 crimes surveyed during the study. This shows that the average person considers tax evasion as only somewhat more serious. Violation of child labor laws, accounting fraud, and trading as an insider these collar crimes are usually ranked higher compared to tax evasion. It is also equivalent to the crime of welfare fraud and much higher than violation of laws protecting minimum wage. Further, an investigation concerning Yemen’s citizen’s perceptions of the severity and relativity of tax evasion to other violations and crimes was conducted by Abdul Manaf, Karlinsky, and Aljaaidi (2011). The results obtained from the comparative and mean analysis using the personnel structured interview and data from self-administration surveys showed that tax evasion is ranked among the three list serious crimes among the thirty crimes listed. Moreover, evasion of tax was categorized as the least serious sector out of 6 categories.

Six ethical issues were examined by Ross, Kilicasian, McGee, and Benk (2009), who cooperated in the World Values Surveys at German University, comprised of two hundred and fifty-two students. Determination of the justifiability of the six ethical concerns was supposed to be performed by the respondents. Some forms of tax evasion were considered more justifiable than others since they were somewhat more justified for some acts than others. Furthermore, examining the perception of taxpayers of the US about the relativity and severity of the tax evasion to other crimes in general and white-collar offenses, in particular, was conducted by Karlinksy et al. (2005). A comparison between the tax evasion perceptions and the other twenty offences, violations, and other violent crimes such as murder, rape, and relatively minor crimes tax evasions conducted by McGee et al., (2009). These issues comprise governmental benefit claims to which people are not entitled, avoidance of public transport fares, fraud and cheats about taxes in case of opportunities, acceptance of bribes in the course of their duties, and bribing to avoid services. They discovered that there was a difference between the issue and the extent of agreement. The significant opposition came from the females than males in three out of six ethical difference regarding examining the differences in women and men’s opinions about six behaviors was conducted by Eicher et al. (2002). Overstated deductions in tax were discovered as the second the least severe crimes for both genders, 36 % and 44% of females and males. They felt that the behavior was somehow or very acceptable. Over speeding was discovered to be the least serious offense since males were more likely to view that act as acceptable (least severe) compared to ladies. A study regarding the seriousness of thirteen specific behaviors of offenses was conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 1986. It has been illustrated that any person who cheats taxes of A$ 5000 was rated or ranked ninth and considered closer to six times more severe crime followed by smuggling of heroin and the minor shoplifting commodities and goods worth AU & 5. Murder was considered more twenty-seven times more stringent than shoplifting of goods and bicycle theft. Shoplifting of goods was regarded as almost similar to the crime of bicycle theft (Walker et al., 1986).

A study conducted by Petrides and McGee (2020) showed that attitude s towards different and various acts vary widely with time and geographical area. Specific use of particular drugs, for instance, can cause long-term imprisonment or even deaths in some countries such as the Philippines and Iran. A similar narcotic can be considered a misdemeanor or cannot be a crime in other jurisdictions such as Colorado and California. Nevertheless, they also reported that it’s impossible to definitively state how or the crime is with any form of mathematical precision in single research because of various factors and aspects that must be accounted for and considered. However, some new studies have attempted to shed some light and clarity about the relativity and seriousness of various offenses and crimes. Further, the most available literature is carried out in different developed and developing countries other than Saudi Arabia. Therefore, this study intends to measure the severity of several crimes and violations among law students.

This study contributes to the knowledge by better understanding the views towards crimes among KSA students in a governmental university, Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University. Moreover, the results of this study will be of interest to researchers and the academic community due to a lack of a formal research body addressing the issues of crimes in KSA universities. Therefore, this study will provide them with substantial information about issues in the KSA context and premise data in the future. To the best of the researcher’s knowledge, a study measuring the perception toward certain crimes in the context of Saudi Arabia does not exist. Besides, this study contributes practically in a manner that policymakers at the Ministry of Education and judicial bodies, College of Businesses at Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University, faculty members, and students would benefit from the results of this study in terms of increasing the awareness of severe crimes among law students who are expected to work in courts.

