A victim survey is a large scale survey of the entire population that investigates any particular crimes performed against them. It is covered by the research method of official statistics and one type of victim survey used by Sociologists is the British Crime Survey, first carried out in 1981. Conducted in England and Wales only, the British Crime Survey measures what types of crimes have been committed against a person in the last year measuring the behaviour of the victims; the incidence of the crime; and the behaviour of the offenders. In 1981, the British Crime Survey found that eleven million crimes had been committed, but only three million had been reported; and this figure had not changed dramatically by 2011.
Therefore, some obvious advantages of victims surveys is that they do attempt to reveal the “black figure” of hidden crime by investigating what crime is reported and what isn’t. A second advantage is that it also shows which geographical locations of the country are most affected by crime which can lead to further Sociological research investigating the causes of criminality, ranging from the environment, such as poverty, or internal factors, such as the family; suggesting whether criminal behaviour is a result of primary or secondary agencies of socialisation.
In contrast though, there are some apparent disadvantages to victim surveys. The most obvious is that social desirability bias can occur, which is where respondents to the survey may lie about their experiences of crime, because the crime was too traumatic to discuss openly, such as rape. Furthermore, victim surveys only investigate crime as it happened; which is usually through police reports from reported crime. Victim surveys do not investigate unreported crime; they only provide estimates – which greatly reduces the validity of Sociological research.