Selected Research Results on Violence Against Women

Nature and Scope of Violence Against Women

  • Women experience more intimate partner violence than do men: 22.1 percent of surveyed women, compared with 7.4 percent of surveyed men, reported they were physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, or date in their lifetime; 1.9 percent of surveyed women and 3.4 percent of surveyed men reported experiencing such violence in the previous 12 months. Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000, 2006).
  • The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) found that 17.6 percent of surveyed women and 3 percent of surveyed men were raped at some point in their lifetime (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • Rape prevalence statistics by race/ethnicity illustrate no statistically significant differences between minority and nonminority women—19 percent of minority women and 17.9 percent of nonminority women reported a rape at some point in their lifetime. Examining rape prevalence statistics by specific racial/ethnic backgrounds, however, shows that American Indian/Alaska Native women are significantly more likely than women from all other backgrounds to have been raped at some point in their lifetime (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • Most victims, male and female, identified in the NVAWS were raped by just one person during their lifetime. Among female rape victims, 78.2 percent were raped by one person, 13.5 percent were raped by two people, and 8.3 percent were raped by three or more people. For male rape victims, 83.3 percent were raped by one person, 12.1 percent were raped by two people, and 4.6 percent were raped by three or more people (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to be injured during an assault: 31.5 percent of female rape victims, compared with 16.1 percent of male rape victims, reported being injured during their most recent rape; 39.0 percent of female physical assault victims, compared with 24.8 percent of male physical assault victims, reported being injured during their most recent physical assault (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).
  • Stalking is more prevalent than previously thought: 8.1 percent of surveyed women and 2.2 percent of surveyed men reported being stalked at some time in their life; 1.0 percent of women surveyed and 0.4 percent of men surveyed reported being stalked in the 12 months preceding the survey. Approximately 1 million women and 371,000 men are stalked annually in the United States (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000, 2006).
  • Fifty-four percent of female victims and 71 percent of male victims were first raped before their 18th birthday—29.4 percent of female victims and 16.6 percent of male victims were 18 to 24 years old when they were first raped, and 16.6 percent of female victims and 12.3 percent of male victims were age 25 or older. Although most rape victims identified by NVAWS were under 18 when they were first raped, the survey found that more women were raped as adults than as children or adolescents (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • Intimate partner homicides make up 40-50 percent of all murders of women in the United States according to city or State specific databases. In 70-80 percent of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder (Campbell et al., 2003).
  • A survey of college women found that 2.8 percent of the sample had experienced either a completed rape (1.7 percent) or an attempted rape (1.1 percent). The study also found that this rate is approximately 11 times higher than that using an National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)-type survey (Fisher et al., 2000).
  • The majority of more than 36 studies reviewed indicate that approximately 30-60 percent of children whose mothers are being abused are themselves likely to be abused (Graham-Bermann & Edleson, 2001).
  • Most domestic violence offenders with prior official criminal records have also been involved in nonviolent criminal behavior. Data from the Spousal Abuse Replication Program (SARP) illustrates a mix of offenders who escalated and deescalated the severity of their attacks over time (Piquero et al., 2005).

