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Are Domestic Violence Rates Dropping?

Findings show fewer victims, but shelters say they’re seeing more people asking for help

  • April 20, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
Are Domestic Violence Rates Dropping?

Some good news, for once, regarding domestic violence: It seems there’s less of it. A report released last year from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that the incidents of nonfatal domestic violence have declined 63 percent since 1994, from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 people over age 12 in 1994 to 5 victimizations per 1,000 individuals in 2012.

The reported accounted for both reported and non-reported rape, sexual assaults, robberies and aggravated and simple assaults by intimate partners, immediate family members and other relatives. The numbers are based on the National Crime Victimization Survey of a nationally representative sample of roughly 92,000 U.S. households. The significant drop in domestic violence incidents mirrors a similar decline in overall violent crime, which also decreased by 67 percent over the same time period.

Strangers were the most common perpetrators of violent victimizations (38 percent), with well-known or casual acquaintances following close behind (32 percent). Intimate partners were responsible for more of this nonfatal crime (15 percent) than immediate family members (4 percent) or other relatives (2 percent).

Some say the determination of domestic violence and women’s rights organizations are finally paying off after some 30 years of effort to inform the public about the problem of domestic violence. The drop also comes two decades after the Violence Against Women Act was signed by Congress. The federal law allotted $1.6 billion of resources toward the prevention and prosecution of violent acts against women.

Others say that survivors have more options now than ever before—from shelters, advocates and hotlines to more educational and job opportunities that allow survivors establish self-sufficiency after leaving an abusive partner.

Advocates say they're not seeing any decrease in domestic violence rates.

It’s important to keep in mind the Bureau report doesn’t account for types of domestic violence beyond physical, such as mental, emotional, financial, spiritual and reproductive abuse. That could explain why the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) says there is no noticeable decrease in the number of survivors stepping forward. In fact, quite the opposite—the NNEDV reports that 88 percent of their programs are experiencing an increase in the number of people asking for help.

Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agrees. “There may be several factors that contribute to these numbers, but I would hesitate to take the numbers to mean that domestic violence is on the decline,” she says. “More access to different types of assistance and different resources have increased victims access to help. I believe that is more of what these numbers reflect.”

The NNEDV also reports that 80 percent of states are reporting a decrease in funding due to national and state budget cuts, as well as a drop in private donations. As a result, domestic violence shelters across the country are laying off staff in order to remain open while nonresidential programs are reducing their services and hours.