Experts agree that domestic violence is a widespread problem. However, its actual extent is difficult to measure. Researchers believe that the extent of violence between intimate partners is higher than reports indicate. Data based on official documents, such as police or hospital records, tend to underestimate the extent of violence because many instances of abuse are never reported. Surveys of individuals generally produce higher estimates of violence than official records, but they are also assumed to underestimate the actual extent of domestic violence. For a variety of reasons, victims may fail to report violence that occurs with an intimate partner.
According to a study published in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), women in the United States experienced about 840,000 nonlethal incidents of violence committed by an intimate partner in 1996. These incidents consisted of physical assault, robbery (theft that is accomplished by a threat of violence or actual violence), and rape or other sexual assault. The DOJ report indicated that intimate violence occurs almost equally among women of all races and is slightly more likely to occur among women with low incomes. The report showed that the most common victims of intimate violence are younger women, between the ages of 16 and 24.
Experts widely disagree over the extent of male victimization. According to the Department of Justice, men in the United States were victims in about 150,000 incidents of intimate violence in 1996. The department’s data indicate that women are about six times as likely as men to experience victimization by an intimate partner. However, in a privately funded survey conducted in 1993, American men and women reported experiencing similar rates of intimate violence.
In some cases, domestic violence results in homicide. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), more than 500 men were killed by their wives and girlfriends in 1996, representing about 5 percent of all male homicide victims in the United States. That same year more than 1300 women in the United States were killed by their husbands or boyfriends—approximately 30 percent of all female homicide victims. Murder by intimates accounts for about 9 percent of all homicides in the United States each year.
Two surveys of married couples in the United States conducted in the 1970s and 1980s found that some kind of violence between spouses had occurred during the previous year in 16 percent of the homes surveyed. In addition, 28 percent of couples surveyed reported marital violence at some point in their marriages. Researchers have found comparable rates of domestic violence in numerous other nations, including Canada and New Zealand.
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