Causes, Correlates, and Consequences of Violence Against Women

  • In the United States from 1976 to 1996, while legal advocacy and hotlines increased sharply, rates of homicides by intimate partners dropped about 30 percent (Dugan et al., 2003).
  • A study of intimate partner homicide found that for about one in five women, the fatal or life-threatening incident was the first physical violence they had experienced from their partner. This study also found that a woman's attempt to leave was the precipitating factor in 45 percent of the murders of a woman by a man (Block, 2003).
  • Women who had children by age 21 were twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence as women who were not mothers. Men who had fathered children by age 21 were more than three times as likely to be perpetrators of abuse as men who were not fathers (Moffitt & Caspi, 1999).
  • While alcohol is not the cause of violence against women, there appears to be a significant relationship between male perpetrator problem drinking and violence against intimate female partners. Findings also suggest that severe problem drinking of alcohol increases the risk for lethal and violent victimization of women in violent intimate partner relationships. More than two-thirds of the homicide and attempted homicide offenders used alcohol, drugs, or both during the incident; less than one-fourth of the victims did (Sharps et al., 2003).
  • A longitudinal cohort of sexually assaulted and not-sexually assaulted women found that 68 percent of physically abused women also report sexual assault. Furthermore, of the 148 sexual assault victims identified in the study, 27 percent of the women began drinking or increased their use of alcohol, illicit drugs, or nicotine, 20 percent became pregnant, and 15 percent contracted a sexually transmitted disease following the sexual assault. Eighty-eight percent of the victims' children were exposed to violence against their mothers, with 64 percent witnessing the abuse by age three. Only 30 percent of those children received counseling (McFarlane & Malecha, 2005).
  • Sexual assault or forced sex occurs in approximately 40-45 percent of battering relationships. Sexual assault is defined as sexual acts coerced by physical force or threat thereof or by power differential such as those that would exist between adults and children, employers and employees, or professors and students (Campbell & et al., 2003).
  • Child sexual abuse before the age of 13 is not by itself a risk factor for adult sexual or domestic violence victimization, but girls who were victimized both before turning 12 and then again as adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 were at much greater risk of both types of victimization as adults than any other women (Siegel & Williams, 2001, 2004). While this study was conducted among an urban sample of women (primarily black), similar results were found in a sample of college women. Women who experienced physical/sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence were most likely to suffer abuse in college. Moreover, college women who were physically/sexually abused as children but not as adolescents, were not more likely to experience abuse in college (White & Smith, 2004). Data from the NVAWS illustrate that women who were raped as minors were twice as likely to report being raped as adults—18.3 percent who were raped before age 18 also reported being raped after turning 18 compared to 8.7 percent who did not report being raped before age 18 (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006).
  • Among families referred for child welfare investigations for child maltreatment, lifetime prevalence of domestic violence is 44.8 percent, past year prevalence is 29 percent, and caregiver depression is associated with increased prevalence (Kelleher et al., 2006).
  • Family violence researchers agree that low income is a risk factor for partner violence. It is not only severe poverty and its associated stressors that increase the risk for partner violence; in addition, the higher income is, the lower are reported intimate violence rates (Carlson et al., 2003). Having a need for domestic violence services significantly impaired women in finding employment under welfare reform (Goodwin et al., 2003; Meisel et al., 2003). Reductions in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits have also been associated with an increase in intimate partner homicide (Dugan et al., 2003).
  • Mental and emotional distress faced by women experiencing serious abuse is overwhelming. Almost half the women reporting serious domestic violence also meet the criteria for major depression; one-fourth for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 28 percent had symptom scores as high as a norming group of persons entering outpatient treatment (Goodwin et al., 2003).
  • Intimate partner violence is more severe and occurs more often in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Women living in disadvantaged communities are more than twice as likely to be victims of intimate violence compared to women living in more advantaged communities. Therefore, as African-Americans are more likely to live in disadvantaged communities and face more economic distress, they experience higher rates of intimate violence compared with whites. When comparing African-Americans and whites of similar income levels, the levels of intimate violence are similar (Benson & Fox, 2004).
  • A longitudinal study of extremely poor women found that women with low self-esteem were more likely to be victimized by abusive partners. Although these women had a higher lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence, most of their experiences with violence were episodic and limited over time. Intimate partner violence was predictive of subsequent drug, but not alcohol abuse, after controlling for factors of interest. Those women with a history of adult partner violence had almost three times the odds of using illegal drugs during the subsequent study years than women who had not experienced partner violence as adults (Salomon et al., 2004).
  • Homeless women are far more likely to experience violence of all sorts than American women in general, ranging from two to four times more likely, depending on the violence type. Approximately one homeless woman in four is homeless mainly because of her experiences with violence (Jasinski et al., 2005).

