dents and many situations. This issue is discussed earlier in the chapter under “Specification Error” and is further discussed below in the section “Questionnaire.”

Alternatively, the respondent may clearly understand the question, recall the memory of being raped at knifepoint, make a judgment that the incident is relevant to the question being asked, and yet decide not to disclose the incident. She or he formulates the no answer to the screening question based on the “other factors” (see Cannell, Miller, and Oksenberg, 1981; also see section on Item Nonresponse earlier in this chapter). As Rasinski (2012, p. 3) notes

[W]hen the events are “sensitive” additional considerations for protecting the respondent’s privacy, preserving the respondent’s self-image and assuring the respondent that they will not suffer physical or psychological harm because of their disclosure must also be put into place.

See also Schaeffer (2000); Sudman and Bradburn (1982); and Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski (2000).


The wording of questions is critically important to assist a respondent in comprehending the survey designer’s intended meaning. Rasinski (2012) points out that in developing effective questions to solicit information about sexual victimizations, one must consider both the methodological aspects of designing sensitive questions and the specific nuances of talking about rape and sexual assault. There are several different aspects of a question that could make it sensitive—social undesirability, invasion of privacy, and risk of disclosure (to third parties) (Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski, 2000). A question that asks a respondent about experiencing sexual violence incorporates all three aspects of sensitivity.

Previous parts of this report discuss the issues of miscommunication when using such words as rape, force, and consent. Tracy et al. (2012, p. 3) explain this issue in a broad context:

This historical context influences the way sex crime laws are written by lawmakers and enforced by law enforcement, and, in cases arising under those laws, how police decide whether to arrest, how prosecutors decide whether to take the cases to court, and how judges and juries make ultimate decisions as to whether to convict. The system’s response in turn impacts whether victims perceive themselves as crime victims and whether they view the criminal justice system as one that recognizes them as crime victims. One consequence of the system’s negative impact on victims is that it reduces victim reporting to and cooperation with police. Understanding this background will help in developing both survey instructions and

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