The Facts about Domestic Violence


Domestic Violence Defined

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a pattern of coercive behavior that is used by one person to gain power and control over another. It may include the use of physical and sexual violence, verbal and emotional abuse, stalking and economic abuse. Sexual, emotional and psychological intimidation may also occur. Domestic violence may include:

Physical Violence

  • Pushing, shoving, grabbing, slapping, punching, and restraining among other acts
  • Physical intimidation (blocking doors, throwing objects)
  • Use of weapons
  • Stalking (See OVW Stalking Fact Sheet)

Sexual Abuse

  • Attacks on sexual parts of the body
  • Forced sexual activities
  • Pressure to have sex
  • Rape (including marital/partner rape)

Emotional/Psychological/Verbal Abuse

  • Threats and coercive tactics
  • Controlling what the victim can and cannot do
  • Undermining a victim’s self-worth and self-esteem
  • Humiliation, denigration
  • Threatening to harm or kill a pet
  • Isolating the victim from family or friends
  • Blaming the abuse on the victim
  • Interrogating the victim and their children
  • Name-calling and yelling

Economic Abuse

  • Maintaining control over finances
  • Withholding access to money
  • Making the victim financially dependent
  • Not allowing the victim to work or go to school

Domestic violence occurs within opposite-sex relationships as well as same-sex relationships, between intimate partners who are married, divorced, living together, dating or who were previously in a relationship. It is important to note that “[d]omestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses and the community at large”(OVW, 2008).

What we know about Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a gender-based crime with women being more likely to experience domestic violence than men. According to the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) about 1.5 million women are raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually( Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, which measured only physical assaults, “there were 691,710 nonfatal violent victimizations committed by current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends of the victims during 2001(Rennison, 2003). Of these, 85% were against women(Rennison, 2003). The NVAWS also found that 22.1 percent of women surveyed, compared to 7.4 percent of men, reported being physically assaulted by a current or former partner in their lifetime(Rennison, 2003 ).

Women also report suffering more severe physical violence than men. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to report minor physical attacks (pushing, grabbing, shoving) than men(Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). By comparison, women are 7 to 14 times more likely than men to report serious physical attacks (beating, strangulation, threats of weapons or use of weapons)( Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998 ).

In 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner, while 440 men were killed by an intimate partner( Rennison, 2003). A more recent BJS study suggests that 33% of female victims compared to 4% of male victims were killed by an intimate partner.

Victims of domestic violence experience many barriers when leaving abusive relationships. These include fear of the abuser, believing the abuser will take their children, hoping the abuser will change, embarrassment, shame and self-blame about their situation. Limited financial options, lack of transportation, lack of knowledge the services exist, and lack of proximity to those services are also factors.

Specific communities that experience multiple forms of disadvantage can experience additional barriers. These include language barriers, exclusion from their community, fear of deportation and a lack of culturally relevant services.

Not all incidents of domestic violence are reported to authorities. The NVAWS found among women over the age of 18, “[a]pproximately one-fifth of all rapes, one-quarter of all physical assaults, and one-half of all stalking perpetrated against female respondents by intimates were reported to the police”(Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000 ).

It is important to note that surveys may not capture homeless individuals or those living in institutional settings such as homeless shelters or battered women’s shelters(Rennison & Welchans, 2000).

Domestic Violence and Specific Populations

Members of certain groups have unique vulnerabilities when experiencing domestic violence. Members of specific populations may be harmed by behaviors when non-members would not. It is important to note that members of specific populations are subject to all forms of abuse as experienced by general populations.

Individuals with Disabilities: Multiple small-scale, but few large-scale studies, exist about domestic violence against individuals with disabilities, particularly in the United States. Existing small-scale studies report that nearly 40% of women with disabilities report being victims of domestic violence, a percentage far higher than the general population(Nosek & Howland, 1998 ). Acts of domestic violence against individuals with disabilities include withholding needed medications and assistive technologies.

Significant barriers to reporting exist, which include fear of losing a caregiver, inability to verbally communicate as a result of a disability, and fear of not being taken seriously, among others.

Racial and Ethnic Communities: Various groups experience domestic violence at disproportionate rates. The NVAWS found that African-American and Native American/Alaskan Indian women and men reported higher rates of domestic violence than did women and men from other communities of color(Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000), while Asian/Pacific Islander women and men tended to report lower rates of intimate partner violence than did women and men from other minority backgrounds(Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). It also found that 23.4% of Hispanic/Latina women had been domestic violence victims in their lifetime(Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that African-American women experienced domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than Caucasian women(Rennison & Welchans, 2000).

An important consideration with respect to race and domestic violence is the impact of economic class. A National Institute of Justice (NIJ) publication suggests that “African-Americans and whites with the same economic characteristics have similar rates of intimate violence, but African-Americans have a higher overall rate of intimate violence due in part to higher levels of economic distress and location in disadvantaged neighborhoods”(Benson & Fox, 2004).

