2.3. Victimization Studies

Shanell Sanchez

Victimization studies attempt to fill in what police reports are missing, by asking people if they have been a victim of a crime in a given year, reported or not. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is the primary source of information on criminal victimization in the United States. The NCVS helps fill in gaps that the UCR and NIBRS cannot fill in because that data is only crimes known to police. Every year the U.S. Census Bureau administers the survey and gathers data on frequency, characteristics, and consequences of criminal victimization from approximately 135,000 households, composed of nearly 225,000 persons. The NCVS collects information on nonfatal personal crimes (i.e., rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault, and personal larceny) and household property crimes (i.e., burglary, motor vehicle theft, and other theft) both reported and not reported to police. [1] The NCVS is crucial to estimating the “dark figure of crime.”

The NCVS collects information on an individual’s age, sex, race and Hispanic origin, marital status, education level, and income, and whether they experienced victimization. Additionally, the NCVS collects information about the offender’s age, race and Hispanic origin, sex, and victim-offender relationship, characteristics of the crime (e.g., time and place of occurrence, use of weapons, nature of injury, and economic consequences). Finally, the survey captures whether a crime was reported to police, reason(s) the crime was not reported, and victim experiences with the criminal justice system. [2] See the link below to explore the NCVS https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=245

Access a summary of the most recent (2021) results from the NCVShttps://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=6046 

In the News

During the peak of the #MeToo movement, some jurisdictions began to notice significant increases in the rate of sexual assault. For example, in New York City, reported rapes increased nearly 25% from 2017 to 2018. Yet, this data was framed by some as “good news” – because it reflected an increased level of reporting to police, instead of an increase in the number of sexual assaults perpetrated. (For an article on this trend in New York City, click here.

Looking at the most recent data from the NCVS, however, this positive trend appears to be waning. While the percentage of all violent crimes reported to the police rose from 2020 to 2021 – from roughly 40 to 46 percent – the percentage of rape victims reporting to the police fell. Why do you think this is?

As with any data source, there are challenges and limitations to victimization surveys. Respondents may have issues recalling victimization, which can lead to underreporting or overreporting. If an individual was traumatized, recall of the event may be effected. For all victims, time frames may not be wholly accurate: a victim interviewed in 2022 may report a victimization that technically happened in 2021 (and so on). Finally, respondents may lie or omit information for various reasons such as shame, fear, confusion, and a lack of trust. If the respondent is uncomfortable with the interviewers, they may not want to tell them that their partner abused them, out of fear it will get reported to police. [3]

  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Data Collection: National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)
  2. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Data Collection: National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)
  3. Lab, S., Holcomb, J., & King, W. (2013). Criminal justice: The Essentials. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 


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2.3. Victimization Studies Copyright © 2019 by Shanell Sanchez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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