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Violence against women and the statistics

The book, Understanding Violence Against Women, (Crowell and Burgess, 1996 p.4) notes that “Although there appear to be some similarities and some differences between generally violent behavior and violence directed specifically at women, the extent of the similarities and differences remain unknown.”

Perhaps because the majority of funding for domestic violence research comes from the Federal Violence Against Women Office, the similarities are infrequently researched and seldom reported. By virtue of its goal, exploring only violence against women not violence in general, the ideals of objectivity [personal neutrality], value free research, and relationships among variables are compromised (Macionis, 1997).

People, regardless of age or gender, use violent behavior [the use of force or coercion] for three basic reasons (Felson, 2002):

(1) To change or alter the behavior of another in order to suit their desires;

(2) Revenge, retribution or seeking justice for a real or perceived wrong;

(3) To defend or advance their standing in the family or community.

A few examples are:

Reason (1) can be used by family members, intimate partners, as well as bank robbers or other criminals; reason (2) can be used by jealous partners for real or perceived wrongs, victims of a crime against them or another family member as well as members of gangs or others in the community; and reason (3) can be used by any member of a family or community.

The relative risk and percentage of victimization of intimate partner and stranger violence is not equal for everyone. It rises and falls with the racial, socioeconomic and educational status of the victim and offender (Flowers, 2000).

Approximately 30 percent of females who are murdered, are murdered by a husband or intimate partner. While murder is the most serious of crimes, it is also the least common (Hendricks, McKean & Hendricks, 2003). The Bureau of Justice Statistics Factbook, Violence by Intimates, document that intimate partner violence accounts for about one fifth of the total amount of criminal violence against females (Greenfeld, 1998).

Between 1976 and 1996, 64 percent of female intimate partner victims were killed by their husbands, 5 percent by ex-husbands and 32 percent by partners/boyfriends. Of male victims, 62 percent were killed by their wives, 4 percent by ex-wives and 34 percent by partners/girlfriends. From 1976 to 1996 31,260 women and 20,311 men were murdered by an intimate partner (Greenfeld, 1998).

The National Violence Against Women Survey reports that, “The data show that violence is more widespread and injurious to women’s and men’s health than previously thought, an important finding for legislators, policymakers, intervention planners, and researchers, as well as the public health and criminal justice communities.” The report documents the annual rate of intimate partner assaults was 44.2 per 1,000 women and 31.5 per 1,000 men (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000 p.

United States Department of Justice, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice, documents that in a recent Gallup Poll, respondents were asked, “In most families people get mad at each other for one reason or another. Thinking about your own situation, have you, yourself ever been physically abused by your spouse or companion?” About 8 percent of males and 22 percent of females replied, ‘yes’ (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics,”

Power and Control

It is generally recognized that the issue of unequal power, control, and economic resources can influence any violent act, not just violence against women. It is generally agreed that the issue of unequal power, control, and resources affects child, sibling, spousal, intimate partner, and elder abuse, regardless of the age or gender of the offender (Chalk & King, 1998). These same issues affect violence in general (Brownstein, 2000).

Most stranger and family violent acts involve power, domination, and threats to harm, whereby the offender intends to impose predetermined outcomes on strangers or family members (Felson, 2002). Obviously, those predetermined outcomes are designed to benefit the offender. The reasons for violence within the family most often reflect the various theories concerning violence in general (Brownstein, 2000).

The majority of characteristics of domestic violence are similar to those of stranger crime (Hendricks, McKean & Hendricks, 2003). The majority of criminologists understand that the two most dominant variables for crime are opportunity and ability (Barolw & Kauzlarich, 2002).

When confronted with the reality that more women physically assault children than men, the reason most often offered for that behavior is that more children reside with women than men (Flowers, 2000). That factor provides women with both the opportunity and ability.

The most apparent distinction between domestic violence and stranger violence is the location and number of offenders and victims. However, there is little real distinction or difference in the dynamics or the reasons for the use of violence.

Men are more physically violent against women in the home than in public. Similarly, women are more physically violent against men in the home than in public. Both men and women are more physically violent towards children in the home than they are in public. The issue is why not where and the reasons for the use of the violent behaviors are little different from violence outside the home.

The National Archive of Criminal Justice Data at the University of Michigan, documents that, by percentage of total crime, men are victims more often than women. Criminal justice data from the above site also document that women report being victims in the home more than men. However, given the totality of crime by women, they commit a greater percentage of their violence in the home than do men.

