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The hidden half of domestic violence

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How Common Is Domestic Violence?

There is a national crusade to stop domestic violence and abuse, a seemingly noble goal for the new millennium. Everyone can support the abolition of domestic abuse as it involves gun control, prohibition of drugs and alcohol, getting tough on crime, social engineering, sexual prohibitions, creation of a vast bureaucracy for 'victim' assistance, etc. In fact, just about any radical group, left or right, that you want to name has a stake in enacting laws prohibiting violence against women. But what is the real magnitude of the problem? Who are the victims? And who really is responsible for violence within families and couples?

Estimates from the National Crime Victimization Surveys

As best we can tell domestic violence is quite a rare crime.

The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) has been collecting data on personal and household victimization of intimate partners since 1973 in an ongoing survey of a nationally representative sample of residential addresses.
While there are limitations and biases in the data collected, the NCVS is a primary source of information on characteristics of all types of criminal victimization, and on the number and types of crimes not reported to law enforcement authorities as well as those that are.
The NCVS provides the largest national forum for victims to describe the impact of crime and the characteristics of violent offenders.
Twice each year data are obtained from a sample of roughly 49,000 households comprising about 100,000 persons on the frequency, characteristics, and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States. Thus, there is no more authoritative source than the NCVS as to what crimes victims are encountering in their lives.
It is of fundamental importance to understand that the NCVS data are not taken from police statistics or social surveys, and do not count couples who have bitter or loud arguments, a push-and shove situation, S&M, or other aberrations couples may engage in. The NCVS is a survey of citizens who believe a crime has been committed in their household whether or not the crime was reported to police or any other authorities.
Current societal concern for domestic violence dates from 1971 when Erin Pizzey opened the first refuge (shelter in the U.S.) for battered women in Chiswick, London, England. Gaquin (1977-78) examined the first available NCVS data after 1971 on the crime of domestic violence. For the years 1973-1975 he found an extremely low rate of intimate partner violence of 2.2 incidents per 1,000 couples, or 0.22%.
Twenty years later, after domestic violence had been brought to worldwide attention on a constant, if not hysterical basis, Dugan (2003, p. 299) examined the NCVS data from January 1992 to June 1998 for 529,829 households in the United States. She reports: "From those, 2,873, or 0.5%, reported at least one incident of domestic violence (unweighted)."
As we are constantly reminded of a "cycle of violence" in domestic abuse cases there is also the question of how often incidents of violence are repeated in a household. Dugan (2003, p. 299) reports that for the same interval the NCVS data show a total of 3,508 incidents of criminal domestic violence in the 2,873 households reporting such violence. So at most 20% reported repetitive criminal acts of domestic violence, or <0.1% of the surveyed households.

There were an estimated 68.5 million family households in 1994 (Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 1997, Table 66), the midpoint of Dugan's compilation. If we extrapolate from the NCVS survey data, and assume that 0.5% of those households had at least one incident of criminal domestic violence, there would have been about 340,000 cases in that year. That after twenty years of intense bombardment by radical feminist propaganda claiming all men are "batterers" and all women are "victims" of domestic violence.

Given the intense propaganda about DV between 1971 and 1994, the figure of 0.22% given by Gaquin (1977-78) might be a better benchmark. That would suggest about 150,000 cases of criminal domestic violence in the entire United States in 1994.
The 340,000 DV crimes in 1994 derived from Dugan's (2003, p. 299) review is not an insignificant number but it is certainly far fewer cases of criminal domestic violence than we are led to believe by radical feminists and social studies, and hardly sufficient to generate and support the current hysteria about battered women. To put the crime of domestic violence, primarily assaults, in perspective we need to compare it with similar crimes. In 1994 there were an estimated 6,650,000 simple assaults and 2,478,000 aggravated assaults based on the NCVS data.
Without making any judgements regarding the societal interest in the topic of domestic violence one would be forced to conclude that, according to victims surveyed by the NCVS, the crime of domestic violence is a small mark on the tableau of American criminal justice. Yet by 2001 domestic violence cases comprised fully 21% of all misdemeanor court cases (Table 15) in Colorado, the most common crime on the court dockets.
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.

Dugan, L., Domestic violence legislation: Exploring its impact on the likelihood of domestic violence, police involvement, and arrest, Criminology & Public Policy, 2, 2, p. 283-309, 2003.

Gaquin, D. A., Spouse abuse: Data from the National Crime Survey, Victimology, 2, p. 632-643, 1977-78.

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Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
President, Equal Justice Foundation
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Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906-5820
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