Epidemiology of Victimization Patterns Essay

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In trying to determine the extent of the interpersonal violence problem, it is important to supplement self-report and arrest data on perpetration with information on victimization. Hospital emergency room and police data have been used to estimate victimization through surveillance systems that collect data on intentional injuries from national samples. Because victims may fail to report interpersonal violence victimization, particularly when injuries are minor and do not require medical attention or when there is fear of retaliation, large-scale national surveys can provide an additional perspective on victimization rates.

In the United States, the most widely referenced assessment of interpersonal violence victimization is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), administered since 1972 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Yearly data are obtained from a representative sample of 42,000 households comprising approximately 76,000 respondents. Survey data are used to estimate the number of victimizations and rate per 1,000 persons or households for the interpersonal violence offenses of rape/sexual assault, robbery, and assault. Assault information is further broken down by the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Victimization estimates are categorized by gender, ethnicity, and annual family income. A number of federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) use these surveys combined with other sources of information—for example, Uniform Crime Reporting Program data on homicides and Department of Health and Human Services data on child maltreatment—to develop summary profiles of victimization patterns for different types of interpersonal violence in the United States. Building on these multiple sources of information, patterns of interpersonal violence victimization data for 2003–2004 can be examined for several types of interpersonal violence, including homicide, rape/sexual assault, robbery, assault/intimate partner violence, and child maltreatment.


Homicide victimization rates in the United States have been found to be several times higher than rates in all other industrialized countries. A recent international collaborative effort compared homicide rates of 11 industrialized nations. U.S. rates averaged about 8.5 per 100,000, with rates from all other countries at or below 2.3 per 100,000. Homicide rates for children and young adults are particularly high. According to the CDC, homicide is the second leading cause of death for male and female adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24, and the fourth leading cause of death for boys and girls ages 5 to 9. Interestingly, looking at homicide rates for very young children ages 1 to 4, homicide is the fourth leading cause of death for boys but the third leading cause of death for girls. This pattern reverses in early adulthood, with homicide being the third leading cause of death for males and the fifth leading cause of death for females. In addition, of significant concern is the fact that for Blacks, homicide is the first leading cause of death for individuals ages 15 to 34, the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, and the third leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14. The risk of homicide victimization is higher in poor, urban areas. The reasons for such elevated homicide rates in the United States compared to other countries and for younger Blacks within the United States likely include a combination of risk factors. These include easy availability of firearms, escalation of gun and drug markets, poverty, income disparities, and patterns of racism and discrimination that disproportionately affect young Blacks in the United States.

Rape/Sexual Assault

Sexual violence is a serious problem that affects millions of individuals in the United States and worldwide. According to a recent national survey of violence and threats of violence against men and women in the United States conducted by Patricia Tjaden and colleagues, 17% of women and 3% of men reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives. Young people and females are at particular risk of victimization—78% of victims of rape/sexual assault are female and 22% are male. More than half of all rapes of females (54%) occur before age 18, with 22% of rapes occurring before age

  1. Although sexual violence against males is less prevalent, it occurs at even younger ages, with 75% of all male rapes occurring before age 18 and 48% occurring before age 12. For both males and females, the perpetrator of sexual violence is almost exclusively male. Information from the NCVS shows that victimization rates for rape/sexual assault do not vary between Whites and Blacks, although reported victimization is lowest among Hispanics. The NCVS also reports that rape/sexual assault victimization is associated with lower socioeconomic status. Low income individuals reported rates three times as high as rates reported by high income individuals.


The NCVS estimates the robbery victimization rate overall to be 2.5 per 1,000 persons. Males, young people, and Blacks are at particular risk. Males are almost twice as likely as females to be the victims of robbery, with rates at 3.2 per 1,000 for males and 1.9 per 1,000 for females. Individuals under age 24 are more than four times as likely to be victims of robbery as individuals age 35 and above. What is striking is the fact that victimization rates are quite high for all youth and young adults, with rates for the 12 to 15 age group at 5.2 per 1,000 and for the 20 to 24 age group at 6.4 per 1,000. Robbery victimization rates are also highest for Blacks, with a rate of 5.9 per 1,000. The highest risk group for robbery victimization is young Black males (ages 12–15), with a rate of 20.8 per 1,000. Although lower socioeconomic status is also associated with increased victimization risk, individuals in the lowest income strata report robbery victimization rates that are less than half of those reported by the young Black male group. The reasons for such an elevated robbery victimization rate for this particular demographic group likely are similar to patterns seen in homicide victimization, including the particular economic and social circumstances experienced by young Black males in the United States.

Assault/Intimate Partner Violence

Assault victimization typically is broken down into simple and aggravated categories, with aggravated assault defined as an unlawful attack with the intent of inflicting bodily injury. Assault is often further broken down according to the relationship between victims, with assaults in the context of intimate partner violence defined as attacks that occur between partners in dating or marital relationships (although there are other specific types of intimate partner violence, including stalking, rape, and homicide). Across all contexts, most assaults fall within the category of simple assault. For instance, the NCVS reports an overall assault rate of 19.3 per 1,000 persons, with 14.6 per 1,000 classified as simple assaults and 4.6 per 1,000 classified as aggravated assaults. Consistent with most other types of victimization, risk is greatest for males, young people, and ethnic minorities. NCVS reports an overall assault rate of 23 per 1,000 for males and 15.7 per 1,000 for females. However, within the context of intimate partner violence, assault victims are more likely to be female than male. Indeed, information from multiple sources suggests that females are approximately 1.5 times as likely as males to be victims of intimate partner assaults. Assault victimization rates are also highest in the younger age groups, with rates declining steadily with age. Looking at ethnicity and race, assault victimization is highest for Blacks, with an overall rate of 22.3 per 1,000 persons, followed by Hispanics with a rate of 20.8 per 1,000 and Whites with a rate of 18.4 per 1,000. Aggravated assault rates are highest for young Black males and females. For Black males, the rate is highest for the 16 to 19 age group at 26.5 per 1,000, followed by a rate of 10.2 per 1,000 for the 20 to 24 age group. In contrast, rates for Black females are also high, but rates are lower for the younger 16 to 19 age group at 10.6 per 1,000 and increase for the 20 to 24 age group at 26.9 per 1,000.

Child Maltreatment

Victimization rates for child maltreatment are reported by agencies tasked with gathering data on child welfare rather than by victimization surveys of children. In the United States, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) reported a total of 872,000 incidents of childhood maltreatment in 2004. However, these figures may reflect underreporting of the problem, particularly in the case of less visible forms of maltreatment, including psychological abuse. The majority of child maltreatment reports involve neglect (62.4%), followed by physical abuse (17.6%), sexual abuse (9.7%), and psychological maltreatment (7.0%). States also submit reports to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). For 2003, NCANDS reported that victimization was approximately evenly split by gender, although slightly more cases were reported involving females (51.7%) than males (48.3%). Risk was also greatest for the youngest age group, with rates as high as 16.4 per 1,000 for children from birth to 3 decreasing steadily to 5.9 per 1,000 for young people ages 16 to 17. Victimization rates were highest for Black, Pacific Islander, American Indian, and Alaskan Native children, averaging 21.0 per 1,000; in the mid-range for White and Hispanic children, averaging 10.5 per 1,000; and lowest for Asian children at 2.7 per 1,000.


  1. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Intimate partner violence: Fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/181867.pdf
  2. Trends in the well-being of America’s children and youth: 2003. Retrieved from https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/trends-well-being-americas-children-and-youth-2003

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