How Common Is Domestic Violence? by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D.

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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

Estimates by feminists and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Estimates of domestic violence against men


Estimates from the National Crime Victimization Surveys


As best we can tell domestic violence is quite a rare crime and the level of danger for the average person is extremely low. For example, citizens are greater than twenty times more likely to die from the flu than from an act of domestic violence. And when discussing domestic violence it is critical to make a clear distinction between what constitutes a criminal act that a prosecutor might be able to stand before a jury and establish both mens rea and actus reus beyond a reasonable doubt and the ordinary arguments couples have wherein they might push and shove each other without criminal intent. The latter situation has been referred to as common couple violence and cannot reasonably be addressed within the context of an adversarial criminal justice system.

To measure criminal acts the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) has been collecting data on personal and household victimization of intimate partners consistently since 1973 in an ongoing survey of a nationally representative sample of residential addresses. The NCVS provides the largest national forum for victims to describe the impact of crime and the characteristics of violent offenders.

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.

Four times each year data are obtained from a sample of roughly 49,000 households encompassing about 100,000 individuals 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 households, 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 5 of every 1,000 (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 2.2 of every 1,000 households (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. And in 2002 there were ten (10) times as many deaths from drunk driving than domestic violence.

In April 2006 the Bureau of Justice Statistics published NCVS data for 2004 from a sample of 84,360 households and 149,000 individuals age 12 or older that were interviewed. The response rate for the 2004 NCVS data was 91.3% of eligible households and 85.5% of eligible individuals.

The 2004 NCVS survey found that intimate partner violence, defined as violence committed by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend, declined between 1994 and 2003. For 2003 and 2004 1 in 250, or 4 in every 1,000 households (0.4%) were affected by intimate partner violence. The survey states there were 115,775,572 households in the United States in 2004 of which about 458,000 experienced at least one intimate partner victimization. Note that the number of households increased between 1994 and 2004 from 68.5 million to 115.8 million.

Again it is reasonable to compare the 458,000 households where domestic violence is estimated to have occurred (0.4%) with the 2,328,530 households where a resident is estimated to have suffered from simple assault (2.0%), and approximately 756,230 households where aggravated assault occurred (0.7%).

Without making any judgments 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 since the year 2000 domestic violence cases have comprised over 25% of all misdemeanor court cases (Table 69 and Table 70) in Colorado, the most common crime on the court dockets.

The NCVS estimates provide a crude prediction of how many criminal cases of domestic violence occurred in the state in a given year. A criminal case is one where there is a reasonable chance a prosecutor could establish both mens rea and actus reus beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury. That is always a much smaller number than the domestic violence suggested by social studies. And the number of such cases where a jury convicts at trial is an even smaller number. One district attorney recently told me that he gets convictions in about 40% of the domestic violence cases his prosecutors take to trial, and those are only a select fraction of those defendants arrested for domestic violence. Most such cases are dismissed before trial for a variety of reasons, primarily because (a) the “victim” is unwilling to or opposed to testifying; (b) the “victim” was actually the perpetrator; (c) the violence was mutual; or (d) there is a lack of evidence other than “he said/she said.” Virtually all convictions for criminal domestic violence are the result of plea bargains.


Estimates by feminists and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence


In stark contrast with the NCVS data the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates in their general information packet that: “Over 50% of all women will experience physical violence in an intimate relationship, and for 24-30% of those women the battering will be regular and on-going.” If their statistics were valid, and you are not beating your wife, then the guy next-door must be beating his at least occasionally. And the woman living with the guy two or three doors down is getting beaten at least once a month.

Common sense alone, an uncommon virtue in the domestic violence debate, tells us the NCADV statistics are an outrageous fabrication. Also, if you talk to your male friends about domestic abuse we think they will know of a few instances of abused women, but are likely to know many more men whose female partners have abused them both physically and mentally, as well as abusing the law by bringing false allegations of domestic violence or abuse against them.

Armin Brott asked the NCADV where their statistics came from and got the following:

“Rita Smith, the group's coordinator, told [him] these figures were only 'estimates.' From where? 'Based on what we hear out there.' Out where? 'Battered women's shelters and other advocacy groups.'

In one of their 'fact sheets,' the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence tells us that women who leave their batterers 'increase by 75% their chances of getting killed.' When I asked her to explain that figure, the NCADV's Rita Smith admitted that statistic isn't true at all, and that the Coalition has no concrete evidence of the effect — if any — leaving a violent partner will have on a woman. I then asked Ms. Smith whether it bothered her that her organization was responsible for spreading an imaginary statistic. 'Not really,' she said. 'We think the chance of getting killed goes up and we' re just trying to make a point here.'”

Asking women at a shelter, or victims of battering whether they've been hit, is like asking patrons at McDonald's whether they ever eat fast food. Ask your friends if one out of every four women they know is regularly battered as implied by these statistics? It would appear that the people who ten years ago were telling us that 50,000 children a year were disappearing in the United States have now found other work.

