Robert L. Maginnis
Studies and pronouncements about violence against women continue to make headlines. Recently, the Justice Department announced that a redesigned national survey found that violence against women is much higher than previously reported. The survey also reveals that marriage often shields women from violence.
Any violence against women should be strongly condemned, and offenders should be punished to the full extent of the law. But some feminists exaggerate the real scope of this tragic problem using unvetted advocacy research. Consider some advocacy reporting:
The bases for these "facts" are seldom given and they should be suspect. After all, there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. If an American woman is victimized every 15 seconds, then there are in reality 2,124,000 incidents. Five million violent female victimizations would be one every 6.3 seconds.
The August, 1995 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, "Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey," provides a different, although, sobering picture. Men are far more likely to be victims of crime (64.9 v. 43.7 per 1,000 persons) than women. But women are nine times more likely than men to become rape/sexual assault victims. That figure is higher than previously reported.
The new survey estimates there are 500,200 female victimizations each year which includes 172,400 completed rapes and 141,200 attempted rapes. In comparison, the FBI previously reported 109,062 forcible rapes for 1992, which was a 38.2 percent rise in the total number of reported rapes and a 27 percent rate increase since 1973.
The study is based on the redesigned National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) which is a continuous nationally representative sample of 50,000 households. The latest report includes the years 1992-1993 and with revised questions it found that the average annual rate of violent victimization per 1,000 women rose from 5.4 in 1987-91 to 9.4.
The woman's relationship to the offender is a key variable. The 1995 study found that a woman is three times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by a boyfriend and 10 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by an acquaintance thanby a spouse. Single women are just as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by a stranger as they are by a boyfriend.
When all acts of violence against women are considered, married or widowed women are 30 times less likely than separated women to become violence victims. Married women are at least four times less likely than never-married women to be crime victims.
The study also found that women aged 19-29 are the most likely violence victims. They are twice as likely to become victims as 30 to 45 year old women and 12 to 18 year old girls. Although the Justice Department report does not explain the difference, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that the older female cohort tends to be married and the younger cohort is more likely to live in homes where there is a protecting father.
Family income also makes a big difference. Women from middle income families tend to be four times safer than those from families with incomes under $10,000. Education, ethnicity and race are not major violence discriminators.
Incidents of rape and sexual assault are officially higher than previously reported but do not come close to the figures offered by some advocacy researchers. Based on the new survey it's too early to determine whether violence against women is rising. But it's clear that the offender/victim relationship is key and deserves more attention.
Young women (19-29 years old), who have never married (or are separated) and have low incomes are most vulnerable to violence. Their offenders are more likely to be known to them, and crime by non-strangers usually occurs at or near the woman's home.
The survey shows that marriage protects all female cohorts from every type of violence. Married women are safer than single, separated, divorced and never-married women.
Marriage also reduces violent crime incidents among men. It helps to channel male aggression toward positive goals. Never-married men are more likely to commit assault and they suffer most (58.9 percent) assaults. They are also five times more likely to rape and commit other violent crime than married men.
The Justice Department's latest report should encourage government to harness marriage as a shield against violence. The report also tells American women and girls that the safest place today is living in homes with their husbands and fathers.
Robert Maginnis is a policy analyst with the Family Research Council, a Washington, DC-based research and advocacy organization.