A victim survey is essentially a survey which gauges crime levels based on people saying what they’ve been a victim of, rather than asking them to admit to crime’s they’ve admitted. An advantage of this is that people are far less likely to lie to avoid prosecution; admittedly victims of certain crimes (such as rape or domestic/gang violence) are still unlikely to report their crimes.
Victim surveys must take an unobtrusive and sensitive approach when inquiring into a person’s experience with crime as this can often be a touchy subject, delving into people’s personal and frequently traumatic experiences. This level of edginess can often lead to reduced validity due to people lying to avoid exposing feelings they resent having, or experiences they wish they’d never had. Similarly there’s an air of social desirability involved, younger people may wish lay claim to living in a rougher neighbourhood; someone may say they’ve been started on, mugged or witnessed a robbery near to their home because, in their eyes, it makes them look “harder” to their peers. Very much like a victim of domestic violence will probably not admit to being the victim of any crime for the fear of their spouse finding out. All of this massively reduces the validity of victim surveys, although they can probably be held in higher light than asking the questions in terms of what crime’s the participant has committed.
On the contrary, this is probably also the greatest strength of this kind of survey, because of course people are more likely to admit being wronged than doing wrong. Other strengths of victim surveys are the natural strengths of any self-report method. Surveys elicit a vast and speedy response, the option of using open or closed questions means that the researcher can select whether to collect quantitative and easy to analyse data, or detailed and info-rich qualitative data. Or a reasonable mix of both.
By sending out surveys you run the risk of respondents interpreting questions differently or struggling just to understand questions due to poor reading skills, it’s extraneous variables such as these which can reduce the reliability of victim survey; each person reads the questions slightly differently, spends more time on one than another, and ultimately gets a different experience of the survey. One purpose of victim surveys is to attempt to measure what proportion of crimes go un reported to the police, there is a chance that a person may have lacked faith in their English skills, to the extent that they didn’t bother filing a police report or insurance claim, but there’s every possibility that they then may also struggle to complete the survey in the way the researcher had intended, or just fail to complete it altogether.
– By Callum Cornwell