Fewer than Half of Victims Report Violent Crimes
Thursday, December 14, 2017
By Darlene Hutchinson, Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, the Office of Justice Programs
Last week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released its latest estimates of crime from the National Crime Victimization Survey, one of two national measures of crime rates in the United States (along with the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports). In 2016, U.S. residents aged 12 or older experienced 5.7 million violent offenses—including rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault.
A redesign of the NCVS sample, undertaken every 10 years to reflect population changes, limits our ability to compare 2016 crime rates with data from previous years. The sheer number of victims of violent crime concerns me, as it should all Americans. I am also deeply concerned by NCVS data that show that only 42 percent of the victims of violent crime report the offenses to police.
The reluctance to report is troubling for several reasons: Offenders often aren't held accountable for their actions and can continue to repeat or commit new crimes, which is detrimental to public safety. And victims don't receive a sense of justice, or the support and tools that can help them heal and regain their quality of life. NCVS data also show that only 12 percent of victims of serious violence reported having received services to assist them in a crime's aftermath.
I personally wish every victim could and would report crimes and participate in their perpetrator's prosecution. But as a survivor of violent crime myself, and a long-time advocate, I understand what often keeps victims from reporting crimes. Unfortunately, not everyone has a support system that empowers him or her to come forward, and not every case has the evidence necessary for successful prosecution.
Victims may decide not to report because they choose to deal with the crime privately. They may believe that going to the police will place them in further danger or that what happened is "not important enough" to report. If they know the offender, they may be reluctant to "cause trouble." Or they may doubt the willingness or ability of police to help, or to believe their account. There are myriad reasons, and I respect the decision each victim has to make on this difficult journey. But I also know that the right victims services, offered at the right time by trained and qualified providers, can transform lives.
Knowing that only a fraction of victims actually receive services inspires me and the staff of the Office of Victims of Crime to develop even more vital programs and conduct outreach that assures additional victims will learn what's available to them and actually receive help—whether it's counseling and advocacy, temporary housing or transportation in a crisis, legal assistance for a civil matter related to the crime, or the reimbursement of medical expenses caused by the offense.
Survivors deserve high-quality services, and the public deserves the wise stewardship of public resources. OVC is committed to continuing to reach the unserved and meet the needs of even more survivors.
To find out about OVC's resources to support victims, visit www.ovc.gov.