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Topic four - Collecting victim data


To understand how victims are affected by crime, and whether the response to their experience is adequate and effective, it is important to engage in data collection. In many countries, national crime statistics fail to record all instances in which victims are affected by crime.

For the purpose of official statistics, the police collect data on crime reporting, which is further complemented by data of the judicial system about crimes/criminals prosecuted, and data from correctional and probation services.

Two fundamental criticisms can be made with respect to these data:

Firstly, data collected generally refers to the crime and the criminal offender, often without recording the full details or perspective of victims. Such official data may lack information regarding the relationship of victim and offender, for instance.

Another significant limitation of these data is the fact they rely only on reported crimes, while unreported crimes remain unaccounted for. This skews prevalence data, and victimization rates, and has implications in terms of service provision, as various crime prevention or victim service responses are funded according to incomplete quantitative and qualitative data.

Statistically, victims of certain forms of crime are more likely to report the crime than victims of other forms of crime. In developed countries, victims of petty crime, such as theft of goods without traceable identification, including for instance bicycle theft, are frequently not reported while other forms of theft, such as car theft, where the victim is usually insured, have a high likelihood of being reported. Other reasons for a victim not reporting a crime may include: the fear of retaliation; shame; a personal relationship between the victim and the offender; lack of trust in the criminal justice system or a lack of access to the police/prosecution, in particular for vulnerable victims or victims from marginalized communities; or for crimes with a relatively small impact, where the victim feels that the cost/benefit analysis of the effort that it would take to report the crime to authorities does not make it worth doing so. Furthermore, white collar crimes, where the victims are not directly and immediately affected, are also often under-reported.

In response to the 1970s the victims' rights' movement, several countries started developing and implementing victimization surveys. These surveys either address crime in general or specific types of crime, e.g. such as Violence against Women surveys. The International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) was initiated in 1987 by a group of European criminologists with expertise in national crime surveys (Van Dijk, Mayhew, Killias, 1990). The survey was set up to produce estimates of victimization that can be used for international comparison. The survey has evolved into the world's premier programme of standardized surveys looking at householders' experience of common crime in different countries. There have so far been five main rounds of the ICVS. After the first round in 1989 the surveys were repeated in 1992, 1996, and 2000 and 2004/2005. By the end of 2005, over 140 surveys had been done in over 78 countries. Over 320,000 citizens have been interviewed in the course of the ICVS so far. The present database covers 325454 individual respondents ( International Crime Victim Survey, n.d).

In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) published the Manual on Victimization Surveys . The Manualprovides a comprehensive source of information and standards for developing a national victimization survey. It provides methodological and sampling information on how to set up and conduct a survey. It provides key issues that need to be considered, including the approach to take, available methods, some key analytical issues and the presentation of results. The Manual provides guidelines at the international level for the design of national victimization surveys. UNODC strongly supports the use of surveys as standard tools not so much to measure crime rates, but to better understand the dynamics of crime related problems, how individuals and communities are affected by crime, and the best means of addressing crime and its harms. UNODC and the Centre of Excellence in Statistical Information on Government, Crime, Victimization and Justice, have since launched a repository of victimization surveys which allows for comparative research ( UNODC, n.d). Victimization surveys are an important tool to measure crime but also to assess victims' satisfaction with the criminal justice system. Specific surveys have been designed to gain a more nuanced understanding of victim's satisfaction with services.

Notwithstanding their inherent limitations, victim surveys, as well as scientific studies and academic research, can be useful tools for policymakers and politicians, and may direct policy choices such as prioritization and budget allocation. Countries that carry out regular victimization surveys also have a knowledge base from which to measure the impact of public policies. Allocating resources where research has a proven positive effect is the best way to use public money.

Next: Topic five - Victims and their participation in the criminal justice process
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