The government more than doubled its estimate Wednesday of rapes or attempted rapes each year - to 310,000. But actual assaults aren’t up; rather, after years of controversy, the government’s biggest crime survey finally asked a direct question about rape.
In the first major report on data from the newly designed survey, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that there are 500,000 sexual assaults on women annually, including 170,000 rapes and 140,000 attempted rapes.
Previously, the bureau had estimated that there were 133,000 total rapes and attempted rapes a year. It had no data on other sexual assaults. The most recent FBI figures show that only 104,800 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to police in 1993.
“When you ask directly, you get more information. That doesn’t mean this level of rapes didn’t exist before,” said Justice statistician Ronet Bachman, co-author of the new report. “We have no indication of an actual increase in rapes. This is just better reporting … through changes in our interviews and asking direct questions.”
The new research was hailed by women’s groups who long have argued that rape is underreported because its victims are stigmatized. The new data also went a long way toward resolving a dispute that President Clinton inadvertently wandered into last March when he said 700,000 women are raped each year.
The data come from the government’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which annually interviews 100,000 Americans aged 12 or older. The survey is designed to uncover the crimes that are not reported to police as well as more details of reported crime.
The new estimates cover 1992, when half of those interviewed were asked specifically for the first time if they were raped or sexually assaulted, and 1993, when everyone surveyed was asked those questions. Previously, the survey only asked about attacks of any kind without mentioning rape or sexual assault.