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U.S. Justice Department rape statistics understate problem: study

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice should change how it counts the number of sexual assaults that occur in the United States because its tally understates the numbers by possibly as much as seven-fold, an outside advisory panel said on Tuesday.

Instead of relying on the National Crime Victimization Survey, which looks at all crimes, Justice officials should instead design a separate survey that measures only rape and sexual assault, it recommended.

In a report requested by the department, the National Research Council's outside advisers said the department's main crime survey uses ambiguous wording that can make victims less likely to report violations.

The Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey estimated 188,380 people were raped in 2010 while the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's survey for the same year counted nearly 1.3 million incidents, according to the panel's review.

Accurate reporting of rape and sexual assault is critical for lawmakers, health providers and others to address the issue and help prevent future attacks, the advisers said.

A spokeswoman for the department had no immediate comment while several women's groups welcomed the recommendations.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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