MenWeb logoMenWeb   

Domestic Violence Factoids

Copyright © 1995 by Richard J. Gelles
Joanne T. and Raymond B. Welsh Chair of Child Welfare and Family Violence
University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work
gelles@ssw.upenn.edu

     
Dr. Richard Gelles

Many "facts" about domestic violence are published in the media. Are they true? Here's an assessment by Dr. Richard Gelles, one of the best-known, and perhaps most controversial, researchers in the area of domestic violence against men and women.

     

ACCORDING TO THE FBI, A WOMEN IS BEATEN EVERY [fill in the blank] SECONDS.

 
 

First, the FBI does not calculate, tabulate, or track data on domestic violence. The FBI once did estimate that a women is beaten every 15 seconds, but they derived this estimate from Murray Straus, Richard J. Gelles, and Suzanne K. Steinmetz's book, Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family.

Various other fact sheets list various other number of seconds. The number of seconds depends on the study (if there actually was one) and how violence was defined. For example, some versions of this factoid state that a women is beaten every 9 seconds and cite a study done by the Commonwealth Fund in July, 1993. The Commonwealth Fund study used the same measure as was used by Straus and his colleagues. Unlike Straus and his colleagues who defined "abuse" as acts of violence that were likely to cause and injury, the Commonwealth Fund defined "abuse" as every thing from pushing, shoving, and slapping to using a gun or knife.

THERE ARE FOUR MILLION WOMEN BEATEN AND ABUSED EACH YEAR.

 

Same problems as above. The Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz survey estimated that 2 million women were abused each year by their husbands. Straus and his colleagues speculated that if all the respondents told the truth and if ex-husbands and boyfriends were included, the number could be as high as 4 million. However, no study to date using a representative sample and measuring severe violence, has found more than 2 million abused women each year.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF INJURY TO WOMEN BETWEEN THE AGES OF 15 AND 44 IN THE UNITED STATES--MORE THAN CAR ACCIDENTS, MUGGINGS, AND RAPES COMBINED.

 

This factoid has been attributed to both Surgeon General Antonia Novello and the Centers for Disease Control. The actual primary source of this "fact" is research by Evan Stark and Ann Flitcraft. It was probably Stark and Flitcraft who supplied the fact to CDC, who then included it in material supplied to the Surgeon General. Unfortunately, as good a sound bite as this is, it is simply not true. The original source of this statement goes back to two papers by Stark and Flitcraft. First, the actual research the "fact" is based on is a rather small survey of one emergency room. Second, in the original articles, they said that domestic violence may (emphasis added) be a more common cause of emergency room visits than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

Linda Saltzman from the Centers for Disease Control tells all journalists who call to check this fact that the CDC does not recognize this as either their fact or a reputable fact.

THE MARCH OF DIMES REPORTS THAT BATTERING DURING PREGNANCY IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF BIRTH DEFECTS AND INFANT MORTALITY.

 

The March of Dimes actually reports that they know of no such study.

SIXTY THREE PERCENT OF YOUNG MEN BETWEEN THE AGES OF 11 AND 20 WHO ARE SERVING TIME FOR HOMICIDE HAVE KILLED THEIR MOTHER'S ABUSER.

 

This factoid is often used by Sarah Buel in her speeches. It appears to be yet another fact from nowhere. The FBI has published no data that supports this claim. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports has no tables that report on prison populations, let alone a table or figure that breaks down prison populations by age of offender and relationship to victim. There are no Department of Justice reports that report on what number or percentage of young men kill their mother's batterer.

FAMILY VIOLENCE HAS KILLED MORE WOMEN IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS AS THE TOTAL NUMBER OF AMERICANS WHO WERE KILLED IN THE VIETNAM WAR.

 

This factoid was often used by Dr. Robert McAfee, past president of the American Medical Association. There were about 55,000 American casualties in the Viet Nam war. According to the FBI, Uniform Crime Statistics, about 1,500 women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends each year. The total number of women homicide victims each year is about 5,000. Thus, in 5 years, even if every women who was killed, was killed by a family member, the total would still be 1/2 the number of American casualties in Viet Nam.

WOMEN WHO LEAVE THEIR BATTERERS ARE AT A 75% GREATER RISK OF BEING KILLED BY THE BATTERER THAN THOSE WHO STAY.

 

Women are more likely to be victims of homicide when they are estranged from their husbands than when they live with their husbands--BUT NOT A 75 % GREATER RISK. The risk of homicide is higher in the first two months after separation.

