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Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence

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Domestic Violence Statistics

Violence against women is a serious global problem, with one in three women worldwide being beaten in her lifetime. Every year in the United States between 2 million and 4 million American women are beaten by their husbands or boyfriends (HELP IS AVAILABLE FOR VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, 5 December 1999, Winston-Salem Journal). A 2009 report by Amnesty International concluded that a woman dies by her intimate partner or close relative every hour in Russia (Till death do them part, Moscow News, 22 January 2013). 75% of perpetrators of violence against women are family members, intimate partners, or friends & acquaintances (National Crime Victimization Survey), making domestic abuse and, more specifically, the home environment, the most popular target for recent criminal justice reforms that aim to reduce violence against women. In this regard, increasing reporting rates is a key objective in achieving success, given that only 12% of rapes and sexual assaults in the US between 2005 and 2010 resulted in arrests by police (the disparity is too low to be accounted for by the rate of false reporting, which is between 2 and 4%).

criminal justice expenditure over time Despite these surprisingly high numbers, there are some encouraging statistical trends in recent years. Violence against women fell 64% between 1995 and 2005 in the United States, and has remained quite stable since then, according to the US Department of Justice. Women and girls experienced 270,000 rapes or sexual assaults nationwide in 2005, compared to 556,000 in 1995. In per capita terms, domestic violence and violence against women stood at 5 incidents per 100,000 people in 1995, whereas in 2005 it had fallen to 1.8 per 100,000 people.

Many have credited the lower recent rates of female victimization in the United States to the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994, which was recently updated in March 2013 by President Obama. The Violence Against Women Act was intended to combat various acts of crime and violence targeted against women, including most importantly, domestic violence, dating violence, date-rape, sexual assault, and stalking. According to its supporters, the Violence Against Women Act has been largely responsible for the 50% drop in annual domestic violence rates. Where the renewed Violence Against Women Act differs from previous efforts to reduce gender-based violence is its stated recognition of the higher rates of violence within diverse communities, including the Native community and the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) communities. The Violence Against Women Act has met with wide approval; its renewal in 2013 was passd in the Senate on a 78-22 vote with every Democrat, female senator and the majority of Republicans supporting it.

criminal justice expenditure over time  violent crime statistics: reporting rates However, the stabilizing trend in sexual assault rates is potentially troubling in comparison to the general downward trend in violent crime rates that has continued since 2005. The rate of violence against women has stopped declining, in contrast to most other crime rates worldwide. Some experts have explained the disparity in terms of crime-reporting differences and/or a combination of reporting differences with fluctuating arrest and clearance rates. In 1995, for example, the reporting of sexual assaults was 29%, which then peaked at 56% in 2003, and then fell again to 35% in 2010. This has followed a more general trend in recent years of declining victimizations reported to the police alongside a dramatic four-fold increase in law enforcement expenditures collapsed across all levels of US government since 1982 (see the graph to the right).

Violence Against Women in Canada

Like the US, overall and violent crime rates are declining while violence against women remains relatively stable. 3,000 Canadian women currently live in emergency shelters for domestic violence victims. 12% of all acts of violent crime involve domestic abuse in the home, which accounts for roughly 40,000 arrests across Canada, annually. Approximately one Canadian woman every six days will be killed by her partner. 50% of all Canadian women have experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse since age 16. Women aged 15-24 are at the highest risk of violence in relationships, and roughly 80% of Canadian female undergraduate students have experienced dating relationship violence. As studies have shown, men generally support initiatives to end violence against women, and almost two-thirds of Canadian men believe they aren't doing enough to prevent it and could be doing more. The estimated financial cost of violence against women in Canada, due to strains on the health care and criminal justice systems, is $4.2 billion per year.

The highest rates of violence against women in Canada are in Saskatchewan, where the rate is about double the national average. This has generally been the case throughout Canada's history. In Canada, the female victimization rate is 1,207 per 100,000, whereas in Saskatchewan it is 2,681, according to 2011 statistics. Manitoba is just behind Saskatchewan, at a female victimization rate of 2,191 per 100,000. The riskiest city in Canada for women is Saskatoon, with a female victimization rate of 1,784 per 100,000 people. The national rate for Canadian cities is 1,036 per 100,000. The rates of violence against women are lowest in Ontario, which has a rate of 941 per 100,000, and Quebec, which has a rate of 936 per 100,000. Rates of intimate partner violence in these Western provinces and cities follow the same trend, as well as rates of violence against girls under 12. The rate of victimization for girls 12 to 17 in Western provinces is also about double the national rate, at between 4,000 and 5,000 per 100,000.

Some have pointed to higher rates of family stress in these provinces in recent years resulting from the recession. Unemployment rates among men are also slightly higher than unemployment rates among women. Others have argued that it is due to still-inadequate policing of domestic violence and too lenient sentences. Women also face barriers to exiting abusive relationships, including financial and legal consequences involved in marital or non-marital separation, and the costs of additional child care services and affordable housing.