Violence Against Women Interventions

  • In an analysis of research on arrest and domestic violence it was found that: arrest is associated with less repeat offending using five measures of repeat offending, with the reduction in repeat offending being larger and statistically significant in the two measures that were derived from interviews with victims (Maxwell et al., 2001).
  • Protection orders may reduce recidivism if they are tailored to victim's needs and used in conjunction with vigorous prosecution and significant sanctioning of abusers (Keilitz, 2001). Permanent (but not temporary) protection orders are associated with a significant decrease in risk of police-reported violence against women by their male intimate partners (Holt et al., 2002).
  • An evaluation suggests that a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) unit greatly enhances the healthcare quality of women who have been sexually assaulted; improves the quality of forensic evidence; improves law enforcement's ability to collect information and to file charges; and increases the likelihood of successful prosecution (Crandall et al., 2003).
  • A study of domestic violence policies found that mandatory arrest, firearm confiscation, prosecutions, and AFDC were associated with lower domestic violence. Households in states that mandated arrest for domestic violence were less likely to suffer from domestic violence. Firearm confiscation statutes also reduced the chances that homes within these jurisdictions would suffer from domestic violence. Specializing prosecutors' offices to be more sensitive to victims' needs resulted in fewer homes in the jurisdiction that suffered from family or intimate violence. Finally, increasing AFDC benefit levels apparently reduced the chances that the police would discover a case of domestic violence instead of increasing them (Dugan et al., 2003).
  • Prosecution may serve as a power resource used by a woman to make her abuser keep from battering her. For victim-initiated complaints, permitting victims to drop charges following an arrest by a warrant resulted in a significantly lower chance of new violence during and 6 months following the court appearance than when victims were denied the opportunity to drop. They also experienced less violence, less severe violence, and a longer delay to the onset of new violence (Ford & Breall, 2003).
  • Prosecutors are more likely to file charges if there is physical evidence to connect the suspect to the crime, if the suspect had a prior criminal record, and if there were no questions about the victim's character or behavior at the time of the incident. This suggests that prosecutors' concerns about convictability lead them to file charges when they believe the evidence is strong, the suspect is culpable, and the victim is blameless (Spohn & Holleran, 2004).
  • A number of policies represent seemingly sound ideas in support of victims with unlikely negative consequences. Any of these might be evaluated under controlled research, but in the absence of indications of harm, they are worth implementing: special prosecution units, vertical prosecution, continuance rules in support of victim-witnesses, victim advocacy, and victim impact statements (Ford & Breall, 2003).
  • Despite an accumulation of studies evaluating programs for domestic violence offenders, rigorous studies are few, and firm conclusions cannot be made yet about intervention effectiveness (Saunders & Hamill, 2003). One of the biggest problems with this sentencing option is compliance, which remains the responsibility of the courts or probation officers (Worden, 2003).
  • Culturally-focused battering treatment for African-American men does not result in less recidivism than conventional batterer treatment. The completion rate was approximately 55 percent for a 16-week batterer treatment program across three counseling options; a) culturally-focused treatment in all-African-American groups; b) conventional counseling in all-African American groups; and c) conventional counseling in racially-mixed groups. There were no significant differences in the reassault rate reported by the female partners (Gondolf, 2005).
  • Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) suggests that most self-protection actions, both forceful and non-forceful, may reduce the risk of rape completion. Furthermore, victim resistance does not appear to be associated with nonsexual injury (injury besides the rape or attempted rape) compared to nonresistance, and it is associated with only very slightly more risk of serious injury. Self-protective actions such as attacking without weapons, struggling, and running away/hiding reduce the risk of rape more than 80 percent compared to nonresistance. The NCVS data show that among victims who resisted, 19.1 percent experienced a rape completion, 26.3 percent experienced a nonsexual injury, and 5.2 percent ended in serious injury (Kleck & Tark, 2005).

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Date Created: November 28, 2007