II. Types of Victimization

A. Personal Victimization

Personal victimization occurs when one party experiences some harm that is a result of interacting with an offending party. Personal victimizations can be lethal (e.g., homicide), nonlethal (e.g., assault), or sexual (e.g., forced rape). These victimizations can be violent (e.g., robbery) or nonviolent (e.g., psychological/emotional abuse). Examples of personal victimization also include domestic violence, stalking, kidnapping, child or elder maltreatment/abuse/neglect, torture, human trafficking, and human rights violations.

B. Property Victimization

Property victimization involves loss or destruction of private or public possessions. Property victimization can be committed against a person or against a specific place (e.g., residence), object (e.g., car), or institution (e.g., business). Encompassing offenses include burglary, arson, motor vehicle theft, shoplifting, and vandalism. Embezzlement, money laundering, and a variety of computer/Internet offenses (e.g., software piracy) are also property victimizations.

III. Estimating the Extent of Victimization: National Sources of Victimization Data in the United States

A. Uniform Crime Reports

One of the primary sources of annual victimization data is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has compiled the UCR since 1930; it is the longest-running systematic data collection effort on crime in the United States. The UCR presents aggregate crime counts for personal and property offenses based on standardized definitions collected from jurisdictions in all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico. Crime counts are reported for the entire country, as well as for regions, states, counties, cities, and towns. Participation in the UCR is voluntary, with more than 17,000 city, county, and state law enforcement agencies participating, representing about 94% of the total U.S. population.

UCR crimes are divided into two categories: Part I and Part II offenses. Part I crimes are referred to as index crimes and include more serious offenses, which are subdivided into violent and property categories. Part I violent offenses are murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Part I property offenses are burglary, larceny–theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Part II offenses are less serious offenses, including simple assault, drug offenses, and weapon offenses. In 1992, the FBI began reporting information on hate crimes. It also collects the UCR Supplemental Homicide Reports, which are the most reliable, timely data on the extent and nature of homicides.

The usefulness of the UCR as a measure of the “true” amount of victimization is limited, because it overlooks the dark figure of crime; that is, it includes only those crimes reported to and known by law enforcement and reflected in official crime statistics. Agency reporting practices, such as masking problems through manipulating or reporting incomplete crime counts, have also plagued the UCR. Another shortcoming is a lack of information about the victim or the context of the offense.

B. National Crime Victimization Survey

The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is another source of annual victimization data. Its precursor, the National Crime Survey (NCS), was initiated in 1973 by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Justice Statistics with the goal of surveying a representative sample of members of the nation’s households regarding their victimization. The NCS was renamed in 1992 after an intensive methodological redesign (e.g., question wording changes, addition of new crime types). Further changes in methodology (e.g., a new sample and method of interviewing) in 2006 do not allow its estimates and perhaps subsequent NCVS crime victimization estimates to be compared with previous years’ NCVS estimates.

Housing units are selected through a stratified multistage cluster sampling design. For 3 years and half-years, each household member 12 years and older from selected house units is interviewed. Victimization screen questions are asked and followed by a detailed incident report for each number of times the respondent reports the incident happened over the past 6 months.

Personal crimes include completed and attempted/ threatened rape, sexual assault, robbery, simple and aggravated assault, and larceny with and without contract (e.g., pocket picking, purse snatching). Property crimes comprise household burglary, motor vehicle theft, and theft. Because it is a self-report survey, the NCVS does not collect information about homicides.

Among the strengths of the NCVS is the incident-level information that is used to assess the frequency, victim (e.g., sex, race) and incident characteristics (e.g., weapon use, victim–offender relationship, place of occurrence), and consequences of the victimization (e.g., injury, reporting behavior, economic loss). The NCVS collects information about incidents reported and not reported to law enforcement.

Topical supplements are periodically fielded and have included school crime (1989, 1995), workplace victimization (2002), stalking (2006), and identity theft (2008). Like all surveys, memory decay, forward and backward telescoping (i.e., the ability to remember things from the past [backward] or predict the future [forward]), and exaggeration by respondents are possible threats to the validity of the victimization estimates. Frequently victimized individuals, such as the homeless or those institutionalized, are not included in the NCVS.

C. National Incident-Based Reporting System

Another source of national victimization data is the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). NIBRS is an incident-based reporting system of a wide variety of crimes known to law enforcement. The FBI created NIBRS in 1988 with the purpose of enhancing and improving the UCR to meet law enforcement needs in the 21st century. Like the UCR, participation in NIBRS is voluntary on the part of law enforcement agencies and is not based on a representative sample of crime in the United States.

NIBRS collects information about the nature of the offenses in the incident, characteristics of the victim and offender, types and value of property stolen and recovered, and characteristics of persons arrested in connection with a crime incident. NIBRS has a number of improvements over the UCR. Additional crimes, such as drug offenses, fraud, kidnapping, and prostitution offenses, are included in NIBRS. NIBRS also collects data on the context of the incident, such as information on the relationship between the victim and the offender. NIBRS overcomes the UCR’s limitation of recording only the most serious offense with an incident; NIBRS records each offense within an incident. The complicated nature of the incident report, coupled with the strict guidelines and voluntary participation, has resulted in less than ideal levels of participation from law enforcement agencies.

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