NACJD data document that males resort to violence more than females to settle disputes and conflicts. Few argue that in domestic violence incidents women suffer chologically and economically than men (Crowell & Burgess, 1996). However, the use of violence by females should not be minimized, legitimatized or ignored because males cause greater injury (Kelly, 2003).

Violence by strangers, friends, family or intimate partners can be expressive, instrumental or a combination of both. Expressive violence rises from feelings of anger, rage, or hate. Instrumental violence is when an offender uses force or violence to achieve short or long term goals. Spanking, its proponents claim, is used to achieve a goal (instrumental).

Most studies document that parents are “upset and angry” when they spank a child (expressive). Domestic violence, regardless of the age or gender of the offender or victim, can be expressive, instrumental, or often a combination of both (Hendricks, McKean & Hendricks, 2003).

Women use less violence than men to achieve specific goals. Most women understand that, because of their lack of physicality, the results of their violent behavior may not produce positive outcomes for them. Men are not violent against women in particular and in fact men are far more violent against other men than women. Some men are more violent than others and some women are more violent than some men (Ghiglieri, 1999).

In the early 1970’s Samuel Yochelson and Stanton E. Samenow produced their classic multi-volume work titled, The Criminal Personality. They were concerned with determining what behaviors chronic criminals shared. They identified 53 patterns of thought and action, which they said were present in all 255 offenders. “They described criminals as untrustworthy, demanding, and exploitive of others, with little capacity for love. Habitual offenders were said to harbor a persistent anger, which could boil over at any time,” (Schmalleger, 1999 p. 113).

Most criminals and domestic violence abusers exhibit similar behavior. Criminals and abusers believe their needs are more important than the needs of others. Both have a lack of empathy and compassion for others. However, many criminals and abusers have learned when not to exhibit their aggression, violence and anger. Most criminals and abusers do not exhibit antisocial or violent behavior unless they have reason to believe that the results will be positive for them.


In the classic study of criminal violent behavior of adult males by Marvin Wolfgang, “Delinquency in a Birth Cohort” found that approximately 6 percent of violent chronic criminals account for about 70 percent of all violent crime in America (Ghiglieri, 1999).

A National Institute of Justice report, The Effects of Arrest on Intimate Partner Violence: New Evidence From the Spouse Assault Replication Program, documents that 8 percent of victims of domestic violence reported repeat victimization that accounted for more than 82 percent of the 9,000 incidents studied (Maxwell, Garner, Fagan, 2001).

Given all of these facts there should be a common, non-gender specific, understanding that domestic violence is child, sibling, spousal, intimate partner and elder abuse. All anti-violence efforts need to explore the non-lethal violence risk factors faced by females and males, both as offenders and victims (Lauritsen & White, 2001).

Because of their commonalities, intervention for both stranger and domestic violence crime should focus sanctions and programs primarily toward the violent and chronic offenders. And, because of limited resources, assistance should be provided first and foremost for high-risk individuals, regardless of age or gender, who are marginalized by their socioeconomic and educational status and/or their lack of public, private, and familial resources and support.


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Brownstein, H. H. (2000). The Social Reality of Violence and ViolentCrime. Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Bureau of Justice Statistics,
Chalk, R., & King, P. A. (Eds.). (1998). Violence in Families. Washington, DC:

National Academy Press.
Crowell, N.A. & Burgess, A.W. (Eds.). (1996). Understanding Violence Against Women. Washington, DC: National Academy Press
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Psychological Association
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Ghiglieri, M.P. (1999). The Dark Side of Man. Reading, MA. Perseus.
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Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Hendricks, J.E., McKean, J. & Hendricks, C.G. (2003) Crisis Intervention, 3rdEd.,

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Lauritsen, J.L. & White, NA. (2001), “Putting Violence in its Place: The Influence

of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Place on the Risk for Violence Criminology & Public Policy, N 1 V. 1: 37-59.

Macionis, J.J. (1997) Sociology, 6thEd, Upper Saddle River, N.J.

Maxwell, C.D., Garner, J.H., Fagan, J.S. (2001) The Effects of Arrest on Intimate

Partner Violence: New Evidence From the Spouse Assault Replication

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DC: Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

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Consequences of Violence Against Women. Washington, DC: Department of Justice. National Institute of Justice

Richard L. Davis is a retired lieutenant from the Brockton, Mass., Police Department. He completed studies in Criminal Justice Management at LaSalle University. He has a graduate degree in criminal justice from Anna Maria College, and another in liberal arts with a concentration in history from Harvard University. Contact Richard L. Davis: