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Ear to the Ground

Rape Is Grossly Underreported in the U.S.

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Posted on Nov 21, 2013
-msraggle- (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A new study by the National Research Council found major gaps in the data on rape collected by three major accounting groups.

The Huffington Post reports:

The focal point of the study was the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)—an annual crime report conducted through household surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics—which counted 188,380 victims of rape and sexual assault in 2010. Another data source, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, counted nearly 1.3 million incidents that same year. Data from the FBI, which gathers its statistics on rape or attempted rape reported as a crime by local law enforcement, counted only 85,593 in 2010.

“Either someone’s not counting properly, or there’s a problem with the methods of collecting and analyzing data about rapes,” the article says.

Christopher Krebs, a sexual violence researcher at the nonprofit research institute RTI International, told Slate this week, “We all know that rape and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes in the world, and it’s very hard to say that the problem is declining. The NCVS data could be missing a lot.”

The major factors distorting the data were found to be the lack of stress on privacy when the NCVS gathers statistics through in-house interviews and the lack of a uniform definition of rape (the NCVS definition omits consideration for drugs or alcohol). Potential solutions for the inaccuracies suggested by experts include the private use of computers by respondents in collecting data and delicately redefining rape within household surveys to encourage respondents to feel they are describing their sexual health rather than going on record accusing family, friends or acquaintances of crimes. The important task seems to be reducing the sense and reality of risk to personal safety involved in reporting rape.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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