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Criminal Justice Security: Victimization in the US


Different perspectives on crime can be worth examining, and, increasingly, the significance of the victimization view becomes acknowledged. For example, the National Center for Victims of Crime [NCVC] (2008) and the Office for Victims of Crime [OVC] (2015) emphasize the importance of paying attention to victims. In the United States (US), two major sources of crime-related statistics allow combining the perspectives of law enforcement agencies and victims. Together, the two systems are better at capturing crime rates, especially due to the ability of the victim-focused method to incorporate the crime that is not reported. In this executive summary, the topics of crime, victimization, and reporting will be brought together to demonstrate how statistics can lead to positive social change and reduce victimization.

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An Overview of Crime and Victimization in the US

Crime is very diverse, and victimization can take place as a result of different offenses. This summary will focus on Part I offenses, which are viewed as major crimes by the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] (2018). According to the most recent data of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system (FBI, 2018), the changes in the Part I property crime numbers are mostly positive; that is, the rates are reducing for all of them from both the short- and long-term perspective (as compared to the numbers for 2017 and 2009). Part I violent crime has been decreasing in frequency as well, especially when matched with the rates of 1999, but a comparison with more recent dates may show a different trend. For instance, aggravated assault rates had been falling since the end of the previous century (334.3 per 100,000 people in 1999), but a recent increase began in 2015 (238.1 compared to 229.2 in 2014), leading to the rate of 246.8 in 2018. Also, robbery rates have been steadily decreasing since 2006 (150), with a minor fluctuation in 2016 (102.9 compared to 102.2 in 2015); the current rate fell to 86.2.

As an exception, reported rape rates appear to be rising. The UCR legacy definition of rape excluded victims based on their gender and did not incorporate various instances of the victim’s inability to give consent (OVC, 2015). Even so, the legacy rape rate was higher in 2018 when compared to 2008. The revised definition, which is more inclusive, showed an increase from less than 36 in 2013 to 42.6 in 2018. Based on the legacy definition, the 2018 number of reported rapes was 101,151, but the revised version increased it to 139,380.

The UCR data only includes the reported crimes; the victimization rates that incorporate non-reported crimes can be estimated with the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The NCVS indicates a decrease in crime rates since the end of the previous century, but certain fluctuations can be observed with its help as well (Morgan & Oudekerk, 2019; OVC, 2015). For example, property crime has been falling rather consistently, resulting in a rate of 108.2 per 1,000 people in 2018. On the other hand, violent crime victimization had peaked in 1995 and has not been that high since then, but when compared to 2017 (Morgan & Oudekerk, 2019), the number of violent incidents increased by 0.8 million in 2018.

When considering rapes, Morgan and Oudekerk (2019) used the most recent NCVS data to demonstrate that sexual assaults increased since 2015 by 1.1 victimizations per 1,000 people. According to NCVS, the number of rapes in 2018 amounts to 734,630, which is more than seven times greater than the legacy definition-based number of UCR. To compare this discrepancy, NCVS’s robbery number in 2018 amounted to 573,100, and UCR received 282,061 reports of the issue. As for the aggravated assault, NCVS’s and UCR’s numbers are 1,058,040 and 807,410. Admittedly, NCVS’s definition of rape is more inclusive than that of UCR. Still, this discrepancy may suggest that the increase in rape reporting is a positive trend that makes an incredibly underreported crime more visible to law enforcement. To summarize, the current crime and victimization statistics suggest that the US has seen a reduction in the rates of many crimes over the past few decades, but there are still issues to address, including the problem of reporting.

Three Direct Impacts of Crime on Victims and Their Families

NCVC (2008) discusses the impact that crime can have on victims. As pointed out by the source, potential consequences may be physical, psychological, and economical. All these outcomes may be directly or indirectly connected to a crime, and they also tend to be interconnected. For example, an assault may result in injuries and lead to increased medical bills (an economic outcome), which might result in stress (a psychological outcome). In turn, stress can trigger long-term health-related problems, including physical (obesity) or psychological (substance abuse) ones, which are also an economic burden (Sumner et al., 2015). All the mentioned outcomes may be short- or long-term; for instance, an injury can be temporary or permanent, and crime-associated stress may or may not result in lasting trauma. Long-term effects can be particularly dangerous for a child since trauma may alter their development (Sumner et al., 2015). However, NCVC (2008) states that secondary outcomes (the ones that are not directly associated with the crime) are less likely to become a lasting issue if any relevant support is provided. Therefore, the study of victimization rates and consequences emphasizes the importance of victim services.

