Uncovering the “hidden figure of crime” in Oregon

Uncovering the “hidden figure of crime” in Oregon
By Robynne Locke and Stephen Haas
Aug 4, 2021
Victimization data is critically important for developing criminal justice policy. However, many crimes go unreported. Here's how we're using victimization surveys to help states assess the magnitude, prevalence, and incidence of in-state crime.

In 2017, the Me Too Movement (initially founded by Tarana Burke in 2006) exploded as victims of rape and sexual assault shared their experiences. In May of 2020, following a long series of deaths of black Americans at the hands of police, Americans took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd. Most recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic surged into 2021, the U.S. saw a shocking increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans. And experts raised concerns about increases in Intimate Partner Violence and domestic abuse as Americans complied with stay-at-home orders.

These recent, high-profile incidents sounded the alarm bell for the need for policies and programs to reduce crime, as well as services to support victims of crime. However, it also raised a larger issue: Research on the prevalence and incidence of crime is a necessity for evidence-based criminal justice policy and programming, but an unknown number of crimes go unreported. In the criminal justice field, that volume of unreported crime is often referred to as the “hidden figure of crime.” Dr. Stephen Haas, an ICF principal investigator for the Oregon Crime Victimization Survey (OCVS), says that “while official police reports are an important source for understanding crime in communities, they are limited to only those crimes known to police which can skew our overall view on the ‘true’ nature of crime. Crime victimization surveys are critical at getting an unbiased or objective estimate of crime and victimization that is not reliant upon citizen reports or influenced by such factors as policing regimens or political or system priorities in different communities or regions of a state.”

In 2019, our criminal justice, victimization, and survey research experts teamed up to support the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) to uncover the hidden figure of crime in their state. To meet CJC’s objectives, the team would need to overcome common victimization surveys challenges: declining response rates to telephone interviews; representation of hard-to-reach populations in the study sample; and incorporation of victim-centered, trauma-informed approaches throughout all phases of the study.

By convening a team of expert survey methodologists, sampling statisticians, criminal justice experts, and victim advocates, ICF and the Oregon CJC completed the first crime victimization survey in January 2021. By incorporating methodological experimentation in the study, we were able to exceed the targeted number of completed surveys and recommend an optimal design (in terms of data quality and cost) for future implementations of the survey.

In July 2021, Co-Principal Investigators Dr. Stephen Haas, Dr. Matt Jans, Randy ZuWallack, and Siobhan McAlister, Senior Research Analyst at Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, presented lessons learned from the OCVS in a webinar to the Justice Research and Statistics Association. The webinar discussed methodological approaches for obtaining state-level crime victimization estimates through state surveys and compared potential advantages and implications of each approach on crime victimization estimates, sampling error, response rates, efficiency, and costs. To view the webinar, click here.

Do you rely on crime and victimization statistics to inform policy or support victims of crime? We would love to hear from research professionals, policy experts, and victim advocates. Let us know your thoughts on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Meet the authors
  1. Robynne Locke, Project Director, Survey Research
  2. Stephen Haas, Director, Research & Evaluation

    Dr. Haas is director of research and evaluation for the Justice Research and Victim Services (JRVS) portfolio at ICF. He has more than 25 years of experience in project management, program evaluation, applied research, and technical assistance. Dr. Haas has extensive skills in study protocol development, review, and adjustment, including site outreach, selection, and recruitment; data collection, preparation, implementation and monitoring, analysis, reporting, and dissemination; and nonresponse and missing data analysis, imputation, and weighting.

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