The International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) was initiated in 1987 by a group of European criminologists with expertise in national crime surveys (Van Dijk, Mayhew, Killias, 1990). The survey was set up to produce estimates of victimisation that can be used for international comparison. The survey has evolved into the world’s premier program of standardised surveys looking at householders’ experience of common crime in different countries. There have so far been five main rounds of the ICVS. After the first round in 1989 the surveys were repeated in 1992, 1996, and 2000 and 2004/2005. By the end of 2005 over 140 surveys had been done in over 78 different countries (in 37 countries nationwide). Over 320,000 citizens have been interviewed in the course of the ICVS so far. The present database covers 325454 individual respondents.
The core questionnaire of the ICVS has been drafted and pilot tested in several countries in 1987, building on the existing instruments of the national crime victim surveys of the Netherlands, England & Wales and Switzerland (Van Dijk, Mayhew, Killias, 1990). Great care has been given by the international working group to ensure a correct translation of the questionnaire in all main European languages. In later sweeps the translation of the questionnaire in other languages has been the responsibility of the national experts supervising the surveys in their home countries. Over the years minor adjustments and amendments have been introduced in the questionnaire. Because of the longitudinal aspect of the ICVS, changes to the questionnaire have always been kept to a minimum. Since the surveys have now been repeated several times in many countries, results can be used to compare trends in crime over a period of twenty years.
Readers should be aware that the ICVS provides a measure of common crimes to which the general public is exposed, including relatively minor offences such as petty theft as well as more serious crimes such as car thefts, sexual assaults or threats/assaults. The comparatively small samples sizes preclude estimation of less prevalent crimes such as rapes or aggravated assaults. As other crime surveys, the ICVS largely ignores victimisation by complex crimes such as grand corruption or organised crime victimising collective populations rather than individuals. ICVS –based prevalence rates cannot be reliably used as indicator of these other types of crime (Van Dijk, 2007). Some indication of the extent of complex crimes can be found in the ICVS rates of victimisation by bribery. Victimisation by bribe-seeking is much more common among the public in developing countries. The restriction of the ICVS to the most prevalent, common crimes must be born in mind when comparing ICVS-based rates of developed and developing countries.
For the crime types it covers, the ICVS asks about incidents that by and large accord with legal definitions of common offences, using colloquial language. Household burglary, for example, is captured by the question ‘Did anyone get into your house or flat without permission, and steal or try to steal something?’ Respondents are asked about victimisation by ten types of common crime that they themselves or their household may have experienced. Household crimes are those which can be seen as affecting the household at large, and respondents report on all incidents known to them. The questionnaire covered as separate household crimes: car theft (including joyriding), theft from or out a car, motorcycle theft, bicycle theft, burglary and attempted burglary.
For personal crimes, respondents report on what happened to them personally. Types of personal crimes included are sexual incidents (including both less serious incidents as rapes and other sexual assaults), threats & assaults (including assaults with force), robbery and theft of personal property (including pickpocketing).
The ICVS questionnaire uses a list of screen questions about ten specifically defined types of crime. After the respondent has been taken through the full list, modules with followed up questions are used to interview those identified as victims about details. The use of a screener prevents respondents with many victimisations from avoiding positive responses to the question about possible victimisation in order to prevent further questioning about details.
An important known distortion factor in crime surveying is the tendency of respondents to telescope victimisation experience forward in time in their memories. This tendency is exacerbated if respondents are asked exclusively about incidents that took place in the course of the past twelve month or calendar year. Research using ICVS questions has confirmed that in such circumstances reported victimisation rates are significantly inflated (Saris & Scherpenzeel, 1992). In the screening questions of the ICVS questionnaire, respondents are asked first about their experience of crime over the last five years. Those who mention an incident of any particular type are asked when it occurred: in the first months of the current year (2004 or 2005), in the last year (in this case 2003 or 2004), or before that. Information presented in this report is mainly on percentages of respondents victimised in the course of 2003 or 2004 depending on the date of the interview.
All those who say they have been victimised over the five-year period are asked a number of follow-up questions about what happened – whether the police were notified, for instance, and whether they were satisfied with their treatment by the police or received specialised support. A few other crime-related questions are asked of all respondents. They include opinions on general police performance, what respondents would recommend as a sentence for a recidivist burglar and the use of precautionary measures against crime.
Mainly for cost-saving reasons, CATI has, from the outset, been implemented in all ICVS rounds in industrialised countries with sufficiently high telephone penetration rates (above 70 percent).
- Van Dijk, J.J.M., Mayhew, P. & Killias, M. (1990). Experiences of crime across the world: Key findings from the 1989 International Crime Survey. Deventer: Kluwer Law and Taxation.
- Van Dijk, J.J.M.(2007). The World of crime; breaking the silence on problems of crime, justice and development, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
- Saris, W.E. & A. Scherpenzeel. A. (1992) Effecten van vraagformulering en data- verzamelingsmethoden in slachtofferenquetes (On the effects of the phrasing of questionnaire items and methods of data collection in victimisation surveys). Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam