Domestic Violence on Decline

Wednesday, May 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rate at which women were attacked or threatened with violence by husbands and boyfriends declined 21 percent during the mid-1990s, and the number of men murdered by wives or girlfriends plunged 60 percent from 1976 through 1998, the Justice Department reported today.

In a report on ``Intimate Partner Violence,'' the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics described a widespread decline, with a few exceptions, in both lethal and nonlethal violence among husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends that mirrors the general decline in serious crimes nationwide since 1992.

For murder by spouses, the decline began even earlier — in the 1970s.

``We have made significant increases in providing shelters, hot lines and restraining orders to protect battered spouses and mandatory arrest for domestic violence incidents,'' said Professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston. ``And the largest beneficiaries have been men. The biggest drop is in women killing husbands.

``We've given wives alternatives to feeling like they have to pick up a loaded gun to kill their loaded husbands,'' Fox said. ``Divorce is easier.''

The number of intimate partner homicides has declined substantially since 1976 for every race and gender group except white women, the bureau said, citing FBI data on homicides. Intimate partners committed fewer murders each year during 1996, 1997 and 1998 than in any other year since 1976.

In 1998, 1,320 women were murdered by intimates, but only 510 men. In 1976, women had accounted for just over half of the 3,000 men and women killed by intimates.

For black men, intimate murders declined by 74 percent from 1976 through 1998. For black women, the number of murders was down 45 percent. For white men, it declined 44 percent.

``White females represent the only category of victims for whom intimate partner homicide has not decreased substantially since 1976,'' the bureau said. Between 1976 and 1993, the number of white women killed by intimate partners was fairly stable, usually rising slightly, but such murders declined by 23 percent between 1993 and 1997. Then in 1998, they shot up 8 percent, leaving the total 3 percent above the 1976 figure.

But, citing interviews with crime victims, the bureau said black women were far more likely to report such violence to police than white women — 67 percent of the time for black women, compared with 50 percent for white women.

Overall, the percentage of women who reported intimate violence to police rose from 48 percent in 1993 to 59 percent in 1998. Among men, 46 percent reported intimate violence to the police, with next-to-no difference between races.

Counting both deadly and lesser violence and threats of violence, attacks on women by intimate partners fell from 1.1 million in 1993 to 876,340 in 1998. This decline sent the rate of violent victimization for women by partners down from 9.8 attacks per 1,000 women per year to 7.7 attacks.

The rate at which men were attacked by wives or girlfriends remained stable during this period, but at the much lower level of 1.5 attacks per 1,000 men in 1998. That translated to 160,000 attacks on men in both 1993 and 1998.

Even with the decline in such attacks on women, they remained five times more likely than men to be attacked by intimate partners.

Two-thirds of all intimate attacks were simple assaults, the least serious form of violence studied.

Between 1993 and 1998, the highest rate of intimate victimization was among women aged 16 to 24 — 19.6 attacks per 1,000 women per year. The peak rate for men was three per 1,000 men aged 25 to 34.

Two-thirds of the victims of both sexes were actually attacked; the remainder were victims of threats of violence or attempted violence.

Fifty percent of the female victims were injured, compared with 32 percent of the men. About 40 percent of the injured victims of both sexes sought medical treatment.

The report defined intimates as current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, including incidents where both victim and attacker were of the same sex.