This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 discusses the research methodology, section 4 highlights the results and discussions, and the final section illustrates the conclusions and implications.

Research Methodology

Questionnaire Design

As a quantitative method, the collection of the data using the questionnaire survey is an appropriate data collection instrument to answer the identified research questions: “What is the degree of seriousness of crimes?” and “To what extent does the seriousness of crimes different between male and female students?” The model of this study is adopted and adapted from McGee and Petrides (2020). The questionnaire was voluntary and anonymous, and it was distributed out in the Arabic language to the sample of the study after translating from English. The questionnaire is divided into two sections. Section A is designed to obtain demographic information of the respondents. Questions were asked in this part relate to gender and age. In section B, the seriousness of 26 crimes was provided. More details are provided in the following sections.

Instrument of Measurement

Demographic information: Section A in the questionnaire includes demographic information of the respondents. The demographic variables included gender and age.

The Seriousness of Crimes

Section B of the questionnaire places a value on the seriousness of 26 crimes by using a five-point Likert scale, where:

1 = Not serious
2 = Somewhat serious
3 = Serious
4 = very serious
5 = Extremely serious

The value “1” indicates the lowest degree of view towards the seriousness of crimes, and “5” indicates the highest degree of view towards the seriousness of crimes.

Statistical Analysis

Descriptive statistics such as mean, maximum, minimum, standard deviation, frequency, percentage, and Chi-square were used to report the demographic information, the degree of crimes’ seriousness, and the significance of differences in mean score between males and females.  If a significant level of the given offenses is at 0.05 or low, it is considered a significant difference in the perception.

Data Collection

A survey instrument was designed and distributed using Google Forms to access a large number of respondents that, in turn, increase the respondents’ rate. The simple random sampling technique was used to select the sample subjects of this study. The survey link was given to the faculty members in the Department of Law in College of Business Administration at Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University to distribute it to their students during class time. The students were also asked to share the link voluntarily and anonymously with their classmates. The process of distributing and retaining back the surveys by students has been taken about two weeks. The usable and valid analysis surveys returned were 118 surveys consisting of 84 (%71.2) males and 34 (%28.8) females.

Results and Discussion

Profile of the Respondents

A total of 118 questionnaires were collected from college students who majored in Law. As shown in Table 1, most of the respondents (71.2%) were male, and (28.8%) were female. The majority of the students (72.9%) were aged 19-21, (20.3%) 22-24, (5.9%) ≤ 18, and (0.8%) ≥ 25.

Table 1
Profile of Respondents
Demographic information Frequency
(n = 118)
Percent %
Male 84 71.2
Female 34 28.8
≤ 18 7 5.9
19-21 86 72.9
22-24 24 20.3
≥ 25 1 0.8

Seriousness of Crimes’ Rankings

The descriptive statistics of the seriousness of crimes are illustrated in Table 2. The overall mean scores show that the least serious crime was begging (3.2034) and the most serious crime was murder (4.8983).

