Although we have all seen and heard statistics about domestic violence, the actual prevalence is difficult to ascertain. As you can imagine, the research presents many challenges. Results will vary depending on the populations studied, the definition of and criteria for domestic violence, the research methods used.

  • Different populations are studied, for instance: All women, cohabiting men and women, women in shelters
  • Different time periods are studied, for instance: A year, a relationship, a lifetime
  • Different research methods are used, for instance: Surveys, in depth interviews
  • Different definitions or criteria for violence are used: many studies count individual incidents of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse rather than patterns of abuse and control.
  • In addition, ideological and political convictions and agendas may shape research methods and findings.

Given all the difficulties, what do we think we know??

  • About 25% of women and 8% of men report having ever been physically assaulted, raped or stalked by an intimate partner. This statistic is taken from a national survey which counted assaults only if they occurred on more than one occasion and the victim "felt frightened or feared bodily harm" as a result of the behavior.
    (Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. 2000) )
  • Corresponding prevalence rates for the previous 12 months were 1.8% of women; 1.1% of men.
    In the same national survey, women reported somewhat lower rates of abuse by female intimate partners than by male intimate partners; men reported somewhat higher rates of abuse by male intimate partners than by female intimate partners. pp.iv-v, 29ff.
    However, other data on violence in same sex relationships indicates rates similar to those in heterosexual relationships.
  • Bureau of Justice statistics (2005) indicate about 30% of all murders of women were by an intimate partner; 5% of all murders of men.
  • Intimate partner violence is higher for women in households with lower annual income and for young women under 30.
    (Gelles, 1997 and
  • Violence is most severe after a break up
    (Gelles, 1997)
  • The role of gender is debated. However, when health consequences of violence are measured, such as death and injuries, women are at much higher risk from intimate violence.

Starting in 2009, the CDC will collect data with a new national survey, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Surveillance System designed to track intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking. It will not be immune from the difficulties intrinsic to this kind of research, but will provide updated figures for those interested. Web sites for the CDC, National Institute of Justice, and Bureau of Justice Statistics are good sources for current information.