Less than 50% of Victims Report Crime, Victimization Survey Says

By Michele Hanisee

A tremendous amount of coverage of the criminal justice system is focused on the perpetrators of crime and what should happen to them upon arrest and conviction.  However, the unexplored and uncovered story is the number of violent and property crimes never reported to police, and the fact that few victims of violent crime receive any support services.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) has been conducted annually since 1972.  The survey, which samples several hundred thousand households across the country, is a major source of data for the analysis of victimization risk, consequences of victimization, and responses to crime.

According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2016, only 42% of all violent crimes and 36% of property crimes were reported to police.  Broken down further, the statistics were as follows: Aggravated assault (58%); robbery (54%); rape or sexual assault (23%); stranger violence (45%); domestic violence (48%); intimate party violence (47%) and simple assault (38%).  For property crimes, a mere 30% of thefts, and 50% of residential burglaries were reported to police.  The most reported crime was auto theft at (80%).

Equally disturbing was the finding that only 10% of victims of violent crime received any support services to help their physical and emotional recovery.  For those who suffered an injury during a violent crime, the rate for services was only slightly higher, with 13% of those victims reporting receiving support services.  These figures are important because not only do 70% of violent crime victims report significant socioemotional distress associated with the victimization, “victims who receive services are more likely to receive follow-up from the criminal justice system including contact from a prosecutor, signed a complaint, and the offender arrested.”

When you combine underreporting of crime with the clearance rate of reported crimes, the likelihood of getting away with a crime in the United States is quite high.  In 2016, only 45% of reported violent crimes and 18% of reported property crimes resulted in an arrest. The BJS has stated that a goal of their 2016 survey redesign is to create reports which will help local governments understand the gaps and shortcoming of their individual criminal justice systems, as well as who is at risk of victimization, and which types of crimes go unreported

There is clearly a gap in our criminal justice system when less than half of violent crime victims come forward to make a report, and only a small percentage of those victims receive support services.  Policymakers at the state and local level should be as concerned about these two issues as they are about what happens to those perpetrators whose crimes are actually reported and prosecuted.

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

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