Despite the challenges in defining mafia-style crime (MSC) as a standalone concept and differentiating such crimes from the acts perpetrated by mafia-style groups, its definition can be confined to private protection and systemic extortion linked to the ability of a group to exert control over a given territory or market.
Notwithstanding, further challenges arise in trying to assess this criminal market. For example, creating a global assessment of the MSC market can be adversely impacted by: differing understandings of the ‘mafia’ concept in various jurisdictions; the lack of understanding of situational intimidation, which could lead to silent extortion; and overlapping criminal fields, such as forms of extortion perpetrated by non-organized criminal groups or abuse of power by public officials. Such limitations and inconsistencies should be considered during the assessment of MSCs, both globally and at a country level. Furthermore, the use of cyberspace in MSCs should also be monitored in order to achieve a more comprehensive assessment of future trends in the criminal market.
To identify what is meant by mafia-style crimes (MSCs), the core meaning of mafia should be understood, in a sociological sense and for the countries where mafia, as a concept and a phenomenon, first emerged, namely Italy and the United States. Mafia can be understood as a specific form of an organized crime group, which is characterized by both of the following traits:
■ It offers functions of protection, for example via extortion and racketeering practices, and has the ability to control and direct economic activities on a given territory.
■ It has links with politics and power and the ability to interfere with democratic institutions and public administration.
Mafias, therefore, do not simply overlap with most organized crime groups, as they neither are solely manifestations of criminal acts nor do they exclusively pursue criminal acts for profit. Considering this preliminary clarification, the journey of defining MSCs as a standalone concept is not straightforward; it has been dependent on the overall understanding (or misunderstanding) of the concept of mafias. In fact, it has been widely acknowledged that, depending on the discipline and context, the term ‘mafia’ can be used to identify forms of both sophisticated organized criminal groups involved in various forms of ‘power’ (political, economic or social) and ethnic organized criminal groups that act in fairly hierarchical, familistic ways.
In practice, differentiating mafia-type groups from mafia-type crimes is not an easy task.
As noted, some social scientists tend to confuse and conflate the methods used by mafias with the criminal organizations themselves, and institutions around the world tend to do the same.
Mafias appear to be ‘organizational hybrids’ that operate within a hierarchy, have strong social and blood ties and function as networks. It is assumed that such hybridization can manifest through a variety of behaviors, including protection and extortion, described as MSCs in this brief.
June 20, 2023 Published by The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. (Download PDF Report)