Such problems arise with any agencies that work with traumatized clients and that are trying to create a democratic organizational structure. Women's services tend to go the extra mile, attempting to create services consistent with their vision of how society should be structured to eliminate the problems their clients face (abuse, violence, sexism, racism, poverty, etc.). By doing so they often become polarized.

By far the worst distortion of the numbers of battered women comes from Miami talk show host Pat Stevens, who appeared on a segment of CNN's Crossfire show called “OJ on the Air.” Stevens estimated that when adjusted for under reporting, the true number of battered women is 60 million. No one bothered to tell Stevens—or Crossfire's millions of viewers—that 60 million is more than 100% of all the women in the United States who are currently in relationships with a man. Instead, Stevens' “estimate” and the other “facts” on battered women all serve to fuel the claims that there is an “epidemic of domestic violence” and a “war against women.”

All this says nothing about women attacking or provoking men. For the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) “...the risk factor for battering is being born female.” However, numerous investigators have pointed out that the risk factor isn't in being born a woman. The risk is in a woman living with a very dangerous animal, the human male. Provoking a male, at any time or any place, for any reason, is always risky, as any man will tell you. And in examining the influences of race, ethnicity, gender, and place, Lauritsen and White (2001, p. 53) state that: “...the proportion of households with children that are female-headed was the strongest and most consistent community predictor of risk for all forms of violence.”

However, to further their cause, in May, 1999, the NCADV sponsored their 1 st Annual Kick-Boxing Marathon, which is in line with the feminist mantra: “For women, violence is a necessary resource for self-protection.” In other words, violence is good if a woman employs it, but a crime if a man uses it, even in self defense or for the defense of others.

There is a conspicuous absence from the feminist literature about women who abuse their male partners. When such references are made, the women are characterized as “self defenders.” Robert Sheaffer has reviewed Denver-psychologist Lenore Walker's book on The Battered Woman that forms the basis for many of the present domestic violence and abuse laws in Colorado and the United States. Among many other shortcomings of her book, he notes that:

“The Battered Woman is unsatisfactory as a serious work, and completely unacceptable as a foundation for family law. First, it is profoundly unscholarly. Without objective verification of the incidents herein described, they are nothing more than hearsay. Second, the book does not even pretend to be objective: the woman's side, and only the woman's side, is presented, when it is undeniable that in a large percentage of cases, the woman initiates violence against the man. Third, Prof. Walker's expanded definition of “battering” that includes verbal abuse does not even address the issue of female verbal abuse of men. Fourth, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Prof. Walker's sample of “battered women” is in any way a representative sample, and even if it were, she presents no statistics to support her conclusions. In fact, most of her conclusions are utterly unsupported by any kind of hard data, and are simply pronounced ex cathedra.

Richard Bennett has also looked at Ms. Walker's background and notes that:

“...some very odd things were happening in Denver, Colorado. A husband and wife team, Morton Flax and Lenore Walker, opened a family therapy practice dealing with abusive couples. Though Lenore, a Doctor of Education, was not really able to carry her end of the deal intellectually, they developed, with guidance from Ms. Pizzey of Chiswick, an innovative protocol for re-directing violent couples, which they practiced until Flax shot himself. People close to the couple have described Dr. Flax as a 'battered man.' [Emphasis added]”

Her husband's suicide left Walker high and dry, and she drowned her sorrows in writing. She published in 1979 her best-seller, 'The Battered Woman,' reaching a much broader audience than lesbian Del Martin with 'The Battered Wife' in 1976, and Pizzey had with her 1974 classic, 'Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear,' published in the UK.

Walker's book is more a self-help manual than a work of empirical science, as it relies exclusively on anecdotal reports from battered women themselves. At no time after the death of Dr. Flax has Walker worked with men, so the family violence community was understandably shocked when she agreed to work with the OJ Dream Team as an expert witness on Abusive Men. She's a woman's therapist, period.”

For more accurate views of violent women than Lenore Walker, we suggest Erin Pizzey's book Prone to Violence, re-released in 1998 as The Emotional Terrorist and the Violence Prone, or the When She Was Bad book by Patricia Pearson.

There is also the broader question of whether or not a woman is ever assaulted in her relationship with a man. Dutton cites surveys by female interviewers of female respondents using strategies to maximize disclosure. About 12% reported an act that could be regarded as severe violence at any time during their marriage. About 28% reported some minor violence, e.g., pushing or a slap, at some time during their entire relationship.

The Revs. Sam and Bunny Sewell provide a detailed report on the misuse of statistics where they point out that:

“... It suits the political agenda of feminists to quote statistics that make men look bad. Most of the feminist empire depends on their success in demonizing men. The term 'family violence' is familiar to professionals and is inclusive of violent females. Feminists began to use the term 'domestic violence' while quoting arrest statistics that emphasized male abusers and female victims. This was necessary so the public focus would be on the only police statistics that made their scam look believable. Con artists call this the 'hook'.”


Estimates of domestic violence against men


Compare the radical feminist agitprop above with the following history of domestic violence among male patients presenting to an urban emergency department in Philadelphia by Mechem and others (1999) summarized in the following abstract:

“Objective: To establish the prevalence of domestic violence committed by women against male patients presenting to an urban ED [Emergency Department] for any reason.