Higher and Lower Reporting Rates

As shown by the NCVS data, the underreporting of crime and victimization is a rather persistent issue. Morgan and Oudekerk (2019) estimated no statistically significant increase in the rate of reporting of violent crime, but the rate of unreported crime increased between 2015 and 2018 by 3.4 per 1,000 people. Generally, a crime that results in death is tracked easily, but crimes that do not become lethal tend to have worse reporting rates (Sumner et al., 2015). For example, a recent study that employed hospital-acquired data suggested that over 90% of violence-related injuries, which require treatment, could remain unreported (Wu et al., 2019). However, one of the crimes that have the lowest reporting rates is rape. The variance between the UCR and NCVS rates is noticeable, and this discrepancy is partially explained by the differences in UCR and NCVS definitions. Still, research shows that rape incidents are not very likely to be reported because of various social and individual factors, especially those associated with stigmatization (Katzenstein & Fontes, 2017; Taylor, 2018). Thus, while different types of crime might demonstrate issues with reporting, there are specific problem areas, and they need to be explicitly addressed.

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Methods for Improving Rates of Reporting for Underreported Crimes

NCVC (2008), as well as recent research (Sumner et al., 2015), emphasizes the importance of educating the general population and communities about crime, victimization, and resources that are available to victims. This approach is the primary solution to improving crime reporting. Furthermore, victims find the criminal justice system difficult or stressful to navigate rather often (Katzenstein & Fontes, 2017; NCVC, 2008). This problem can still be solved with information (NCVC, 2008), but it is especially important to ensure that the procedures and instructions that are meant for reporting are not excessively complicated (Taylor, 2018). Therefore, they need to be reviewed and, if necessary, improved to become accessible. Finally, there are rather specific causes of underreporting certain crimes. For example, rape is associated with stigma (Katzenstein & Fontes, 2017), which may prevent an individual from reporting it. Such issues can still be addressed through education, but in certain cases, including the stigma problem, social changes may be required.

Using Statistics and Improving Reporting Rates Can Lead to Social Change

Information is crucial for the development of crime prevention programs. Recent research suggests that effective programs are targeted and specific; they need to be focused on a particular crime and employ updated information (Sumner et al., 2015). However, this information needs to be correct and complete. Because of the current rate of underreporting and the differences in the existing reporting systems, it is difficult to establish problem areas and deploy interventions. With improved reporting and better-quality statistics, as well as efficient methods of combining statistics from different sources, including non-criminal ones, the US agencies will be able to introduce solutions that are more nuanced and tailored to the communities which need them the most. This way, victims can receive the necessary help, and communities can absorb the information about victimization that will assist with reducing related stigma.


Despite the ongoing decline in most Part I crimes, certain upward fluctuations are present, which is a reason for concern because of the diverse and interrelated consequences for victims and their families. The fact that major non-lethal crimes remain underreported reveals the limitations of the current approach to crime and victimization statistics. The solutions to the problem are predominantly connected to education, although the latter should help to resolve diverse issues that may cause underreporting. Making reporting procedures simpler is another crucial step. Improved reporting is required for better crime and victimization statistics, which should assist in fostering social change.


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2018). Crime in the United States.

Katzenstein, D., & Fontes, L. (2017). Twice silenced: The underreporting of child sexual abuse in orthodox Jewish communities. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 26(6), 752-767. Web.

Morgan, R. E., & Oudekerk, B. (2019). Criminal victimization, 2018.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (2008). The trauma of victimization. Web.

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Office for Victims of Crime. (2015). National crime victims’ rights week.

Sumner, S., Mercy, J., Dahlberg, L., Hillis, S., Klevens, J., & Houry, D. (2015). Violence in the United States. JAMA, 314(5), 478-488. Web.

Taylor, Z. (2018). Unreadable and underreported: Can college students comprehend how to report sexual assault? Journal OF College Student Development, 59(2), 248-253. Web.

Wu, D., Moore, J., Bowen, D., Mercer Kollar, L., Mays, E., Simon, T., & Sumner, S. (2019). Proportion of violent injuries unreported to law enforcement. JAMA Internal Medicine, 179(1), 111-112. Web.

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