questions that are more effective at capturing the prevalence and incidence of rape and sexual assault. It will also assist in understanding that the data collected may be limited to the extent that victim reporting—even to surveys—may be impeded by inaccurate societal notions about rape and sexual assault.
The NCVS is an omnibus crime survey, and the current screener uses cues that deliberately soften the link between the questions and any specific type of criminal victimization, and focuses instead on asking about such things as weapons and location. The panel has two major concerns about how the NCVS currently asks questions about rape and sexual assault. First, the questionnaire uses terms, such as rape, that do not always have consistent meaning and that do not clearly articulate the scope of actions that are included in the definition of rape. Second, the questions are embedded in a criminal context that may impede accurate reporting.
The NCVS uses the word rape, as in
Has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways:
(e) Any rape, attempted rape or other type of sexual assault
The NCVS screener follows this with two other general cues regarding “incidents committed by someone you know” and “incidents involving forced or unwanted sexual acts.” (See Chapter 4 for more details.) Taken together, these cues are meant to assist a respondent in recalling a rape or sexual assault.
As described in detail in Chapters 2, 3, and 4, the different legal statutes throughout the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the BJS, each uses a different definition for the word “rape.” It is not reasonable to assume that individual respondents will all interpret this word (or the term “sexual acts”) identically. Important other surveys (described in Chapter 5) have taken a different approach. Although their questionnaires are not identical, they have used questions that more clearly describe specific “behaviors” that an offender may have exhibited. When a respondent is asked whether someone engaged in a very specific action in the incident, there is considerably less chance for miscommunication. These types of questions are referred to as “behaviorally specific” because they explicitly describe a set of behaviors. For example, on the National Violence Against Women Study, respondents were asked
Has a man or boy ever made you have sex by using force or threatening to harm you or someone close to you? Just so there is no mistake by sex, we mean putting a penis in your vagina.