Section V - Special Report - Violence Among Family Members and Intimate Partners



The data in Tables 5.2 and 5.3 in the special report "Violence Among Family Members and Intimate Partners" were transposed. The numbers have been corrected and the study has been revised as appropriate. The FBI regrets this error.

Special Report

(Revised January 2005)



The phenomenon of violence among family members has been present in Western society throughout its history.

It is a significant societal as well as an individual problem, but it has not always been considered a crime. History records instances of wife beating as early as the time of the Roman Empire. Further, the English common law as codified by jurist Sir William Blackstone in 1768 affirmed the right of a husband to physically chastise his wife as long as 'the stick was no bigger than his thumb.' This right was upheld by an appellate court in North Carolina as late as 1867. 1

M. A. Straus and R. J. Gelles, who have authored several works about family violence, also categorized instances of child abuse throughout history. Some of the cases they examined date to biblical times. 'Infanticide, mutilation, and other forms of violence were legal parental prerogatives from ancient Rome to colonial America.'2

Child abuse was identified as a social problem by church and social workers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. However, it was not until C. Henry Kemper published his 1962 study, 'The Battered Child Syndrome'3 that child abuse found its way onto the public agenda. Likewise, it was not until the 1970s that wife beating was recognized as a problem and that significant scholarly research on spousal abuse began. In their writings, Straus and Gelles (1988) and Straus (2000) listed some of the factors that led to the reformation in our society's view of family violence. Those factors included the social movements of the 1960s that undertook to aid oppressed groups; the growth in paid employment of married women; the re-emergence of the women's movement in the 1970s; the provision of shelters for battered women; public abhorrence of violence evidenced by the rising homicide and assault rates; violent political and social protests; assassinations; terrorist activity; the Vietnam War; the critical reassessment of the family; and changes in theoretical perspectives in sociology, family studies, and criminology.4

Measuring Domestic Violence

The subject of domestic violence is broad in scope and there are many ways to measure it. For example, the Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) questions individuals regarding their victimization experiences. Investigators from other agencies examine hospital records and physicians' reports to determine the frequency of broken bones and use that information as evidence of child or spousal abuse.5

The present work investigates the problem of violence among intimate partners and other family members by examining the incidents reported to law enforcement who, in turn, submitted data to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The years considered are 1996 through 2001. Although there are other studies of this criminal phenomenon from the vantage point of the victim or from a public health perspective, this study is confined to the experiences of victims in close relationships with their offenders. Some additional data presented in this report are from other sources and are tendered to underline the nature of the phenomenon. However, those data are presented only as background information.

Data from the UCR Program clearly demonstrate that violence among family members is a prevalent problem. For instance, the Program's 1996 Supplementary Homicide Report6 (SHR) showed that 30 percent of all female victims of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter in the U.S. were killed by their husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends.7

The 2000 SHR data indicated that of the 3,173 women homicide victims for which supplemental data were provided, 1,029 were killed by their husbands, former husbands, or boyfriends. Further, data from the UCR Program's National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for 2001 showed that an estimated 38,614 women were beaten and/or sexually assaulted by family members.8

Intimate Partner and Spousal Abuse

Domestic violence takes many forms including intimate partner and spousal abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. Regarding spousal abuse, data from the American Psychological Association (APA)9 indicate that one-third of all adult women will be assaulted by a partner during adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 'nearly two-thirds of women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, or stalked since the age of 18 were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date.'10 Further, one in three of these women were injured.11

Reports from the NCVS from 1992 to 1996 showed that, without adjusting for socioeconomic status, an average of 12 per 1,000 black women experienced violence by an intimate partner compared to an estimated 8 per 1,000 white women.12


In studies of visits to hospital emergency rooms in 1994, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that women accounted for nearly 40 percent of all the patients in need of treatment for violent victimizations. Thirty-six percent of these victims were attacked by their intimate partners.13 Female victims were more likely than male victims to require medical attention, take time off work, and spend more days in bed.14 Moreover, the National Research Council argues that the psychological costs for these victims are quite high and 'can include depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, lowered self-esteem, alcohol and other drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.'15

According to Straus and Gelles, perpetrators of violence are more likely to have had a history of physical or sexual abuse themselves or were victims of threats of abuse. Furthermore, men who abuse their partners are more likely to abuse their children.16

Both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence are more likely to abuse alcohol. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that more than 50 percent of male batterers and 20 percent of female victims are alcohol abusers.17

Surveys taken by the NCVS between 1992 and 1996 indicated that financial losses to women victims of non-lethal intimate violence amounted to more than $150 million per year. This amount was made up of medical costs (approximately 40 percent), property losses (about 44 percent), and the rest comprised lost pay.18

Child Abuse

Men are more likely to be the offenders in cases of physical and sexual abuse against children. Approximately 10 percent of all injuries to children under 7 years of age who are examined in emergency rooms come from abuse.19

More than 50 percent of murder victims under the age of 12 are killed by a parent. About 3.3 million children each year witness acts of violence by family members against their mothers or female caretakers. The APA estimates that 16 to 34 percent of girls and 10 to 20 percent of boys are sexually abused, most often by a family member or trusted family friend. The APA has for a long time indicated that children who experience violence are at greater risk of becoming adult abusers. The Association terms this the 'cycle of violence.'20

Children at risk for being abused include those who are unwanted, who have physical or mental disabilities, and whose parents are under stress (e.g., parents with more than four children, those who make less than $15,000 annually, those who abuse drugs, or young mothers who are isolated from others outside the family.)21

The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect reports that there are particular characteristics that are associated with child abusers. Usually, the offenders are in their mid-20s, do not have high school educations, live at or below the poverty level, suffer from depression, and may have difficulty coping with stressful situations.22

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse affects thousands of individuals each year, but according to the National Center on Elder Abuse,23 the incidents are underreported. Few studies examine this topic; however, a 1997 study of case reports of various protective agencies by the National Center on Elder Abuse found that neglect is the most common form of elder maltreatment in domestic settings, and adult children are the most frequent abusers of the elderly. From the data that were available, authors Tatara, Kuzmeskus, and Duckhorn (1997) found that cases of elder neglect increased substantially over the years 1990 to 1996, rising from 47 percent in 1990 to 55 percent in 1996.24

Also according to Tatara, Kuzmeskus, and Duckhorn, most elderly victims of abuse were female, but from 1990 to 1996, the gap between male and female victims narrowed somewhat, changing from 68.3 percent female/31.5 percent male in 1990 to 67.3 percent female/32.4 percent male in 1996.25 Additionally, they found that nearly a third of the murders of victims 60 years of age or older were committed by a family member. Further, most elder abuse was committed by someone with whom the elderly victim lived. Because most caregivers for the elderly are women, they found that most of the neglect cases were committed by female family members. On the other hand, the most frequent offenders of physical abuse against the elderly were male family members.26


This study examines violent crime incidents in which at least one of the offenders and one of the victims are related within the family. The crimes included in this analysis are murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling.

The relationships included in this study fall...

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