Members of racial and ethnic communities may not report all victimization to authorities, for fear of racist responses to themselves, the abuser, and their family.

Immigrant Women: Immigrant women often remain in violent relationships because of their citizenship status. Abusers may threaten to have the victim deported (removed) by reporting their undocumented status to the Department of Homeland Security, to revoke his residency sponsorship of her, or refuse to file necessary immigration petitions that would provide the victim with lawful status in the U.S(Pendleton, 2003)(Shetty & Kaguyutan, 2002). Additionally, many immigrant women face obstacles such as language barriers, a lack of understanding of the American legal system, and cultural customs when leaving violent relationships(Raj & Silverman, 2002).

Rural Women: Very little quantitative data exist on women in rural communities, but qualitative data suggest they too experience higher rates of domestic violence(Websdale, 1998)(Adler, 1996). Poverty, lack of public transportation systems, shortages of healthcare providers, minimal insurance or lack of health insurance and decreased access to resources are many barriers faced by women living in rural communities(Johnson, 2000).

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Individuals: In 2006, a total of 3,534 incidents of domestic violence affecting LGBT individuals were reported to the 33 community-based anti-violence programs in 12 regions that make up the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)(Fountain, 2007 ). Although quantitative data on LGBT victimization is limited, available qualitative data suggests that LGBT victimization is underreported, for numerous reasons including fear that the police are homophobic and the fear of being “outed” to family, friends, and coworkers, among other reasons.

Individuals in Later Life: Limited quantitative data exists on victims of domestic violence in later life. Often, this data is subsumed under the heading of “elder abuse,” of which domestic violence in later life is a subset(Brandl, 2002). The average annual number of assaults against victims over age 50 reported to police from 1993-1999 was 29,110(Rennison, 2001). Of these reported crimes, 68.7 percent were committed by a spouse, 13.3 percent by an ex-spouse, and 18.0 percent by a boyfriend or girlfriend(Rennison, 2001). Underreporting is common within this population. Statistics demonstrate only “39% of such crimes against women age 50 or older were reported to the police. In contrast, between 1993 and 1999, 57% of the violence sustained by females age 25-34 and those age 35-49 was reported to the police”(Rennison, 2001 (pg. 8)).

Youth and Children:The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1.5 million high school students nationwide have experienced physical dating violence(CDC, 2003). See VAWOR The Facts About Teen Dating Violence for further information.

Equally important is children’s exposure to domestic violence. According to the recently completed National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV)(Hamby, Finkelhor, Turner & Ormrod, 2009). 6.6% of American children and youth are exposed to a physical assault by one parent against the other each year, 5.7% were exposed to psychological and emotional maltreatment by one parent against the other and 1.3% were exposed to severe physical assaults of a parent. This nationally representative survey funded by OJJDP found that 25% of children are exposed to some form of family violence over their entire childhood (0-17 years).

Of the homes where police responded to domestic violence calls in five U.S. cities, 43% of the children in these homes were under 12 years old (Rennison & Welchans, 2000 ). Exposure to domestic violence is associated with a host of increased childhood problems, such as acting aggressively with others, depression and anxiety(Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003)(Wolfe, Crooks, Lee, MacIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2003 ). A 20-year prospective study of 543 children found that exposure to domestic violence between parents during childhood was a key statistical predictor of both perpetrating violence against an adult partner as well as receiving it from an adult partner(Ehrensaft, Cohen, Brown, Smailes, Chen, & Johnson, 2003). Similarly, the retrospective Adverse Childhood Experiences Study of 8,629 adults found that living in a home where domestic violence was occurring doubled the likelihood that a child would be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence in adulthood(Edleson, 2004)(Jaffe)(Kerig, 2003)(Margolin & Gordis, 2004). Many children show resilience in the face of adversity and the majority of exposed children do not necessarily grow up to become victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. See VAWOR Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence In-Brief for further information.

Adverse Effects of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence not only has an effect on a victim’s physical and mental health, but other aspects of life and care giving as well. A 2003 survey found that 1 in 4 homeless mothers reported being physically abused by an intimate partner in the last year.(NCFH, 2003 ) Additionally, a 2005 survey showed 50% of U.S. cities report domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness(USCM, 2007).

The CDC found that victims of intimate partner physical assault lost 7.2 days from paid work, while victims of intimate partner rape lost 8.1 days(NCIPC, 2003). Time lost is calculated per victimization, not per victim. Thus, victims of repeated assaults may miss more paid work.

A number of studies suggest a strong correlation between domestic violence victimization and mental health concerns. These studies suggest increased rates of depression (both short-term and long-term) and post-traumatic stress disorder(Campbell & Lewandowski )(Coker, Davis, Arias, Desai, Sanderson, & Brandt, 2002). Studies also suggest associations between experiences of violence and the use of substances as a coping, or escape, mechanism(Bennett & Bland, 2008).

The NVAWS found that women physically assaulted by an intimate partner were more than twice as likely to be phsyically injured as were assaulted men(Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000 ).



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