The research on violence against young adults and children, particularly that research involving direct assessment of victims (as opposed to agency/sentinel report sources of data) is more advanced than that on older adults. From this research it is evident that prevalence estimates for criminal victimization, including sexual assault, physical assault, and domestic violence may vary widely according to parameters of assessment methodology, including assessment context, assessment structure, assessor characteristics, and trauma definition (Breslau et al., 1991; Hanson et al., 1995; Kilpatrick et al., 1989; Koss et al., 1993; Resnick et al., 1993, 1996). For example, in interview studies, contextual cues may prime participants to respond in a particular manner. That is, assessment by medical doctors conducted in a primary care facility may be less likely to detect victimization than assessment by criminal justice system epidemiologists conducting crime surveys because respondents in the former situation are primed to answer questions about their health, whereas respondents in the latter situation are expecting to answer questions about victimization. Moreover, definitions of assault vary among respondents (Koss et al., 1993). For example, asking, “Have you ever been raped?” may mean different things to different people (e.g., “It’s not rape if my husband does it.”). Such culturally, generationally, or ethnically charged questions, if not restructured, will produce inaccurate estimates of violence prevalence.
In addition to definitional and contextual problems, violent crime, particularly that type of crime associated with interpersonal, psychological, or cultural stigma (e.g., elder abuse), is not readily reported by all victims, particularly older adults. Indeed, victims of assault do not openly identify themselves as such. For example, only 2 percent of sexually abused young adult women discuss their victimization history with their doctor (Spring and Friedrich, 1992). Therefore, victim self-identification to strangers conducting epidemiological surveys cannot be taken for granted. In fact, in order to report to an investigator that a particular type of mistreatment or crime has occurred, a victim must (1) recall the assault, (2) label the assault as such, (3) be queried by an investigator who is using a matching label/ definition, (4) be willing and psychologically able to disclose the assault, and (5) not feel that safety is jeopardized (e.g., when the perpetrator lives with the respondent and might be listening to the interview). While straight-forward, these factors must not be overlooked. For example, many respondents do not label aggravated assault as such when the perpetrator is a relative or spouse, or when there was only limited force or threat of force used, or when the psychological effects of such a label are too distressing. Furthermore, many victims are very reluctant to disclose their victimization experiences. Reasons for willful nondisclosure include: (1) fear of retribution by an assailant, particularly if the assailant is known or proximate to victim; (2) fear of stigma attached to being a victim of a particular type of