Most information about sex is generated by survey research; i.e., by asking questions of respondents. The U.S Department of Justice–one of innumerable government entities that asks–queries youth in juvenile facilities, including those in the Illinois Youth Center-Joliet. Their recent report, Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth that asked about sexual assault, sexual contact and related matters, produced unreliable information; i. e., the answers may or may not indicate what’s really going on in the Joliet Center. An indication that this is so is provided by Jennifer Vollen-Katz, director of the Juvenile Justice Project for the prison watchdog group John Howard Association. I’m “shocked”, she said. “I interviewed offenders there and did not hear complaints about sexual assault”.
Survey research produces unreliable information about sex (and everything else) because answers to questions are skewed by respondents (they lie, embellish, forget, don’t know, etc.), questions (e.g., wording), situation (e.g., people answer differently in detention or jail than at home or at school or at work), and by survey researchers/askers themselves (e.g., female interviewers tend to generate different answers than male askers. So, if you want to find out what’s really going on, don’t ask. That’s the theme of my book, The Problem with Survey Research. In the last Part, I discuss proper procedures for obtaining reliable information; such as observation, experimentation, and so on.
This post is based on Andy Grimm, “Survey: Sex assault rampant at youth prison”, Chicago Tribune, 7/7/13, sec. 1, p. 5.