Methods: This was a prospective survey in which male patients of legal age presenting to the ED over a 13-week period were interviewed. Patients answered a series of six questions adapted from the George Washington University Universal Violence Prevention Screening Protocol. Patients who could not speak English, those refusing to participate, those unable to give informed consent, and those meeting regional criteria for major trauma were excluded.

Results: Of 866 male patients interviewed, 109 (12.6%) had been the victims of domestic violence committed by a female intimate partner within the preceding year. Victims were more likely to be younger, single, African American, and uninsured. The most common forms of assault were slapping, grabbing, and shoving (60.6% of victims). These were followed by choking, kicking, biting, and punching (48.6%), or throwing an object at the victim (46.8%). Thirty-seven percent of cases involved a weapon. Seven percent of victims described being forced to have sex. Nineteen percent of victims contacted the police; 14% required medical attention; 11% pressed charges or sought a restraining order; and 6% pursued follow-up counseling.

Conclusions: Almost 13% of men in this sample population had been victims of domestic violence committed by a female intimate partner within the previous year. Further attention to the recognition and management of domestic violence committed by women against men may be warranted.”

At Charity Hospital in New Orleans Ernst and others (1997) conducted a study of 516 men and women presenting to the emergency department. They found (p. 193) “ statistically significant differences in the amount of present nonphysical violence (P = 0.2) or present physical violence (P = 0.71) for men versus women.”

Or consider the following from the “Letters” section, Time Magazine, January 11, 1988, p. 12, referring to article in “Behavior” section, Time, December 21, 1987.

Dear Editor: Your article [Time] on domestic violence states that women are unlikely to inflict much damage on men because wives are generally smaller. Yet in my experience as an emergency-room physician, I treated more men than women for such injuries.... I have seen men cut with an ax, scalded with hot water, smashed with a fireplace poker, and knocked out by a brick, not to mention suffering the common gunshot wound. One incident involved a woman who walked into the hospital with a broken nose after being punched by her husband during an argument. We set the nasal bones and discharged her. Two hours later, her husband was wheeled in. He was admitted with a fractured spine. As soon as she got home, she had grabbed him by the lapels and thrown him against the kitchen stove.”

Velimir Svoren, MD; Chatsworth, GA

Note that the results of Mechem and others (1999), Ernst and others (1997), and Dr. Svoren, are basically consistent with the results of Straus and Gelles (1986, p. 470) and Straus and Kantor (1994) shown in Table 8.

John Maguire recently detailed how a 1987 Canadian study published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science in 1989 simply ignored data collected from men that, in fact, show that women in the survey are more violent than the men. In his article, Maguire points out that:

“Women are just as violent to their spouses as men, and they are almost three times more likely to initiate violence in a relationship, according to a new Canadian study, as reported in the National Post.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the study, however, is the source of the data — a 1987 survey of 705 Alberta men and women that reported how often males hit their spouses.

Although women were asked the same questions as men in 1987, their answers were never published until now. When the original study was published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science in 1989, it was taken up by feminist groups as evidence of the epidemic of violence against women.

It was cited extensively in a 1990 House of Commons committee report 'The War Against Women,' which ultimately led Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister, to call a two-year $10-million national inquiry into violence against women, according to the National Post.

The inquiry's 460-page report [in 1989] made 494 recommendations aimed at changing attitudes in governments, police departments, courts, hospitals and churches. It also led to a torrent of lurid news features about battered women.”

and Canadian laws were influenced or enacted by a survey that totally suppressed male data.

When the data from males were finally included in 1999, Maguire reports that:

“The study shows roughly that 10.8% of men in the survey pushed, grabbed or threw objects at their spouses in the previous year, while 2.5% committed more severe acts, such as choking, kicking or using a weapon.

By contrast, 12.4% of women committed acts of minor violence and 4.7% committed severe violence.

The violence is seldom one-sided. Of those surveyed, 52% of women and 62% of men reported that both partners were violent.

When questioned about who initiated the most severe conflicts, 67% of women believed they had started it; only 26% believed it was their male spouse.”

but the complete results have generally been met with resounding silence.

Erin Pizzey discusses the same bias in a 1998 British Medical Association (BMA) survey:

“ Islington provided the information that 571 women and 429 men were asked about domestic violence. The result of questioning the 571 women shows that one in three of them had reported domestic violence, and a quarter of the women had been forced to have sex against their will. There is no mention in the BMA report of any result from the questioning of the 429 men. Upon further research we find that the men were questioned, but only about whether or not they had physically or sexually abused women. The researchers failed to ask if they considered themselves victims of domestic violence.”

If the NCADV and other feminist estimates are hopelessly biased, and households rarely think that a crime of domestic violence has been committed in their residence, what are the real values for incidents of family violence in the United States?

On a following page are summaries of the best available social science studies we have been able to find on the human problem of family, or domestic violence and abuse in the United States. These studies do not support the claims of the NCADV and related feminist organizations.



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| Chapter 4 — Domestic Violence Statistics |

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Last modified 10/15/18