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Domestic violence data shows declines, but are they valid?

A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics considers domestic violence amongst married and unmarried couples. Domestic violence is one of the scariest parts of family law, especially since it can be exacerbated by a victim's decisions related to a divorce. Many women and men attempting to free themselves from their abusers find that the behavior of the abusing party drastically changes when the victim attempts to escape the relationship.

According to the BJS report, intimate partner violence has been declining for years. From 1994 to 2010, the rate of violence involving boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and former spouses dropped by 64 percent. Those attempting to increase awareness of domestic abuse in New Jersey are likely very excited to see such a decrease. Though this is definitely good news, there is also some bad news, and it stems from the way that the BJS data is collected.

In order to determine rates of domestic abuse, the BJS conducts household surveys of personal victimization. This does not include homicide rates, which is the most serious form of domestic violence. The only source of information for such rates is the Supplementary Homicide Reporting program, which belongs to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Analysts took this data and compared lethal and non-lethal rates of intimate partner abuse. According to estimates based on the FBI data, there were about 3,500 intimate partners killed in 1980. This rate dropped to 2,000 in 2010.

Many experts are concerned about the data, citing changes in domestic arrangements that result in different statistics. Changes in divorce and marriage rates cause some partners who were once considered spouses to be included in the category of former spouses. Similarly, some demographics that were once high in married partners get married at a far lower rate, putting them into the category of unmarried individuals. Experts believe that the changes in these factors may result in skewed reports.

Source: Boston.com, "Intimate partner violence: Down but far from out," James Alan Fox, Nov. 29, 2012

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