PolicyBlog/Hart: Domestic violence is down, but why?
Dec. 17, 2012
Bill Hart, Senior Policy Analyst
The issue of domestic violence seldom features good news, but a new national report provides a happy exception. A study* by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that the national rate of reported domestic violence (here called “intimate partner violence” or IPV) dropped by 64 percent from 1994 to 2010.
The number of intimate partner victimizations also declined, the report says, from approximately 2.1 million victimizations in 1994 to around 907,000 in 2010 — a decline of about 1.2 million victimizations over the period.
The report notes that this remarkable decline in IPV was similar to the national decrease in overall violent crime from 1994 to 2000, but that during the following period, from 2001 to 2010, the decline in the overall intimate partner violence rate slowed and leveled off while the overall violent crime rate continued to drop.
The report is based on the bureau’s annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which surveys a nationally representative sample of persons age 12 and older and asks about victimizations both reported to police and unreported. Its definition of IPV includes rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault committed by an offender who was the victim’s current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
IPV declined for both males and females from 1994 to 2010, the report says, though about four of five victims were female. Women ages 18 to 34 — especially women who were separated — generally experienced the highest rates. Another measurement found that households containing one female adult with children experienced a much higher rate of victimization than women in married households or those with a single adult female. Another finding: The rate of intimate partner violence for Hispanic females declined 78 percent, from 18.8 victimizations per 1,000 in 1994 to 4.1 per 1,000 in 2010.
Welcome as they are, these numbers are a bit challenging to decipher. What has changed in American society that could explain it?
Criminologists and others have long debated the causes of the nation’s drop in overall violent crime since the 1990s; leading candidates include an aging population, improved police tactics, the high level of incarceration of offenders and a decline in crack cocaine markets. Some of these could also affect IPV. It’s also tempting to credit the decline at least in part to the longstanding efforts of activists and advocates to pass anti-DV legislation, force the criminal justice system to act, provide shelter and counseling to victims and educate the public.
It would be nice to think that this decline represents a truly fundamental change in the consciousness of Americans — especially American women — to the point that fewer of them are entering or remaining in abusive relationships. But nobody should be putting their feet up just yet.
* Shannan Catalano, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2010, Bureau of Justice Statistics