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W.Va. researchers secure grant to study crime reporting


Contact: Lawrence Messina
(304) 558-2930

Sept. 21, 2015

W.Va. researchers secure grant to study crime reporting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Evidence that sexual assaults, domestic violence and other crimes go unreported in West Virginia is prompting researchers to launch the state’s first-ever victimization study.

The Division of Justice and Community Services successfully applied for a $448,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department to fund the three-year study. It will survey West Virginians about their experiences with crime, their willingness to seek help from law enforcement, their perceptions of the criminal justice system and community safety, and their knowledge of victim services and local crime policy, among other topics.

“This is an exciting opportunity to pursue research that promises to improve public safety in West Virginia,” said division Director Rick Staton. “Among other benefits, this data will complement existing crime data reported by law enforcement through the Uniform Crime Reporting program.”

The Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center (CJSAC) within the Office of Research and Strategic Planning at the Division of Justice and Community Services, which is part of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, will conduct the survey aided by West Virginia University’s Research Center on Violence.

“Our target population will focus on all adults age 18 and older statewide,” said Dr. Stephen M. Haas, director of the CJSAC since 2003. “Safeguards will be utilized to ensure confidentiality and that the respondent feels safe to talk.”

Haas said figures from the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Foundation for Rape Information and Services (FRIS) show that many victims aided by these programs never report to law enforcement.

Unreported victims of other crimes such as assault or property crimes are even more difficult to estimate, Haas said. While law enforcement data are valuable resources for estimating crime, such victimization surveys allow criminologists to uncover what Haas called the “dark (or hidden) figure” of crime - those crimes of which law enforcement are never made aware.

Several factors may play a role in West Virginia’s crime-reporting rate. Rural cultures tend to be close-knit and self-contained, Haas said, making the idea of reporting victimization to the police or other outsiders difficult. Service options are often limited in these communities as well. West Virginia also has the nation’s highest percentage of people with disabilities and a larger elderly population than the national average.

Other socioeconomic conditions in the state that may affect crime and victimization include higher levels of poverty and lower education levels. Haas also cited prior research by the CJSAC and others showing African Americans are disproportionately victims of crimes that get reported to and recorded by the police. West Virginia has among the nation’s smallest non-white populations.

WVU Research Center on Violence Director Walter DeKeseredy will help develop the survey methodology and oversee the project’s WVU team. Those researchers will include Dr. James J. Nolan, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Ronald Althouse, professor emeritus of sociology and former director of WVU’s Survey Research Center.

In addition, the team will consult with other experts including Drs. Lynn Addington and Callie Rennison from American University and the University of Denver respectively, who have worked closely with the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Crime Victimization Survey. Nancy Hoffman, executive director of FRIS, the state’s sexual assault coalition, will assist with training curricula development and delivery for the WVU survey staff.

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