If you want to tackle a problem as great as child abuse, you at least need to design your reporting systems to capture the data as accurately as possible. The Criminal Justice system in America does not do that. The more survivors understand the issues impacting them, the more informed everyone will be as a community/nation.
The primary source of crime data in many states is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) or crimes reported by law enforcement agencies to the FBI. The unit of analysis of UCR is arrests. One person may be arrested multiple times during the year, as a result, the arrest tabulations cannot be considered as a total number of individuals arrested. These are summary data that do not allow beyond simple tabulations by geographic unit, race, and broad age groupings.
Moreover, these are primarily tabulations of arrests and, in some cases, victim information, so these data cannot be used to determine the number of unique individuals who have been arrested within a year.
Some offense data for each year are estimated (arrest data are not estimated) because not all law enforcement agencies are able to provide data for complete reporting periods. The estimates are computed by using the known offense figures of similar areas within a state and assigning the same proportion of crime volumes to non-reporting agencies or agencies with missing data. In other words, it is a guess. The estimation process considers the following:
- Population size of the agency,
- Type of jurisdiction (e.g., police department versus sheriff’s office), and
- Geographic location.1
Why is this important? Because the UCR program’s primary objective is to provide a reliable set of criminal justice statistics for law enforcement, administration, operation, and management. It is not designed to understand and accurately report the level of abuse perpetrated on children all over America. It is a staffing issue!
A first step in the control of crime is to ascertain the true dimensions of the problem. However, present statistics, as gathered by the UCR Program, measure neither the real incidence of crime nor the full amount of economic loss of victims. Each crime, unbelievably, receives the same weight as it is added to the “Index.” Consequently, an auto theft is counted the same as a murder, and an aggravated assault is weighted equally with an attempted burglary.
The accuracy of juvenile offenders and arrest statistics varies from department to department since the procedures for handling juveniles are not nearly as uniform as those for adults. Many juvenile offenders are handled informally and, as a consequence, inaccurate or an incomplete reporting of the event/action may result. Furthermore, the degree of juvenile participation in clearances is recorded only when juveniles are exclusively involved. When both adults and juveniles are subjects in a clearance, in some areas, the juvenile participation is not reported.2
As I said in the beginning of this post, the Criminal Justice system was not designed to measure the extent of the problem, therefore, their figures are not an accurate reflection of the amount of child abuse committed in America.
1 Data on Health and Wellbeing of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Other Native Americans Data Catalog,” Prepared by Westat for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluaion, and Office of Human Services Policy, December 2006