Table 2
Descriptive Statistics
No. Crime Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation
1 Bribery 2.00 5.00 4.3305 .89686
2 Rape 2.00 5.00 4.8898 .44881
3 Drug abuse 2.00 5.00 4.6186 .78359
4 Theft 2.00 5.00 3.9576 .99909
5 Tax evasion 1.00 5.00 3.3814 1.03709
6 Embezzlement 1.00 5.00 3.8644 1.10875
7 Sexual harassment 2.00 5.00 4.5254 .84441
8 Murder 2.00 5.00 4.8983 .49596
9 Bribing a public official 1.00 5.00 4.1949 .99793
10 Trafficking in persons 1.00 5.00 4.5424 .92120
11 Tax fraud 1.00 5.00 3.6525 1.07319
12 Gambling 1.00 5.00 4.0678 1.09176
13 Terrorism 1.00 5.00 4.8559 .57402
14 Alcohol consumption 1.00 5.00 3.9915 1.11321
15 Adultery 2.00 5.00 4.6017 .75266
16 Homosexuality 2.00 5.00 4.7797 .62887
17 Contempt of religion 2.00 5.00 4.6441 .73410
18 Forgery of official documents 1.00 5.00 4.2458 1.02061
19 Begging 1.00 5.00 3.2034 1.20227
20 Counterfeiting of currency 1.00 5.00 4.2203 1.09494
21 Armed robbery 2.00 5.00 4.5339 .76997
22 Forgery of official seals 2.00 5.00 4.3390 .96273
23 Unarmed robbery 1.00 5.00 3.2881 1.02199
24 Damaging of buildings and property 1.00 5.00 3.5593 1.13636
25 Polluting the environment 1.00 5.00 3.5169 1.31222
26 Kidnapping 2.00 5.00 4.5339 .78099

Table 3 depicts the rankings of the crimes seriousness from rank “1” as the most serious crime to the rank “26” indicating to the least serious crime. This rank is based on the overall mean scores of the crimes. The results showed that murder was ranked as the most serious crime and begging was ranked as the least serious crime. Further, the range of the possible mean scores for the seriousness of crimes was between 5 and 1, with 5 indicating a high serious crime and 1 indicating the lowest serious crime. These scores were divided into three levels: (1) the lower scores ranged between 1 and 2.33, the moderate scores ranged between 2.34 and 3.66, and the highest scores are between 3.67 and 5.

Table 3
Crimes’ Rankings
No. Crime Overall rating Rank Seriousness
8 Murder 4.8983 1 High
2 Rape 4.8898 2 High
13 Terrorism 4.8559 3 High
16 Homosexuality 4.7797 4 High
17 Contempt of religion 4.6441 5 High
3 Drug abuse 4.6186 6 High
15 Adultery 4.6017 7 High
10 Trafficking in persons 4.5424 8 High
21 Armed robbery 4.5339 9 High
26 Kidnapping 4.5339 10 High
7 Sexual harassment 4.5254 11 High
22 Forgery of official seals 4.3390 12 High
1 Bribery 4.3305 13 High
18 Forgery of official documents 4.2458 14 High
20 Counterfeiting of currency 4.2203 15 High
9 Bribing a public official 4.1949 16 High
12 Gambling 4.0678 17 High
14 Alcohol consumption 3.9915 18 High
4 Theft 3.9576 19 High
6 Embezzlement 3.8644 20 High
11 Tax fraud 3.6525 21 Moderate
24 Damaging of buildings and property 3.5593 22 Moderate
25 Polluting the environment 3.5169 23 Moderate
5 Tax evasion 3.3814 24 Moderate
23 Unarmed robbery 3.2881 25 Moderate
19 Begging 3.2034 26 Moderate

Table 3 illustrates that 20 crimes out of the 26 included in the survey were ranked as serious crimes, and the rest 6 crimes were ranked as moderate crimes in their seriousness.

Gender Differences in the Severity of Crimes’ Degrees

Table 4 presents the difference in perception of the severity of crimes based on gender.

