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The Office for Survey Research (OSR) has conducted many projects addressing sensitive topics, including general health, mental health, cancer and other illnesses, as well as community safety and residents’ interaction with police. All interviewers calling these studies learn how to administer these sensitive questions so respondents are comfortable answering items that are for many respondents difficult to answer.

OSR conducts the Michigan Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Study (Michigan BRFSS) and similar county and community level studies that have included sensitive topics since 1996.  Over that time, we have asked questions on frequency of drug use, interpersonal violence, sexual violence, sexual behavior, HIV risk factors, adverse childhood experiences and reactions to race.

We also conduct a panel study with men diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is now in its 12th year. We ask patients a series of questions related to their sexual functioning, side effects associated with cancer therapy, the use of medications and various devices to aid sexual functioning. In our trainings, we have discussed how the side effects of prostate cancer therapy can cause sexual side effects and how some respondents have reacted to the questions in the past.

We have conducted many community surveys addressing crime and safety issues. We have asked about crime victimization, residents’ interaction with police based on their race or religion, satisfaction with local police, and attitudes towards their neighborhood. We also asked about marijuana and alcohol use, as well as fighting among youths in the community.