Violence Against Women in Australia

One woman is killed every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner. By age 16, about 20% of women have experienced sexual violence. Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to suffer violent victimization than non-Aboriginal women. Over 90% of the highest-risk areas of Australia for violence against women are rural. One in three Australian women will suffer some form of physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Violence is actually the number one cause of death among Australian women aged 15 to 44, which also makes it the largest public health risk in Australia, at an estimated cost of $13.6 billion a year, even more than smoking, obesity, and hypertension.

Violence Against Women in Ecuador

Like many other South American countries recently, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, Ecuador recently proposed a reform to its penal code to include femicide, or gender-based killing, where the intention to commit the crime involves the fact that the victim is a woman. Femicide is to be punishable by up to 28 years in Ecuador, which is similar to the sentence given to hired killers. In Ecuador, crimes against women have risen sharply in recent years. In cities such as Quito and Guayaquil, rates have remained high in the last several years, and successful convictions of perpetrators have remained very low. The penal reform comes in response to a recent wave of particularly brutal gender-based murders of three young women in Ecuador, and a study on National Survey on Family Relations and Gender Violence that was release in 2012. The survey found that 76% of female victims of gender-based violence had experienced it from their current or previous male partners, 40% of all women had suffered physical violence, and 25% had suffered sexual violence.

What is Domestic Abuse?

The UN defines gender-based violence (GBV) as any physical, sexual, or psychological harm to women where the woman is the target because of her gender. Examples include:
  • battering
  • intimate-partner violence
  • sexual abuse of female children in the household
  • forced marriage
  • female genital mutilation (FBM)
  • sexual harassment and intimidation
  • family violence
  • commercial sexual exploitation, and
  • human trafficking of girls and women
In 1995, the UN expanded this definition to include the rights of women in armed conflict, including systematic rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy. Less widely known is that forced sterilization, abortion, or contraceptive-use is also defined as gender-based violence, as is female infanticide. The range of acts applicable to the UN's definition is understandably very broad. Shortly after in 1999, the UN declared November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In the United States "domestic abuse" is usually defined as an assault committed between any of the following parties:
  • persons who are married
  • persons who have been married and who are not currently living together
  • persons who are the parents of the same minor child, family or household members 18 or older who are currently living together or who have lived together in the past year
  • persons who are in an intimate relationship and have had any form of contact within the past year of the assault
A "pattern" of domestic abuse is usually defined as three or more separate incidents on separate days within a six-month period.

The FBI defines "rape" as "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her consent" (FBI, 1986).

In the UK, "domestic abuse" is defined as any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether it be psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, involving members of any gender or sexual orientation.

Signs & Symptoms of Domestic Abuse

  • Animal Abuse

    Some argue that animal abuse, another signal that a man is taking steps to manipulate others to maintain control, is a possible sign of future domestic abuse in women. Veterinarians in Scotland, for instance, are now being trained by Scotland Yard to recognize signs of domestic abuse in clients bringing their injured or battered animals into the office (Injured pets offer clues to domestic violence cases, 29 April 2013, The Times).
  • Gradual Changes in Behaviour and Manipulation

    Emotional, financial and physical intimidation are all common strategies that perpetrators employ to achieve what they want in the relationship. Abusers sever their spouse's relationships with friends and family who might intervene to help, isolating the spouse and rendering him or her powerless. Threats of harm to children, domestic pets, friends or relatives are often the last and most obvious signs that domestic violence is likely. There are also many signs that a family physician should watch out for, listed below, according to the Denver Medical Society:
  • Suicide Attempts, eating disorders, and self-mutilation

  • Alcohol & Drug Abuse

  • Injuries inconsistent with stated causes

  • Repeated use of hospital emergency rooms

  • Multiple injuries in various stages of healing

  • Complaints of vague or mysterious sources of discomfort (i.e. fatigue, depression, stress, and fear)

    A physician is advised to seek out the true causes of any bruises or inexplicable cuts or scars, and get a sense of whether or not the patient feels that their home environment is a safe place to be, either for themselves or for any children (What should doctors do when they find symptoms of family violence?, 13 June 1992, Denver Post). Domestic abuse can take an emotional toll on the victim, and these effects may manifest themselves during the course of conversations with the patient.

