Sexual Assault in the States
Data Sources -
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Sources of Sexual Assault Data
There are five basic sources of data available in the states: law enforcement, victimization surveys, service providers, victim compensation offices, and health/medical agencies. Since law enforcement agencies follow strict legal definitions and are usually required to report data to the state Uniform Crime Reporting programs, most of the statistics available on sexual assault are law enforcement data. Since these data represent only incidents that are known to the police, it is widely viewed that many offenses are underrepresented in these data. This is especially true for acts of violence against women, whose victims may not report to the police for fear of reprisal, embarrassment, or because of financial dependence on the offender. Using only one source of data, therefore, provides an incomplete picture of the amount of violence being experienced.
Law Enforcement Data
Law enforcement data are reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and are reported annually in the online Crime in the United States publications. There are two national reporting systems currently in place - a summary-based and an incident-based - both of which are voluntary. The Uniform Crime Reporting summary system is made up of counts of offenses; each agency submits a tally for each offense type. The exception to this rule occurs for homicide incidents; each agency must submit a Supplemental Homicide Report for each homicide that provides information on the offense, victim and offender.
The National Incident-Based Reporting System provides a more in-depth look at offenses since offense, victim, offender, property, and arrestee information is provided for each incident. Offenses of interest can be selected from the main database, and each can be analyzed to examine a variety of factors. Incident-based data sets provide more insight into the characteristics of offenses and the people involved. Most importantly, in the incident-based systems, the information from a single incident can be identified and matched across data files; the summary data, on the other hand, only gives counts for each data category and cannot be compared across categories.
As of August 2008, 31 states are certified to report incident-based data to the FBI, although only 13 of these have 100% of their law enforcement agencies reporting. In most states, there is a mix of reporting, with most agencies continuing to report summary data with a slow move towards incident-based reporting, mostly in medium-sized agencies. Fifteen states are either testing or developing incident-based systems, while 5 states report no plans for incident-based reporting. All state Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) programs provide law enforcement data to the public through reports, the release of data, information requests, or Web sites that allow users to manipulate the data directly to create customized tables.
States may also require law enforcement agencies to collect and report information in addition to what is required by the FBI. Several states have specialized data collection systems specifically for sexual violence. Such systems may be either summary- or incident-based. A list of states with specialized data collection systems, and the status of NIBRS in each state, is presented below.
As you can see in the table below, the information collected in Rhode Island is similar to the information collected by the FBI. In the District of Columbia, no victim identifiers are collected, only information on the offender and offense.
Random surveys of the public can also provide information, particularly on incidents that are not reported to the police. These surveys generally collect information that is not collected by law enforcement agencies. Research has suggested that the anonymity of speaking to a researcher on the phone rather than in person may allow victims to discuss criminal incidents that they are unwilling to report to the police, or may allow for the recording of crimes victims may have deemed too insignificant to report. In this way, incident-based survey data can be gathered to provide an alternative source of data to estimate crime rates.
The downside of victimization surveys is that participation is limited to those with telephones who are home when the surveyor calls and who voluntarily opt to participate in the program. Populations that may be most at risk, such as low-income or transient families, may not be included in these kinds of data collection efforts.
The National Crime Victimization Survey is funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and is conducted by the Census Bureau twice a year. Several states have instituted statewide surveys as well. Few states, however, conduct victimization surveys on a regular basis. Like the law enforcement data, victimization survey data are usually made available to the public in the form of reports.
Service Provider Data
Agencies that provide services to victims often keep statistics; at the very least, the number of people receiving services is often required to fulfill grant obligations. All states have coalitions that exist at the state level; most have separate coalitions for domestic violence and sexual assault. The role that each takes differs from state to state. Some coalitions function as data collection agencies with sophisticated reporting systems and standardized report forms. Others collect no information and act as lobbyists or provide technical assistance to local programs.
Data Collected by State Service Providers
Service providers are often required to report statistics as stipulated by granting agencies at the state or federal level. Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants have allowed for states to pass federal money to local agencies to provide services to victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Often agencies are required to report summary statistics, and, less frequently, incident-based statistics, to the granting agencies. Service providers and coalitions may provide some statistics on their Web sites, and some produce annual reports providing summary data. Generally the data provided to funding agencies are rarely published or made available to the public.
Service providers often collect a wide variety of information on clients. Some also collect information on whether the incident was reported to police, allowing for the potential to use both law enforcement and service provider data without the issue of duplicate events. The table below summarizes the data currently being collected.