Committing a crime means doing something that is against the law of the country you live in. If anyone involves you in a crime or does something to you that is against the law, you can tell someone about it and get help. 

What is crime?

Committing a crime is very serious. It is also sometimes called 'committing an offence'.

Committing a crime can lead to a caution, court case or in some cases a prison sentence.

It's not always easy to know if something is against the law or not.

If you're unsure whether something is against the law it's a good idea to ask an adult you trust for help.

4 things to remember:

  • we're here to help if you've been affected by crime
  • if someone is trying to involve you in a crime, think about how that could affect you and others
  • once you commit a crime, you can't go back and change things
  • if you're feeling guilty and need to talk to someone, ask an adult you trust for help, or speak to our counsellors.

What can happen if you're caught committing a crime

The police can stop and search you if they see you and think you might be carrying a weapon or illegal drugs. If the police suspect you of committing a crime and you are over the age of 10 (or 12 in Scotland), they can arrest you. This means you will be taken to a police station and the police will ask you questions about what happened.

Once you've been questioned the police can let you go with a verbal warning, give you a caution, or arrange for you to be charged with a crime. 

Getting a caution

Young people over 10 (or 12 in Scotland) who commit less serious crimes can be given a caution by the police if they admit to committing the offence. This is instead of being arrested and charged. You will have to sign a document which means that you accept the caution. This document also means you admit to the crime. 

A caution is more serious than a verbal warning. It's not a criminal conviction, but it will go on your criminal record. The fact you already have a caution could be brought up if you end up going to court for another crime.

Some cautions are 'conditional'. This means you have to stick to certain rules. For example, if you were cautioned for having illegal drugs, you might be asked to attend a drug treatment centre. If you don't stick to these rules, you could be charged with a crime after all. 

What happens if you're found  guilty of a crime

There are a few types of sentences. If you're discharged, this means the court decided not to punish you. There are also fines, referral orders and prison sentences. 

It's impossible to predict what will happen if you own up to the police about a crime or they find out. Every court case is different and we can't tell you exactly what would happen in your situation. Prison sentences are usually only given to people who commit serious crimes or who keep committing crimes again and again.

What it means to have a criminal record

Having a criminal record means you have either been convicted of a crime in the past or admitted to committing a crime and been given a caution.

Sometimes when you apply for a place at college or university, or for a job, you will be asked to say whether or not you have a criminal record. Having a criminal record can affect the kind of work you are allowed to do as an adult. Being arrested does not give you a criminal record. You have to be on record as guilty of a crime to have one. 

Having a criminal record could affect your future plans. Some countries also don't allow people with criminal records to visit.

Talking to the police

If you are a victim of crime, you might find it helpful to read 'The Victim's Code: U18s'. This is a guide for young people who have experienced crime. 

In the leaflet you can read about:

  • telling the police about a crime
  • what support you should get
  • going to court
  • being a witness
  • what can happen after you go to court.

'The Victim's Code: U18s' was put together with the help of different young people, including 153 young people who took part in a Childline survey about being a young victim of crime. 

Your questions about reporting crime

Witnessing a crime

Witnessing a crime can be very stressful. You might feel confused and unsure what to do. It can be even more confusing if you know the person who committed the crime, or they are part of your family. You might not want to get anybody into trouble, or you might be afraid for your own safety if you tell someone. 

If you tell someone about it, you might still feel shaken, angry, shocked, frightened or anxious about what you've seen, or like you can't stop thinking about it. 

It's important that you take care of yourself and get support in a situation like this. If you have told the police already, it might be a good idea to mention your feelings to them, or an adult you trust. If the crime was serious, your description of what you saw could help the victim get justice. Seeing a crime sometimes means you have to go to a court hearing so they can hear you describe what you saw. Find out more about going to court.

Contacting a counsellor could also help you work out what you might want to say to the police and talk you through your options for getting help.

Staying safe from crime

Here are some basic ways to take care of your safety when you're out and about:

  • Avoid showing off valuable things like you mobile phone in the street
  • Try not to travel alone. Try to take friends with you if you're going somewhere, especially after dark
  • Arrange how you will get home if you go out after dark
  • If you use a cab, make sure it's a registered cab from a company you trust
  • Make sure your bag is properly closed and keep it close to your body
  • Be aware of your surroundings and avoid shortcuts down badly-lit streets
  • Register your devices like your mobile phone or mp3 player if you carry them around with you
  • Never carry a knife or any other weapon. This is a crime, even if you don't use it. See gun and knife crime for more information.

Getting more support after a crime

You might find it helpful to read more about how Victim Support help young people who experience crime.

You could also think about going to your doctor for some support with coping, especially if you find yourself having panic symptoms.