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Crime Victims Speak Up

About half of the violent assaults in 2000 were reported, a rise experts consider a sign of trust.

March 10, 2003|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Nearly half of the violent crimes committed in the United States in 2000 were reported to police, a rise in notification rates that began in the 1990s as the overall crime rate declined, the Justice Department said Sunday.

A study released by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 49% of an estimated 6.2 million rapes, armed robberies and assaults across the country were reported to police in 2000. An average of about 43% of the crimes committed from 1992 to 1999 were reported to authorities, the department said.

The findings are part of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects data on nonfatal crimes against individuals ages 12 or older from a sample of U.S. households.

The survey asks participants about their personal experiences with crime and whether they followed up with law enforcement agencies.

The report's authors did not attempt to explain the growth in crime reporting, although some experts suggest it may be an offshoot of the lower crime rate, with victims feeling less helpless and more confident about the abilities of law enforcement.

Historically, most crimes have not been reported to police, for reasons including mistrust of authorities, fear of retaliation, and shame or stigma.

"What seems to have happened is that, as the crime rate has dropped, people -- particularly in minority communities -- have been disabused of the idea of victimization as a way of life," statistician Iain Murray said in a 2001 study of crime rates. "They have begun to realize that police can do something about the crime that blights their neighborhoods. Therefore, they report more crimes."

Thus, even as the number of actual crimes is dropping, the percentage of those crimes that get reported to police is going up. "Less crime leads to more complaints about the crime that does happen," Murray said.

Serious violent crime and aggravated assault against black victims were reported in higher percentages than comparable crimes against white victims, the Justice Department found. Overall, violence against blacks was reported at a rate of 49%, compared with 42% for whites and 40% for Asians.

Victims themselves reported about half of the violent crimes; relatives, bystanders and officials, including law enforcement officers, reported the rest.

Women were more likely to report violence than men, and the elderly were more likely to call police than young people.

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