Renée Zauberman et Philippe Robert
Over the past quarter-century, victimization and insecurity surveys have grown substantially but in highly variable proportions in European countries. Questionnaires are now nearly standardized for victimization, but not for insecurity. Protocols used for the latter topic are not very standardized and have often been severely criticized. The robustness of the surveys notably depends on sample size (too small, in certain countries, to provide sufficiently narrow confidence intervals) and on the instrument's stability over time. Without stability, it is hard to determine if a change in results reflects the actual situation or is merely the artefact of an uncontrolled change in the instrument. Only a handful of countries incorporate the surveys into a decision-making assistance and policy-assessment system. In such countries, excessive instrumentalization can heavily undermine the surveys' basic purposes, which are to measure and gather information on crime. In other countries, instead, surveys play a minor role in measuring crime by comparison with police statistics. Even though many national, regional, and local governments have commissioned such surveys, they have trouble exploiting the results. Lastly, the future of the surveys is threatened by the rise in non-response rates, which cannot be curbed except at additional cost. Scientific research studies based on the surveys are still, on the whole, too insubstantial. One of the main reasons is the small number of researchers capable of working on quantitative data while drawing on the findings of the sociology of crime. This is regrettable, because such scientific studies could shed new light on crime. They should be expanded, even in the countries that conduct the largest number today. Besides improving the quality of the surveys themselves, an increase in such studies would prevent misinterpretations and misuse.