LOS ANGELES The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that it will seek to stop asking 16 and 17 year olds to voluntarily and confidentially disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity on the National Crime Victimization Survey ( NCVS ).
"Asking NCVS respondents to voluntarily and confidentially disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity provides crucial data on criminal victimization of LGBT people, who are subject to high rates of hate crimes and other violence," said Adam P. Romero, the Williams Institute's Director of Federal Policy and a scholar of law at UCLA School of Law. "The Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice has been a leader in advancing knowledge about the LGBT population, but the Bureau's new leadership seems to want to bury its head in the sand."
The NCVS is one of two main sources of data on crime in the United States, and is a vital source of national data on policy-relevant subjects related to hate crimes, intimate-partner violence, and other criminal victimization subjects. Since July 2016, the NCVS has asked all respondents aged 16 and older about their sexual orientations and gender identities, among other personal characteristics such as race and ethnicity.
According to the Department of Justice, "the minimum age for these questions will be raised to 18 due to concerns about the potential sensitivity of these questions for adolescents."
"While we appreciate the potential sensitivity of these questions for some people, no one is forced to answer them," said Romero.
In addition, "youth have been answering questions about their sexual orientation for years, in numerous studies, as well as on federal surveys," said Kerith J. Conron, Blachford-Cooper Research Director and Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute.
For example, the Youth Behavior Risk Survey ( YRBS ) includes respondents as young as 13. In 2015, 15,000 youth from across the country filled out the YRBS survey on their own, anonymously at school. The National Survey of Family Growth ( NSFG ), which includes respondents as young as 15, is self-administered using a computer to afford each respondent privacy.
"We know that LGBT youth are more likely to be victimized, sometimes by their own families, and we need data from the NCVS to learn whether crimes are reported and how the criminal justice system is responding to young LGBT victims," said Conron. "Instead of dropping these items from the NCVS, which were cognitively tested and performed well, the Department of Justice should focus on making it easier for youth to answer questions by investigating strategies to improve the data collection process."
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.