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Changes in Police Notification for Rape, 1973-2000

NCJ Number
Criminolgy Volume: 41 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 841-872
Date Published
August 2003
32 pages

This study explored whether rates of police notification for rape have increased since the early 1970's through the use of national crime surveys data examining changes in rates of police notification between 1973 and 1991 and data examining changes between 1992 and 2000.


Previous research indicates that the social and legal climate of the early 1970's, coupled with public perceptions of low probability of arrest, prosecution and conviction in rape cases, are believed to discourage police notification by victims, especially those victims raped by acquaintances or intimates. The anti-rape reform movement, which emerged in the 1970's attempted to increase awareness of rape as a serious social problem and to lobby for reform of rape laws that were viewed as antiquated and unjust. This movement motivated changes in the legal system. So, some of the institutional and cultural barriers that seemed to serve as disincentives to police notification by rape victims have been diminished or removed during the past three decades. This study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice uses data from the National Crime Survey (NCS) and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to examine changes in the likelihood of police notification in rape incidents. Data from the NCS examined changes between 1973 and 1991 and data from the NCVS examined changes between 1992 and 2000. In both periods, it was examined whether overall rates of reporting by rape victims had increased, whether any observed increases in rates of police notification had been more prominent among incidents involving non-strangers and whether differences in rates of reporting between incidents involving strangers and non-strangers had diminished over time. Research results suggest that rates of police notification for incidents of rape have increased since the early 1970's. The increase in reporting during the 1970's and 1980's was due to changes in third-party reporting and changes in victim reporting of non-stranger rapes. During the 1990's, the rates of change accelerated and broadened in scope: there was an increase in both victim and third-party reporting of rapes committed by strangers, as well as non-strangers. In summation, the increase during the 1970's and 1980's in reporting of rape was limited to non-stranger rapes and third-party reporting. The scope and momentum of the large-scale media and social campaigns appear to have accelerated increases in police notification among both victims and third-parties and both stranger and non-stranger rapes. References and appendix

Date Published: August 1, 2003