National Crime Victimization Survey Essay

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Developed to measure victimizations that were both reported and not reported to police, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) began in 1972 and has been conducted annually since that time. Sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it relies on a national probability sample of about 50,000 non-institutional household addresses, which results in a sample of approximately 100,000 individuals ages 12 and over. Respondents remain in the sample for a total of seven interviews, once every 6 months, over a 3-year period. The response rate for the NCVS is generally around 95 percent.

The screening questions used by the NCVS are behaviorally specific and avoid technical and legal terms such as robbery and aggravated assault. For example, instead of asking respondents if they have experienced an aggravated assault in the past 6 months, the questions ask whether the respondents have been attacked or threatened with any weapon; attacked with anything like a baseball bat, frying pan, scissors, or stick; attacked by something thrown, such as a rock or bottle; or attacked by any grabbing, punching, or choking, and so forth. The NCVS categorizes victimizations into both personal and property types and includes the violent crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery, and simple and aggravated assault and the theft-related crimes of purse snatching and pocket picking, burglary, personal theft, and motor vehicle theft. The NCVS does not measure commercial crimes (e.g., robberies in stores) or homicide.

Victims uniquely describe each incident, giving information about (a) the date, time, and location of the incident; (b) the relationship between the victim and the offender(s); (c) characteristics of the offender, including gender, age, race/ethnicity, perceptions of drug and alcohol usage, and weapon use by the offender; (d) self-protective actions taken by the victim during an incident and the consequences of those actions; (e) consequences of the victimization, including injuries and medical care utilization and property loss; (f) whether the crime was reported to police and the reasons for reporting or not reporting; and (g) other consequences such as time lost from work and medical expenses.

Estimates of victimization from the NCVS are consistently higher than the U.S. Justice Department’s other source of data, the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The UCR, and its new program, called the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), both rely on victimizations reported to local law enforcement agencies, which are then reported to the FBI. The intent of these data is to provide criminal justice statistics for law enforcement administration and management. The NCVS, on the other hand, seeks to uncover the true magnitude of crime, including both victimizations that were reported and not reported to police. As such, the NCVS remains the primary source of information on the characteristics of criminal victimization from the victim’s perspective and on the number and types of crimes not reported to police.


  1. Rand, Michael and Shannon Catalano. 2007. Criminal Victimization: 2006. NCJ 214644. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  2. S. Department of Justice. 1994. Questions and Answers about the Redesign. NCJ 151171. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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