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About One in Four U.S. Households Victimized by Crime

Politics

About One in Four U.S. Households Victimized by Crime

About One in Four U.S. Households Victimized by Crime

Story Highlights

  • Twenty-six percent of U.S. households were victimized
  • Two in three victims reported the crimes to police
  • Theft, vandalism the most common forms of traditional crime

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Twenty-six percent of Americans say they or another member of their household were the victim of some type of property or physical crime in the last 12 months, ranging from theft to sexual assault, according to Gallup's index of crime victimization. Since 2000, the percentage of households that have been victimized by crime has ranged narrowly between 22% and 27%. The percentage of Americans who have been personally victimized has ranged from 14% to 19%.

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Since 2000, with the exception of 2012, Gallup has asked Americans in its annual Crime poll to say whether they or anyone in their households have been the victim of seven different crimes -- burglary, property theft or larceny, car theft, vandalism, robbery, physical assault and sexual assault. Gallup's household crime victimization index represents the percentage of Americans who say that they or a member of their household was a victim of one or more of these crimes in the last 12 months. The personal crime victimization index is based on the same summary, only reduced to those who say each crime happened to them personally.

Of these seven crimes, property theft (15%) and vandalism (14%) are the most common for U.S. households, followed by burglary (6%). The other crimes are rare, with only as many as 3% saying each occurred to a household member in the last 12 months.

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The incidence of each of these crimes has been fairly consistent throughout Gallup's 14-year trend, with property theft and vandalism most common at about 15% each year.

"Cyber-Crime" Not Uncommon

In addition to the seven core crimes asked each year since 2000, this year's Crime poll asked about two so-called cyber-crimes that have been in the news recently -- theft of credit card information from store database and hacking of computers or smartphones.

Twenty-seven percent of households and 19% of U.S. adults say they have been affected by stolen credit card information, such as those that affected Target and Home Depot customers in the past 12 months -- far more than said they had been victimized by any of the traditional crimes.

Meanwhile, 11% of U.S. households and 7% of Americans say they had a computer or smartphone hacked and information stolen by unauthorized users.

The newer cyber-crimes are not included in Gallup's victimization index in order to preserve the long-term trendability of the index. If they were included, the household victimization rate would surge to 46% (from 26%) and the individual victimization rate would jump to 34% (from 19%).

Two in Three Traditional Crimes Reported, Less than Half of Cyber-Crimes

Although Americans are somewhat more likely to report being victimized by these cyber-crimes than by traditional crimes, cyber-crime victims are much less likely to alert the police to their occurrence. Whereas 67% of respondents victimized by the traditional crimes said they reported these incidents to the police, only 45% who had credit card information stolen and 26% who had a computer or smartphone hacked said they reported those crimes to the police. It is possible that those victimized by hacking or stolen credit card information may report those to their bank or service provider rather than to the legal authorities, if they feel a need to alert an institution about the crime.

The roughly two thirds of traditional property or physical crimes reported to the police is in line with Gallup's historical estimates.

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The rate of unreported crimes is important as it indicates that crime statistics based on compilation of police records may significantly underestimate the amount of crime that occurs in the United States. It is also possible that many of the crimes not reported to authorities may be less severe -- for example, many acts of vandalism or theft of a small amount of money. If that is the case, the official reports may mainly be measuring the incidence of more significant crimes.

Implications

Traditional crimes against property or physical assaults are not uncommon in the U.S. but typically affect one in four U.S. households and just under one in five Americans each year. The reported crime rates are generally stable, suggesting a fairly constant level of crime that varies only at the margins.

These traditional forms of crime, though, appear to be less likely to happen to Americans than cyber-crime involving electronic theft of personal information. Americans are as likely or more likely to report being affected by these types of crimes in the past 12 months than traditional crimes. And the public does worry more about these high-tech crimes than other forms of crime.

However, the relative infrequency with which these crimes are reported to police could indicate that the impact of cyber-crimes on Americans may not be as severe as traditional crimes. In other words, if the incident was serious enough to cause significant harm against a person, they very well might report it to the traditional legal authorities.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 12-15, 2014, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

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