By far the most prevalent form of violence against women comes from an intimate partner (Heise, Ellsberg, & Gottmoeller, 2002, S6). Various studies indicate “that in approximately 90 to 95 per cent of the cases of family violence, crimes against women are indeed perpetrated by the current or former male partner” (Brush, 1993; Browne, 1987; Dobash and Dobash, 1979; Berk et al., 1983; WAC Stats, 1993 as cited in Sev’er, 2002, p. 16). Abuse from an intimate partner can take many forms such as verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, restricting her movements, isolating her from friends, withholding basic needs such as food or money to purchase food, and humiliating and demeaning her (Pandey & Shrestha, 2014, p. 67). What follows is a discussion of the trends and prevalence statistics for domestic violence and rape, as well as a look at the difficulties associated with data collection and the potential for statistics to affect change.
Changes in the reporting of sexual violence and whether interventions are working are not well tracked (Casey & Nurius, 2006, p. 629). As well, there are conflicting studies with some saying it has lessened, and others reporting there is no difference and maybe there is even an increase (p. 629). For instance, The Uniform Crime Report (2013) reports that there was a decrease stating “79,770 rapes in 2013 [which was] 6.3 percent lower than the 2012 estimate, and 10.6 percent and 16.1 percent lower than the 2009 and 2004 estimates, respectively” (p. 2). The U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Victimization 2013 report says “crime committed by intimate partners and family members—remained flat from 2012 to 2013 (4.2 per 1,000)” (Langton & Truman, 2014, p. 3). Statistics Canada classifies sexual assault and intimate partner under violent victimization and it has remained stable in 2009 (Statistics Canada, 2009, Violent Victimization).
The rates of intimate partner violence vary “between 10 and 69 percent” depending on the region of the world (Burn, 2011, p. 26). According to The World’s Women Report (2014) many areas around the world still have customs that allow beating of wives by husbands for “burning the food, venturing outside without telling their husband, neglecting children or arguing with their husband” and conversely woman accept it as part of their role (The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics, 2014, p. 130). Bunch (1990) states “[f]emale subordination runs so deep that it is still viewed as inevitable or natural” (p. 491).
Canada serves as a good example for the difficulties that arise in data collection. In Canada the data does not have a classification for violence against women. The Criminal Code covers “assault . . . aggravated assault, sexual assault, and aggravated sexual assault” (Sev’er, 2002, p. 13). Although a partner may exert control over a woman through threats of harm, threats are not covered under the Criminal Code as there must be actual harm done in order for charges to be laid. There must be “both intent and injury” (p. 13) for any legal action to happen. Neither does the law distinguish the gender of the person attacked or the gender of the perpetrator (p. 13). The law also does not consider the relationship of the offender and his victim which makes the collection of data that is specific to violence against women, rather difficult. Sev’er (2002) states “the Criminal Code definitions of ‘assault’ are inadequate in responding to the social and psychological turmoil that women suffer at the hands of their intimate partners” (p. 13).
As intimate relationships are often considered the private sphere and “the state ha[s] no place in the nation’s bedrooms” there is shielding from unwelcome intrusions by government agencies (Sev’er, 2002, p. 34). This is particularly apparent in the underreporting of crimes such as “incest, child abuse, elder abuse, and abuse of women” (p. 34). Further compounding the problem is that what happens within the family home is also considered private by the woman who is being hurt, so she does not want to report it. Along with protecting family privacy is “[f]ear of the perpetrator, feelings of shame, lack of social support systems, lack of knowledge or distrust of the workings of the criminal justice system, and the visibility of white and/or male dominance in the police departments” (p. 34).
Data from women’s shelters does not give the full picture of women who are abused as they possess the unique characteristic in that they were able to escape (Sev’er, 2002, p. 36). Under represented are those who were employed and had a stable economic background as those women may have stayed in a hotel, took a holiday, or sought counselling (p. 36). As shelters are in larger cities the data often omits those women who do not have access to shelters such as those in rural areas. It is also thought that immigrant women do not feel at ease using shelters (p. 36).
Using measurements such as the Conflict Tactics Scale, which measures violence against both men and women, raises other problems in the collection of data. The scale “does not measure the frequency of abuse”, “whether the act was an offensive or defensive one”, “sexual predatoriness”, “the consequences of the injury” or whether it was continual or a single episode (Sev’er, 2002, p. 37). The data shows that violence experienced by men and women in relationships are almost equal, but it does not show that women are more likely to have experienced long term abuse that was considerably more severe in nature than their male counterparts (p. 37). Unfortunately the Conflict Tactics Scale leads to reports that violence between men and women is equal and similar. “When the context-sensitive version of the scale is used, however, Gelles and Straus (1988) report that three-quarters of the women who use violence do so in self-defence” (cited in Sev’re, 2002, p. 38). When women murder their partner it is to defend themselves, however, when men kill their partners it is intentional and calculated. Disregarding the context of the abuse in data collection invalidates and diminishes the overall picture of the nature of violence that women endure.
Much of the debate around violence against women revolves around whether numbers of hits and blows can effectively characterize the destruction and fear that attacks from an intimate partner brings (Sev’er, 2002, p. 21). Even though the experts debate on how to categorize partner abuse for study, using methods such as the Conflict Tactics Scale at least gives mathematical legitimacy to the widespread problem of intimate partner abuse and allows for comparison between countries (p. 20). Unfortunately, even with all the numbers that show us how much abuse happens there is no easy answer as to a solution.
While “words and numbers have [been given] to women’s screams” (Sev’er, 2002, p. 29) and gains have been made, there is still much to be accomplished. A concerted effort between many different groups and academics will be needed with action at the local, national, and international levels. Establishing laws and policies “cannot . . . normally solve deep rooted social problems” there needs to be a multi-level approach (Sharma, 2015, p. 137).
Bunch, C. (1990). Women’s rights as human rights: Toward a re-vision of human rights. Human Rights Quarterly, 12(4). 486-498.
Burn, S. (2011). Women across cultures: A global perspective (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Casey, E., & Nurius, P. (2006). Trends in the Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence: A Cohort Analysis. Violence and Victims, 21(5), 629-644.
Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009. (2013, May 31). Retrieved October 16, 2015.
Heise, L., Ellsberg, M., & Gottmoeller, M. (2002). A global overview of gender-based violence. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 78(Supplement 1), S5–S14.
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