Summary: Many headlines from newspaper articles, as well as scholarly articles, have noted that the rates of sexual assault have been declining. This study aimed to explore whether the data that was cited in such publications actually reflected a declining rate. The authors explored past research as well as how the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Uniform Crime Report data are collected and any discrepancies that may skew the findings. The authors noted that the NCVS survey question(s) regarding sexual assault often do not match state definitions, which can lead to underreporting and confusion. The authors also noted that the definition of sexual assault that is used by the UCR excludes sexual assaults that have been committed against male victims, the unconscious, disabled, or against a person under age 12. In turn, the number of crimes that are reported to police do not match the numbers represented through the NCVS and/or the UCR. The numbers of sexual assault/rape case reports made to law enforcement are markedly lower than the number of arrests made for such cases. Based on these findings, the authors concluded that future directions for more accurate reporting would include: eliminating the emphasis on arrest rates, evaluating case outcomes in terms of prosecution and conviction, and emphasizing the quality of investigations regardless of case outcomes.
Application: This article may be used to critique current national statistics on rape and related survey methodologies. It also demonstrates how the UCR definition of rape has changed the arrest and prosecution rates for many cases.
Limitations: Although there are limitations in the methodologies used, the UCR and the NCVS continue to be some of the most cited national data on sexual assault in the US.