The U.S. Justice Department recently reported a 15 percent overall drop in violent crime from 1999 to 2000, which found the number of rapes dropped from 141,070 in 1999 to 92,440 the following year. The statistics were gathered by the National Crime Victimization Survey, and have been championed by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft as an indication of improved quality of life. However, criminologists and women’s groups are skeptical of the findings, citing ambiguity in the survey’s definition of rape and flaws in data collection.
The survey was based on the testimony of women over 12 years of age. According to Lawrence Greenfeld, acting director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly one-fourth of all rape victims are younger than 12. The survey is also conducted on the phone, even though the highest rape rates are reported among those in the lowest economic bracket who may not have telephone access. Discrepancies between separate long-term studies conducted by last week’s victimization survey and the FBI also raise doubts concerning the decrease in rape. According to Bonnie Campbell, former director of the Violence Against Women Office, “the failure to deal with the culture around rape and sexual assault has made these numbers somewhat irrelevant.” Despite the reports, women should “have no doubts about the reality of rape in the United States.”