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Self-Report Surveys as Measures of Crime and Criminal Victimization

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2000
54 pages
This paper reviews what has been learned about victimization surveys over the past 30 years and how this source of information has been used as a social indicator and a means of building criminological theories; it also identifies major methodological issues that remain unresolved and suggest some approaches to exploring them.
The evolution of the National Crime Survey (NCS) is used as a vehicle for this discussion, because this survey has been conducted continuously for 25 years and has been the subject of extensive methodological study. A review of self-report surveys addresses contributions of the survey method to an understanding of crime, along with the implications of such surveys for crime as a social indicator and for building theories of crime and its consequences. A discussion of the unique features of the NCS design notes that it uses a rotating panel design of addresses in which persons in sample households are interviewed at 6-month intervals over 3.5 years. All members of the household 12 years of age and older are asked about their victimization experience in the previous 6 months. In addition, one household member is asked to report on the theft of common property as well as on his/her own personal victimization. A section on the evolution of the NCS considers the President's Commissions' relevant studies. Among the topics considered in this section are the National Academy of Sciences report and the NCS redesign and other improvements. The latter encompass improvements in screening, computer-assisted interviews, and revision of the series incident procedure. A section on limitations and future research considers controversies with the design and analysis of victimization surveys; validation; continuations in the development of screening procedures; sample design, coverage, and nonresponse; and going beyond the assumption of crime as a point-in-time event. 14 notes and 104 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000