A 2007 study titled Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study calls into question the methodology – and findings – of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Studies from the BJS are considered authoritative sources, and they are often cited by the media. Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Director of National Crime Victims Research, authored the aforementioned study.
Lynn Hecht Schafran and Jillian Weinberger of Legal Momentum point specifically to two reports: Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2007, and Female Victims of Violence, 2008, and explain the problems with their methodologies.
According to BJS, 182,000 rapes were committed against women in 2008. Dr. Dean Kilpatrick and his colleagues concluded that over one million women were raped in the U.S. in 2006. One million is obviously much higher than 182,000. That gap is the result of differences in methodology between the NCVS and the Kilpatrick study. Say Schafran and Weinberger:
The NCVS asks directly whether the respondent has been subjected to “[a]ny rape, attempted or other type of sexual attack” rather than asking behaviorally-based questions that do not label the victim’s experience. The National Women’s Study, in contrast, asks behaviorally-based questions like, “Has anyone ever made you have anal sex by using force or threat of harm? Just so there is no mistake, by anal sex we mean that a man or boy put his penis in your anus.” It is essential to ask behaviorally-based questions because victims often do not put the label “rape” or “sexual assault” on their experience, especially when the perpetrator is someone they know, as is the case in the significant majority of rapes.
Only 16 percent of all rapes were reported to law enforcement in 2006, according to Kilpatrick’s findings, not 47 percent as reported by BJS. Government reports severely underestimate the scope of sexual violence against women and overestimate the rate at which women report their attacks to police.
And, as Schafran and Weinberger point out, they underestimate the incidences of sexual violence committed against people with disabilities. Methodological problems are to blame in this case, as well. Crime Against Persons with Disabilities did not count people with disabilities living in institutional settings, for instance, but that information only appears at the very end of the report.
The BJS needs to update its methodology in order to yield accurate data about sexual violence. In the meantime, spread the news about these findings and keep Legal Momentum’s list of questions in mind when reading studies and surveys about rape and sexual assault. Abyss2hope has more.