Table 4
Results of T-Values Based on Gender
Crimes Gender N Mean Std. Deviation t-value
Bribery Male 84 4.35 0.885 0.279
Female 34 4.29 0.938
Rape Male 84 4.87 0.510 0.789*
Female 34 4.94 0.239
Drug abuse Male 84 4.63 0.818 0.267
Female 34 4.59 0.701
Theft Male 84 3.94 0.949 0.292
Female 34 4.00 1.128
Tax evasion Male 84 3.26 1.031 1.991*
Female 34 3.68 1.007
Embezzlement Male 84 3.86 1.066 0.111
Female 34 3.88 1.225
Sexual harassment Male 84 4.37 0.941 3.292**
Female 34 4.91 0.288
Murder Male 84 4.88 0.568 0.596
Female 34 4.94 0.239
Bribing a public official Male 84 4.18 0.959 0.279
Female 34 4.24 1.103
Trafficking in persons Male 84 4.49 1.000 1.006*
Female 34 4.68 0.684
Tax fraud Male 84 3.50 1.092 2.480**
Female 34 4.03 0.937
Gambling Male 84 4.10 1.048 0.428
Female 34 4.00 1.206
Terrorism Male 84 4.88 0.568 0.743*
Female 34 4.79 0.592
Alcohol consumption Male 84 3.93 1.138 0.965*
Female 34 4.15 1.048
Adultery Male 84 4.58 0.764 0.415
Female 34 4.65 0.734
Homosexuality Male 84 4.79 0.678 0.164
Female 34 4.76 0.496
Contempt of religion Male 84 4.57 0.811 1.703*
Female 34 4.82 0.459
Forgery of official documents Male 84 4.24 1.025 0.128
Female 34 4.26 1.024
Begging Male 84 3.18 1.163 0.351
Female 34 3.26 1.310
Counterfeiting of currency Male 84 4.30 1.015 1.207*
Female 34 4.03 1.267
Armed robbery Male 84 4.50 0.768 0.750
Female 34 4.62 0.779
Forgery of official seals Male 84 4.25 0.980 1.588*
Female 34 4.56 0.894
Unarmed robbery Male 84 3.15 0.988 2.267*
Female 34 3.62 1.045
Damaging of buildings and property Male 84 3.36 1.137 3.152**
Female 34 4.06 0.983
Polluting the environment Male 84 3.38 1.316 1.786*
Female 34 3.85 1.258
Kidnapping Male 84 4.48 0.768 1.265*
Female 34 4.68 0.806
Overall Male 84 108.000 13.6408 1.511*
Female 34 112.294 14.8049

Table 4 shows that three variables (sexual harassment, tax, and damaging of property) show a significant difference based on gender at 0.01 level. For 11 variables, there was a significant difference at 0.05 level.  No significant difference was found for 12 variables.  The overall score also showed a significant difference at 0.05 level, based on gender. It needs to be noted that in the majority of the cases, females scored higher mean values, signifying that females expressed higher levels of concern in these crimes than males. The only difference to this pattern was observed in the variables terrorism, pollution, and counterfeiting. In these variables, males had higher mean values, signifying that they had higher concerns.

Conclusion and Implication

This study aims at examining the perception of law students towards various crimes.  The study was based on the data collected from 118 law students from Saudi Arabia. The gravity of crimes of 26 listed crimes was examined. The study results indicate that the most severe crime perceived by the females and males was murder, and the least serious crime was begging. The results also indicate that respondents view 20 crimes as high serious crimes and 6 crimes as moderate serious crimes. In addition, the results show that in 2 of the 26 crimes included in the survey, male and female mean scores were different at 1 percent level, 3 crimes had a significant difference at 5 percent level, and 2 crimes had significant difference at 10 percent level. At the same time, the rest of the 19 of 26 crimes had insignificant difference mean scores between males and females. Moreover, in 19 cases, male and female mean scores were not significantly different. In 14 of the 19 cases, the female mean scores were higher than the males except for counterfeiting of currency, bribery, terrorism, drug abuse, and gambling. Although all these 19 crimes were viewed identically by females and males, females believed these crimes were more serious than males. Further, in 6 out of the 7 cases, females believe that these 6 cases are more serious crimes than males. These include sexual harassment, tax fraud, damaging of buildings and property, forgery of official seals, kidnapping, and tax evasion. On the other hand, homosexuality was viewed as a more serious crime by males than females.

However, the results of this study extend the previous studies in the crimes by adding new empirical evidence. This study is limited to several limitations. This study enlists 26 crimes examined among law-majored students. Future lines of research may replicate the same study in different colleges, universities and GCC countries and by adding mores crimes with different categories. In addition, future studies may conduct comparative analysis in terms of specialization, age, college, university and country.


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