2018 National Crime Victimization Survey Declares the Age of Declining Violence Over

But with one huge exception—a massive spike in reported sexual assaults—the 2018 survey found only statistically insignificant increases.


The results of the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) were released last week. The report begins with a troubling observation: "The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years."

But with one very notable exception—a massive and inexplicable increase in sexual assaults—this year's findings aren't statistically significant enough to support the claim that the era of declining violence is over.

The NCVS is conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and it does not rely on reports made to the police. Instead it surveys participants about the violence they have experienced, whether or not these crimes were ever formally reported. The report categorizes violence in several ways—differentiating serious assault from simple assault, for instance.

The good news is that robbery declined from 2017 to 2018. The not so good news is that every other category showed an increase.

Most of these increases were not statistically significant. For instance, the aggravated assault rate increased from 3.6 in 2017 to 3.8 per 1,000 people. The rate stood at 4.1, 3.0, and 3.8 for the previous years (2014, 2015, and 2016). These results show yearly fluctuations, and perhaps some slight cause for concern that crime is no longer falling, but do not exactly give cause for panic.

But the sexual assault spike is quite concerning. According to the 2018 survey, the rape/sexual assault rate almost doubled, from 1.4 to 2.7. That's a massive increase in a single year.

The reason for this increase is not clear. It seems unlikely that the sexual assault rate would have actually doubled in a single year—2018—when it remained virtually unchanged for the seven previous years.

Here's how the NCVS defines rape:

Coerced or forced sexual intercourse. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category could include incidents where the penetration was from a foreign object such as a bottle. It includes attempted rape, threatened rape, male and female victims, and both heterosexual and same-sex incidents.

And here's how it defines sexual assault:

A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape, attempted rape, or threatened rape. These crimes include attacks or threatened attacks involving unwanted sexual contact between the victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling.

The survey's sexual assault definition—a "wide range of victimizations," "unwanted sexual contact," "may or may not involve force"—includes a wider spectrum of bad behavior than does its rape definition, and yet both kinds of violence end up lumped together. But the survey used the exact same language in 2018 as it did in 2017, so the spike cannot have been caused by a change in survey methodology.

Given the ongoing #MeToo movement, it's possible that participants are more willing to report that they have been sexually assaulted, either because being victimized carries less stigma or because they are more likely to consider certain sorts of behavior to be assaults. But one would have expected that to show up as a more gradual increase, or at the very least to have seen some increase in 2017 as well.

So it's hard to say how to interpret this. As John Pfaff, a professor of law at Fordham, wrote on Twitter:

The Uniform Crime Report, which consults actual police reports, is due out in October; hopefully it will provide more information. For now, we have a mystery.

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  1. What mystery? We're in the midst of a huge fad of women and gay men claiming to have been "victimized" sexually. This is a survey of alleged victims; not a scientific study. Take these results with a heaping tablespoon of salt.

    1. That's my take too. The slightest excuse is all it takes now to feel self-important about being a victim.

      Why not add a new question? "Are you a proud victim?"

      Nothing mysterious at all. Even if you want to believe all the newly-reported sexual assaults are true sexual assaults, isn't this the desired outcome of #metoo? Isn't it intended to tell victims to no longer feel ashamed, but instead bring the shame back to the perps?

    2. I expect it is less "inexplicable" than that the possible explanations are currently unexplored by the study. However, there are possible explanations. There is an increased willingness by victims of such crimes to report them. Potential and sex criminals
      feel emboldened to act on their impulses for whatever reasons. People are reporting acts as assaults that are not necessarily crimes but perhaps intrapersonal miscommunications.

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  2. "But the sexual assault spike is quite concerning. According to the 2018 survey, the rape/sexual assault rate almost doubled, from 1.4 to 2.7. That's a massive increase in a single year."

    It's Drumpf's fault.


  3. Throw in the zillionz of sexual assaults committed by Brett Kavanaugh 35 years ago. That alone is probably half the increase nationwide.

  4. And so the cycle of society's reaction to crime starts to turn yet again.

  5. It is amazing how the 1994 crime bill that the libertarians blame for "mass incarceration" was followed by 25 year period of steady decrease in violent crime. Its almost as if all those mean tough on crime people were on to something. This end of the decrease in violent crime coincides directly with the country's softening attitude towards criminals. If we want to continue to see a decline in violent crime we must continue to send the message that criminality will not be tolerated in the Unite States

    1. OK then how do you explain in the reduction in crime in pretty much every developed nation over the past decades?

    2. "'It is amazing how the 1994 crime bill that the libertarians blame for “mass incarceration” was followed by 25 year period of steady decrease in violent crime. Its almost as if all those mean tough on crime people were on to something."'

      The violent crime rate had been falling for two years before the 1994 crime bill, and the crime rate, without any such bill, also declined, dramatically, in Australia, Norway, Sweden, England, Canada, France, Germany... etc. The segment of the population aged, roughly, say 17 to 30 years, are much more likely to commit crimes, of all types, than those younger or older. When one increases the percentage of the population in that age group, crime will go up. Baby boomers WERE the increase in that age-range in the population. Likewise, when the boomers started "aging out" of that group, crime declined.

