Domestic Violence: An Overview

Domestic Violence Statistics: Prevalence and Trends

“Around the world at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Most often the abuser is a member of her own family.” 10

“Physical violence is estimated to occur in 4 to 6 million intimate relationships each year in the United States.” 17

“Nearly one in every three adult women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. Approximately four million American women experience a serious assault by an intimate partner during a 12-month period.” 2

“It is estimated that 2 million to 4 million US women are assaulted by a domestic partner every year. Twelve million women (25% of the female population) will be abused in their lifetime. Up to 35% of women and 22% of men presenting to the emergency department have experienced domestic violence.” 12

The precise incidence of domestic violence in America is difficult to determine for several reasons:  it often goes unreported, even on surveys; there is no nationwide organization that gathers information from local police departments about the number of substantiated reports and calls; and there is disagreement about what should be included in the definition of domestic violence.  “One study estimated that more than 3% (approximately 1.8 million) of women were severely assaulted by male partners or cohabitants over the course of a year, while other studies indicate the percentage of women experiencing dating violence, including sexual assault, physical violence, or verbal and emotional abuse, ranges as high as 65%.” 14

However, the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report in May, 2000 which sheds some light on part of domestic violence.  Their report is based on their own surveys (National Crime Victimization Survey), and on data from the FBI (homicide data).  In their report they define domestic violence as violent crimes by current or former spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends.  Violent crimes include lethal (homicide) and nonlethal (rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault) offenses.  From their data, we can say that in 1998, women experienced at least 900,000 violent offences at the hands of an intimate, and men were victims of at least 160,000 violent crimes by an intimate partner.  Their report did not mention emotional abuse, harassment or stalking.  So, more than 1 million violent crimes were committed against persons by their current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends.  To view the report, go to Intimate Partner Violence16

Fred C. Pampel and Kirk R. Williams warn, however, that “researchers using this database must address the problem of missing data, which typically is the result of the failure to file, inconsistent filing of reports to the FBI by local police agencies, or incomplete records about the characteristics of specific incidents of homicide (particularly, missing information about perpetrators), even when reports are filed.” 15

Even though we don’t know how frequently domestic violence occurs (and some estimates suggest that it is as much as 10 times more prevalent than reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics), the report does help with identifying very interesting trends.  The rates of domestic violence vary along several lines, including race, gender, economic and educational status, and geographical location. 16

Gender trends: Women make up 3/4 of the victims of homicide by an intimate partner.  Actually, 33% of all women murdered (of course, only cases which are solved are included) are murdered by an intimate partner.  Women make up about 85% of the victims of non-lethal domestic violence.  In all, women are victims of intimate partner violence at a rate about 5 times that of males. 16

Racial and Ethnic trends: Black women and men suffer from the highest rates of domestic violence.  “Black females experienced domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 22 times the rate of women of other races.  Black males experienced domestic violence at a rate about 62% higher than that of white males and about 22 times the rate of men of other races.” 16

Age trends:  Domestic violence is most prominent among women aged 16 to 24. 16

Economic Trends:  Poorer women experience significantly more domestic violence than higher income women. 16

Marital status:  For both men and women, divorced or separated persons were subjected to the highest rates of intimate partner victimization, followed by never- married persons. 16

Reporting to police:  The rates at which individuals report domestic violence to police vary along racial and gender lines.  Hispanic and black women report domestic violence at the highest rate (approximately 65% to 67% of abuse is reported).  For white females, only about 50% of the abuse is reported. 16

What is Emotional Abuse?
What is Physical Abuse?
What is Sexual Abuse?
Domestic Violence Statistics: Prevalence and Trends
It’s Hard to Stop because it’s Hard to Report
Effects of Domestic Violence
Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Teenagers
Help is Available!
Domestic Violence Shelters: What They Do
Nationwide Crisis and Hotline Directory
Domestic Violence References

Referring to this article:
“Domestic Violence: An Overview” was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find (formerly Mental Health Journal in February, 2001.

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