Self-report surveys of victimization have become commonplace in discussions of crime and criminal justice policy. Changes in the rates at which residents of the country are victimized by crime have taken a place alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation index of crimes known to the police as widely used indicators of the state of society and the efficacy of its governance. While a great deal has been learned about this method for producing data on crime and victimization, a number of fundamental issues concerning the method remain only partially explored. This paper outlines what we have learned about victimization surveys over the past 30 years and how this source of information has been used as a social indicator and a means of building criminological theories. It also identifies major methodological issues that remain unresolved and suggests some approaches to exploring them. The evolution of the National Crime Victimization Survey is used as a vehicle for this discussion, because the survey has been conducted continuously for 25 years and has been the subject of extensive methodological study. David Cantor is an Associate Study Director with Westat in Rockville, Maryland. James P. Lynch is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs with America
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