SOURCE:

Wilson, Margo and Martin Daly. (1993) "Spousal homicide risk and estrangement." Violence and Victims, 8, 3-16.

WOMEN WHO KILL THEIR BATTERERS RECEIVE LONGER PRISON SENTENCES THAN MEN WHO KILL THEIR PARTNERS.

 

This factoid is often attributed to someone from Pace University. There is no actual published source for this. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Violence Between Intimates (November, 1994), the average prison sentence for men who killed their wives was 17.5 years; the average sentence for women convicted of killing their husbands was 6.2 years.

FACTOIDS FROM THE RIGHT OF CENTER

WOMEN ARE AS VIOLENT AS ARE MEN, AND WOMEN INITIATE VIOLENCE AS OFTEN AS DO MEN.

 

This factoid cites research by Murray Straus, Suzanne Steinmetz, and Richard Gelles, as well as a host of other self-report surveys. Those using this factoid tend to conveniently leave out the fact that Straus and his colleague's surveys as well as data collected from the National Crime Victimization Survey (Bureau of Justice Statistics) consistently find that no matter what the rate of violence or who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate violence than are men.

OTHER FACTOIDS FROM NOWHERE

4,000 women each year are killed by their husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends.

 

The FBI reports that approximately 1,500 women are killed each year by husbands or boyfriends. Even if one factors in the number of women killed by unidentified or undetermined assailants, the number could not be 4,000.

Women of all cultures, races, occupations, income levels, and ages are battered--by husbands, boyfriends, lovers and partners.

 

While this fact is technically true, it is also true that domestic violence is more likely to occur in homes below the poverty line, in minority households (even controlling for income), and among men and women 18 to 30 years of age.

Nationally, 50 percent of all homeless women and children are on the streets because of violence in the home.

 

An interesting factoid stated by Senator Biden, but one without any actual published scientific research to support it.

There are nearly three times as many animal shelters in the United States as there are shelters for battered women and their children.

 

Another great sound bite, but one not actually based on a verified count of either type of shelter.

File created on October 16, 1995. Last modified December 17, 1996. -- ksk

     

Related Stories: Domestic Violence by Women

 Battered Husbands. One reason that domestic violence against men keeps happening is that men don't speak out. And when they do, all too frequently, nobody listens. Our Battered Husbands section has feature articles from the Detroit Times and Orlando Sentinal that speak to the seriousness of the problem.

 Facts about Domestic Violence. Information provided by the Men's Health Network to raise the public's awareness of the danger men and children face when living with a violent spouse or mother. Many "facts" about domestic violence are published in the media. Are they true? Domestic Violence Factoids is an assessment by Dr. Richard Gelles, one of the best-known, and perhaps most controversial, researchers in the area of domestic violence against men and women.

 Working with Violent Women. by Erin Pizzey, author of Prone to Violence. Ms. Pizzey was the founder of one of the first modern battered women's shelters in the world. She found that of the first 100 women who came to her shelter, 62 were as or more violent than the partners they tried to escape from -- only to return to their partners time and again because of their addiction to pain and violence, violence that they persistently did their best to bring about.

 Women who sexually abuse children and teens. In Britain, a segment of the BBC1 show Panorama focused on woman who sexually abuse children. Here are a summary and full transcript from that broadcast.

     

Related: Dealing with Anger

John Lee on Anger: An Interview, by Bert H. Hoff.

Facing the Fire, a review of the book Facing the Fire: Experiencing and Expressing Anger Appropriately.

A lot of anger is directed at ex-wives, especially just after the break-up of a marriage. You might also want to check out our section Men, Love and Betrayal, which explores dealing with the grief, anger and loneliness at breakup, and whether it's possible to trust and love again.

     

Related: Dealing with Anger

John Lee on Anger: An Interview, by Bert H. Hoff.

Facing the Fire, a review of the book Facing the Fire: Experiencing and Expressing Anger Appropriately.

A lot of anger is directed at ex-wives, especially just after the break-up of a marriage. You might also want to check out our section Men, Love and Betrayal, which explores dealing with the grief, anger and loneliness at breakup, and whether it's possible to trust and love again.

 And on The Microsoft Network:

Be sure to check out our Wednesday evening chat on Men and Anger, 7:00 p.m. Pacific.

     


Help us help men
$20  
Every $20 helps!

Articles | Men's Stories | Poetry | What's here? | What's New? | Home Page | Search MenWeb | E-mail MenWeb

Mt. Fury, by Ian HendersonIan Henderson's mountain art stimulates the eye-magination and his music calms the soul

Press the "Back" button on your browser to return