Causes of Domestic Abuse

In 2013 Rutgers World Population Foundation (WPF), an international organization dedicated to progressing women's sexual and reproductive rights, partnered with Pakistan-based Gender based Violence Reproductive Health Network (PGRN) to produce a comprehensive study on domestic violence and came to the following conclusions regarding the specific causes:
  • Infidelity and Sexual Jealousy

    Sexual jealousy is the number one cause of domestic violence, argues Dr. Riccardo Draghi-Lorenz, a psychologist who conducted a study on jealousy at Portsmouth University in 2012. The particular combination of several distressing emotions, such as anger, sadness, resentment and disgust, that accompany sexual jealousy simultaneously, is the fatal recipe that pushes many relationships over the edge. Some argue that the recent upward trend in divorces and extra-marital relationships in the last 30 to 40 years have seen a similar rise in domestic violence cases. Especially in times of economic hardship, the emotional trauma of such revelations by the spouse may supply the extra provocation needed for previously healthy relationships to become abusive. The risk of domestic violence may also rise in these instances if the spouse has spent a substantial amount of money on their loved one. Perhaps the period of highest risk to the woman in the relationship is immediately after she dumps her boyfriend or notifies the husband of her intention to divorce.
  • Struggle for Authority

    Some argue that the recent economic empowerment of women and new-found independence that began in the 1960s continues to challenge traditional gender-roles and the conventional assumptions of male-authority within the household. As the Executive Director of Women Action for Development (WAD), argues, "The parental home is where the seeds of disrespect for women are being planted" (WAD, Partners to Tackle Root Causes of Domestic Violence, 20 July 2005, All Africa). According to a 1990 article in Mediation Quarterly, a journal for Family Mediation research, the number one cause of domestic violence in North America is the abuser's need for control and social dominance. Physical or emotional domination can render the female victim powerless in the relationship, by restricting her access to money, property, friends, acquaintances, and privacy.
  • Poverty & Urban Overcrowding

    In reference to the recent upward trend in domestic violence in Venezuela, criminologists Elio Gómez Grillo and Marcos Tarre argue that overcrowding is a growing source of domestic violence in the inner cities. In Venezuela unemployment is high, the minimum wage is low, depression is rising, and there is a shortage of 1.5 million housing units, meaning many must live with their parents in undesirable circumstances. As a result of these economic hardships, there is a greater incidence of erectile dysfunction, sexual desire problems, and sexual paraphilias among the male population, leading (by inference) to sexual frustration and serious self-esteem problems (The Unit of Sex Education and Therapy, Caracas).
  • Frustration and Low Self-Esteem

    The psychological problems are closely related to the problems discussed above, such as the more general need to assert power and control over others in an attempt to regain stability and confidence in one's abilities. In order to compensate for feelings of low self-esteem or low confidence the man may be experiencing either at work or in his social circles, he develops a "subculture of control" in the home, whereby the victim becomes isolated from her abuser either by her own choice or by the emotional manipulation of her abuser.
  • Increased Reporting Rates

    Enhanced publicity may lend greater moral or spiritual support to women previously too afraid or reluctant to come forward with their accusations.
  • Alcohol Abuse?

    81% of domestic violence perpetrators are regular consumers of alcohol, and most domestic violence cases involve alcohol or drugs, to some extent. But the influence of alcohol, argue some researchers, is very minor, where most cases the perpetrator had only two or three drinks before becoming violent (). Likewise, substance-abuse is rarely identified as the root cause of domestic violence, but rather a symptom. Fundamentally, alcohol consumption is a sign that men may be seeking the moral-disinhibiting effects of the drug in order to solidify their positions of power within the family, using violence. Alcohol abuse usually masks more serious problems, such as psychiatric issues, physical health problems, housing and employment issues, financial problems and social isolation (Control root of home violence, 21 March 2013, The NewsMail).

    According to an attitude survey of Pittsburgh residents conducted by Lloyd Corder of Ketchum Public Relations in 1995, only 26 percent of the survey respondents believed that the desire for power and control was the primary cause of domestic violence. The most common reason given the harmful effects of alcohol. 22% cited low self-esteem, 7% cited job-stress, and 2% cited patriarchal attitudes.
  • Low education

    60% of female victims of domestic abuse are housewives and over one-third of domestic abuse victims have only primary education (HD Alcohol leading cause of violence, prosecutor's office reports, 17 May 2013, Cihan News Agency)

Health Effects of Domestic Abuse

In addition to the non-fatal complications of the most common forms of physical and sexual abuse against women, including bruising, burning, scarring, broken bones, traumatic brain injury, damage to internal organs, and associated gastrointestinal disorders, are the less-well understood psychological impacts, including depression, suicidal tendencies, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Women who suffer from physical violence in relationships are at a 90% lifetime risk of having a mental disorder. A significant proportion of violence against women, usually 33%, occurs in the home environment. Not surprisingly, cultures in which men hold more patriarchal and sexist views towards women often have higher rates of violence against women.

For the female victims of domestic violence, their lives are usually surrounded by constant fear, too reluctant to report accusations to the authorities out of fear of their own personal safety and privacy, and this has the effect of keeping them subservient and selfless in the domestic environment, in order to avoid what they see as the inevitable battering that would result, if they put up any resistance. The domestic abuser can often amplify this fear by erupting suddenly and without any provocation.



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