      1. Albert P your argument is I'm reading it correctly is the baby boomers were a bunch of violent youthful thugs and they aged out so crime went down. That doesn't make much sense since if you take the oldest of the boomers (1948) to the youngest (1964) and have the boomers aged out of crime. Under your theory violent crime should have started decreasing in 1978 not 1992.

        Also your theory dose not play out when looking at smaller scale massive reductions in crime Rudy Giuliani was Mayor of NYC from 1994 to 2002 during that period crime in NYC plummeted and Giuliani cleaned the city up did he do that by waiting for all the boomers to grow up and stop committing crimes? No he increased the size of the NYC Police force and encouraged the enactment of stiffer penalties for criminals.

        1. Kevin, I am most assuredly NOT accusing young baby-boomers of being more crime-prone than any other young group. Youth and crime go together -- kids do stupid stuff more often than other groups, and, sometimes, it's criminal. This has been recognized by criminologists and sociologists forever. Hell, even Socrates observed it.

          Back to NYC: the homicide rate, for instance, had been falling before Giuliani became mayor. From it's peak of 14.5/100,000 in 1990, it was down to 11.9/100,000 in 1994. It continued to drop, nearly perfectly matching the national rates. And crime in NYC, including property crimes, even larceny, car theft, and burglary, continued to drop well after 2002, and it continues to drop. The national rates pretty much leveled off in the mid 2000's, but NYC's continued to drop, and, excepting for a year or two, seems to still be dropping.

          But, almost the exact same pattern can be seen in some other cities, like San Diego (the homicide rate in San Diego is currently about 1/3 lower than NYC.)

          One thing a whole bunch of folks are not aware of is that, in the 90's, the crime rates in cities, in general, dropped by much more than did the crime rates in suburban and rural areas.

          Remember, too, that while NYC, during the 80's and 90's, got a reputation as some kind of cesspool, it didn't come close to places like Los Angeles, which had a peak homicide rate of over 20/100,000

          While not all major cities may show similar curves as San Diego and NYC, the average homicide rate of the thirty of the nation's largest cities is falling faster than the national average, which seems, in the long view, basically static. One thing these thirty cities do not have in common is Giuliani as mayor.

    3. Agree. And add to that the significant softening of juvenile crime repercussions. I agree that kids need to be treated very differently than adults, but, in my local area kids are just getting a pass on everything but the most serious violent crimes. But where do most kids start? With less serious crimes that get no repercussions, so they move on more serious crimes.

    4. The numbers in the tweet chart don’t make sense, because the reported rate per 1000 is virtually unchanged. How can the % reported have dropped by almost half, unless the “unreported” half was just made up? There is no mystery here: these days, everybody wants to be a victim. Fortunately, only half of them actually get to be.

  6. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force

    If there is no force how is it an assault?

    1. Assault is the threat of force, so definitionally there isn’t force (in the assault). When paired with actual force it becomes battery (gross oversimplification).

      So “your money or your life” is assault, but not battery, while just sneaking up behind someone and whacking them over the head with a 2x4 is merely battery, but not assault, since they didn’t see it coming (e.g. they weren’t in fear, just ktfo).

      What they’re trying to mean in this context is pretty nonsensical though, since if it’s sexual, it’s battery, unless they mean “take of your clothes or your life” (and that’s not what they mean).

  7. Europe has also seen a significant increase in sexual assaults.

  8. What does "percent reported" mean? How could you possibly know how many unreported crimes there were?

    1. It's a survey of people who allege to have been victims of crimes. Only a percentage of them reported the alleged crimes to the police.

    2. It's an anonymous telephone survey. It's invaluable for knowing where and when there's underreporting going on. There are separate questions on the survey about reports made to law enforcement.

      The main question about rape/sexual assault is as follows: "Incidents involving forced or unwanted sexual acts are often difficult to talk about. (Other than any incidents already mentioned,) have you been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by –
      (a) Someone you didn’t know before –
      (b) A casual acquaintance –
      (c) Someone you know well?"

      1. The problem with that question is that the definition of "coerced" has been expanded into meaninglessness.

  9. Isnt the reporting pased on claims/reports of a crime being comitted? Is an arrest even require, let alone a conviction, for these statistical purposes. I could totally understand the numbers on rape and sexual assault if this was the case - hell, I would expct them to be even higher. But, for the most part I think this is more alarmist bullshit.

    1. Yes, it's entirely based on anonymous self-reporting. Yes, this is alarmist bullshit.

      1. The methodology didn't change from previous reports though, so if you're seeing in increase then there's either a large uptick in false reporting year-over-year which seems unlikely, or there's a genuine increase. Considering we've been pursuing a policy of non-enforcement of any law at the behest of the radical left and libertarians (but I repeat myself), you might want to get used to having to defend ever-increasing crime numbers with ever-increasingly outlandish excuses. I'm sure you're up to the task.

        1. a large uptick in false reporting year-over-year

          Ding ding ding.

          which seems unlikely

          if you've been paying no attention to current events.

          The rest of your post is unintelligible.

  10. Gee you mean implementing the same shitty soft on crime policies we had in the 70s is predictably leading to an increase in crime? Too bad it's racist to penalize black people for committing crimes I guess. Gotta break a few white eggs to make a diverse omelet.

    1. So, you're saying that not locking people up for getting high is emboldening Black men to commit rapes? And if so, are you off your meds?

  11. This issue should be rise more than talks.

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