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Simple assault is a form of interpersonal violence that involves the use of force to inflict injury or the threat of force to cause harm. The incidence of simple assault is reported in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which is an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice. The NCVS collects information on the crime experiences of persons, whether or not they report the incident to the police. The NCVS distinguishes simple assault from aggravated assault based on two criteria: (1) the use of deadly force, and (2) the seriousness of the injury. Hence, simple assault is an incident in which the attack did not involve the use of a weapon or in any other way was the attack considered deadly; and any injury incurred by the victim that required less than 2 days of hospitalization.
According to the NCVS, in 2004 there were an estimated 3.44 million simple assaults on persons age 12 and older. Of these, about 74% were without physical injury to the victim, with the remainder involving minor injury. The actual rate of simple assault per 1,000 persons was 14.3. Males have a higher rate (16.3) than females (12.3). Males are slightly less likely to be injured than females.
Like other crimes reported in the NCVS, the rate of simple assault has been on a steady decline. For example, the rate was 26.6 per 1,000 persons in 1996, and 20.8 in 1999. Throughout this downward trend, however, the proportion of simple assaults involving minor injury to the victim has remained relatively the same. As well, the rate of decline in simple assaults has been about the same for females and males. Finally, the percentage of simple assaults reported to the police is relatively constant, varying from 44.9% in 2004 to 37.3% in 1996. Female victims are more likely to say they reported an incident of simple assault than are males. Victims who suffered minor injuries, regardless of sex, also were more likely to report the event to the police.
There are some noticeable differences in the experience of simple assault by age, ethnicity, race, and sex. Males age 12 to 19 exhibit the highest rates of simple assault, followed by those 20 to 24 years of age, after which the rates rapidly decrease. The pattern for females is about the same; however, across all age groups, the rates are consistently lower for females.
For some years, the rate of simple assault for Black males exceeds the rate for White males, and at other times, the rate is higher for White males. The same pattern is true when comparing simple assault for White and Black females. Again, for both Blacks and Whites, rates of simple assault have declined. Finally, comparing rates by Hispanic and non-Hispanic status show few differences.
One of the larger statistical differences found in the NCVS is the percentage of simple assault victimizations involving strangers by the sex of the victim. It is far more likely that males than females will report being assaulted by a stranger. For example, the 2004 NCVS reports that nearly 54% of White males and about 48% of Black males were victimized by someone they did not know. In contrast, nearly 40% of White females and almost 30% of Black females said that their assailant was a stranger.
A second difference is in the rate of simple assaults by locality, which is broken into three groups: urban (metropolitan counties with a city of 50,000 or greater), suburban (contiguous counties economically and socially linked to the central city county), and rural (nonmetropolitan counties). Across sex, race, and Hispanic-non-Hispanic status, rates are generally the highest for respondents from urban locations. Rates for respondents from suburban counties are lower than urban rates, but higher than rates for those who live in rural areas. However, victimization rates for simple assaults are somewhat comparable for suburban and rural populations, and substantially higher for urban populations.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program does not include information for simple assaults within its various statistical tables summarizing “crimes known to the police.” However, it does include information about the arrests of persons in the United States for simple assaults, of which there were nearly 1.3 million in 2004, for a rate of 438.6 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants. Arrest rates for simple assault, in concurrence with a downward trend in the NCVS victimization rate, have declined in recent years. For example, the arrest rate in 1995 was 496.5 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Southern states show the highest rate of simple assault arrests, at 561.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. This rate far exceeds rates for the Midwest (428.3), the Northeast (369.0), and the West (359.1). Over the years, the UCR has consistently shown the South to have the highest arrest rates for simple assault. Arrests rates by police agencies from central cities (344.5), suburban areas (360.0), and nonmetropolitan counties (345.4) are nearly identical. The vast majority of simple assault arrests (about 75%) are of males. About one in five arrests are of persons under the age of 18.
Although simple assault may not result in serious physical injury to the victim, or involve deadly force, it remains a serious crime. For instance, according to the NCVS, the rate of simple assault in 2004 was the highest among all personal crimes, exceeding the rates for rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and purse snatching/pocket picking. There are more arrests made by law enforcement agencies for simple assault than for almost any other kind of crime, with the exceptions of drug abuse violations and driving under the influence, based on data from the UCR. Without a doubt, the psychological and social costs of simple assault to both the victim and society in general are significant.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2005). Crime in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/04cius
- S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2006). National Crime Victimization Survey, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.ojp.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cvus.04/pdf
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