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Change Would Reduce Federal Data on Crimes Against LGBT Teenagers

The U.S. Justice Department has proposed changing an ongoing federal crime study to bar questions about sexuality for minors.

The Justice Department asked the Office of Management and Budget to revise the National Crime Victimization Survey to raise the minimum age at which participants would be asked questions about their gender identity and sexual orientation to 18, "due to concerns about the potential sensitivity of these questions for adolescents," according to an April Federal Register notice on the change. 

The survey has asked 16- and 17-year-olds about their sexuality and gender identity since 2016, so there is little more than a baseline in the data. The survey does not ask specifically about school-based crimes. By contrast, in 2015-16 the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights data collection began to specifically track school-based harassment based on a student's real or perceived sexual orientation; these accounted for 16 percent of all reported bullying incidents.

Some advocates have voiced concern about the change. "We know that [lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered] 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 Kerith Conron, the research director of the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, in a statement. "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."

Comments on the change are being accepted through May 11.

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