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In 2021, crime victimization rates were higher in urban than rural areas. In urban settings, 24.5 out of 1,000 people aged 12 or older reported being the victims of violent crimes, and 157.5 reported being the victims of property crimes. In rural settings, those figures were 11.1 and 57.7, respectively.

How many people report being victims of crime?

In 2021, more than 4.5 million violent incidents involving victims ages 12 and older were self-reported in the US in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). In the same year, 11.7 million property victimizations were also reported, according to the Criminal Victimization report from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Despite this, US crime victimization rates have been on an overall downward trend since 1995. The DOJ tracks crime victimization data by location, which shows how trends vary for urban, suburban, and rural areas. One common narrative is that urban crime victimization rates exceed those in rural areas — and this is true, based on the data.

Violent crime victimizations

In 2021, 4.6 million violent victimizations were reported across all locations in the NCVS. Violent crime refers to incidents of rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, or simple assault.

This is an improvement relative to a few decades prior: in 1993, the rate of violent victimization was 79.8 per 1,000 people ages 12 and older; in 2021, the rate was 16.5. Further, during the five-year period from 2017–2021, the violent victimization rate decreased 20% from 20.6 to 16.5 incidents per 1,000 people.

Property crime victimizations

In 2021, there were 11.7 million property victimizations. Property crime includes burglary, trespassing, motor vehicle theft, and household theft. Between 2017–2021, property victimization decreased from 108.4 per 1,000 households to 90.3, a 17% decline.

What are the crime victimization rates in urban and rural areas?

In 2021, the rate of violent victimization in urban areas was 24.5 victimizations per 1,000 people. That’s more than double the rural area rate of 11.1.

The rate of property victimization in urban areas was 157.5 per 1,000 people. In rural areas, the rate was 57.7.

But not all crime is urban or rural. The DOJ report also tracks a third location: suburban areas. These are all census blocks not categorized as urban or rural. Those in suburban areas reported higher rates of victimization for both violent and property crime than rural areas, but lower rates than those in urban areas.

Crime victims by age

DOJ data shows that children ages 12–14 are most likely to report being the victims of violent crimes in both urban and rural areas.

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How are urban and rural crime changing?

Despite the long-term trend of decreasing total crime victimization rates, one measure did increase between 2020 and 2021: rates of violent crime victimization in urban areas.

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Urban crime victimization trends

By 2015, serious violent victimizations (rape/sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) in urban areas had decreased by 74% compared with rates from 1995, according to a data trends report from the DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime. Rates of simple assault and personal theft decreased by 75% and 74%, respectively.

When broken down by gender, both men and women were nearly twice as likely to experience violent victimization in urban areas than rural. In urban areas, women had a higher rate of victimization than men at 10.12 per 1,000 people, compared with seven per 1,000 for men.

Rural crime victimization trends

Over the same 20-year time period, serious violent victimizations in rural areas decreased by 67% and simple assaults dropped by 74%. Victimization rates for rural areas decreased by a smaller percentage than that in urban areas. However, the prior rate of victimization in rural areas was lower compared with urban ones. .

Women were also more likely to be victims of rural violent crime, but at a lower rate than urban areas: 4.6 per 1,000 people. The rate of rural violent victimization for men was 3.8.

Urban vs. rural crime victimization reporting

When it comes to reporting victimizations to police, people in rural areas do so less frequently than those in urban areas. In 2015, 19% of those who experienced rape or sexual assault in urban areas reported it to the police, versus 2% of those in rural areas. Twenty-five percent of aggravated assaults occurring in urban areas were reported, versus 8% in rural areas.

Where does this data come from?

The US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts an annual self-report survey, called the National Crime Victimization Survey, to collect data on the number of people who experience violent and property crime in the US as well as the specific type of crime experienced.

The survey uses the word “victimization” because the data comes from a survey of people self-reporting incidents in which they were victims of a crime. The resulting data is unique because respondents can report being the victim of a crime without having reported it to law enforcement.

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National Crime Victimization Survey
Office for Victims of Crime