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Home Articles Do Domestic Violence Statistics Matter?

Do Domestic Violence Statistics Matter?

The role of numbers and stories to raise awareness

Do Domestic Violence Statistics Matter?

In June, the National Network to End Domestic Violence released the findings of its one-night annual census from September 2017. The census, now in its twelfth year, documents the number of individuals who sought services in a single 24-hour period from nearly 1,700 domestic violence programs throughout the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.

The numbers showed …

  • 70,245 survivors were served in some capacity
  • 40,470 of those survivors—adults and children—received emergency shelter or transitional housing
  • 31,775 others received non-residential services, such as counseling, legal advocacy and children’s support groups
  • 20,352 hotline calls were answered—more than 14 calls per minute

The NNEDV hopes these numbers assist with advocacy and fundraising, painting a clearer picture of the need. After all, if people outside of the domestic violence field can see the scope of the problem, perhaps they’ll believe there actually is one. 

According to an article from Explorable.com, the purpose of statistics is to have proof. “Statistical analysis provides credibility to a theory and is central to the general acceptance of most statements.”

That begs the question, without statistics, is domestic violence simply a theory?

Paul Denial, former executive director of New Life Center in Goodyear, Ariz., has been immersed in domestic violence work for nearly two decades. He thinks that while they have their merits, he also calls statistics “a distraction technique.”  

“Some funders will make advocates run out and find this elusive number,” says Denial, “essentially as a way to blow them off.” 

Why Domestic Violence is Difficult to Tally

Therein lies a conundrum, say advocates. An accurate number is required to prove the problem and, thus, receive funding. Yet, finding the exact number of survivors of domestic violence is like trying to count raindrops during a storm. 

“You can count all the police calls or the shelter calls or the people in shelters. They’re all accurate,” says Denial. But then, of course, how do you count those who never call the police or the shelter? After all, experts agree domestic violence is vastly under reported by its victims for various reasons—fear of retaliation from the abuser, fear of judgment from others, distrust of law enforcement, denial, lack of proof, fear of deportation or living in a rural area without adequate resources.

It’s like crime statistics, Denial says. “We think we know how many people are murdered. All we know are how many bodies are found. There are a lot of missing people out there.”

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And then there’s the issue of defining domestic violence for a particular survey. Is it limited to married partners, or does it include dating partners? Long-term dating partners only, or would it count if someone went on one date and wound up being stalked for months afterward? What about those who experienced domestic violence in the past but have since escaped?

What about age? Can a child be a victim of domestic violence if he or she has grown up with it in their home? 

And then there are secondary survivors to account for—those who have not been personally abused but still experienced its aftermath. The friends, relatives, support persons, alienated by the abuser from the survivor who may struggle with anxiety for not being able to save a loved one. 

How does one count victims of nonphysical abuse—the type that doesn’t leave visible marks, like psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse or spiritual abuse? 

Even during a house-by-house phone survey, how likely are survivors to identify over the phone, perhaps with their abuser standing nearby, that they’ve been a victim? How many survivors have trouble admitting it ever happened?

“There are reasons we don’t have a good statistic,” says Denial. 

There’s also the problem of false statistics, which are plentiful. See “How to Spot Faulty Statistics” for more on that problem. 

What’s the Point, Then?

Marium Durrani, senior policy attorney with the NNEDV says the census is a critical part of their appropriations advocacy work. In other words, it helps the nonprofit get funded. But the survey itself proves that funding is still not adequate. The NNEDV found 11,441 requests for services, including emergency shelter and legal representation, went unmet in a 24-hour period because programs lacked available resources. 

“Unmet need data shows that we, as communities, states, this country, still need to invest in services and resources that survivors need. Accessing a safe shelter, financial resources, transportation, etc., can often mean life or death in a situation like domestic violence, and it’s unconscionable that victims cannot find safety for themselves and their families,” Durrani says. 

Durrani says she doesn’t believe gathering statistics is a waste of time because, she agrees, “they are evidence.” And any number above zero, says Durrani, is unacceptable.

But she also acknowledges there’s something more than a number that can make their case. 

“Beyond numbers, which are fairly straightforward, we capture some rich stories as well. Those stories show that programs are helping save lives, making unique partnerships in their communities, getting creative in meeting the needs of survivors ... and also show the devastating aspect of not being able to help survivors in need,” Durrani says. 

“We’re in a time where more survivors are coming forward than ever before, and we all must be there to help and provide them some measure of safety and justice.”

Want to help? Start with “10 Ways You Can Help Prevent Domestic Violence Where You Live.