Victims Cross All Racial, Ethnic Lines


Who are the victims of spousal abuse?

Last year in California, 93% of the people arrested for spousal abuse were men, according to the state Department of Justice.

In 1992, 1,400 women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, while fewer than 400 men were killed by their wives, said Richard J. Gelles, director of the Family Violence Research Program at the University of Rhode Island.

"Basically, the victims are women and ownership of the problem is men," Gelles said.

Victims of spousal abuse are found across all racial, ethnic and geographic lines, said Ronet Bachman, a statistician for the U.S. Department of Justice. But the rate of abuse is double for women who live below the poverty line. Married women have lower rates of victimization than divorced or separated women, she said.

While rates tend to dip for women who have graduated from college, Bachman asked, "Does it go down or is it not reported nor talked about?"

Like batterers, victims are more likely to have grown up in an abusive household, according to Gelles.

Gelles co-authored the 1985 National Family Violence Survey, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Bachman's findings are based on four years of National Crime Victim Surveys, which the federal government conducts each year, querying a random sample of the general population about whether they have been a victim of crime that year. Gelles' study is also based on a random sample of the general population; both studies are considered by other researchers to be the best, if still limited, snapshots of the type and extent of family violence in the United States.

Gelles' study reported a sensitive finding, namely that an equal number of men and women reported being hit by their intimate partners. The survey has been widely cited in newspapers and talk shows in recent weeks after the arrest of O. J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife and a friend. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson had a history of domestic abuse, and the former football star pleaded no contest in 1989 to misdemeanor spousal battery.

But Gelles said some recent interpretations of his work ignore his caveat--that women are seven times more likely to be injured as men. "If the threshold of abuse is who gets hurt, it isn't men."

Based on his interviews of 6,000 people, Gelles estimated that 2 million women experienced one or more instances of severe violence.

Undeniably, many incidents of domestic violence do involve mutual combat, Bachman said.

"Nevertheless, the extent, severity and potential risk of injury is much greater when dealt out by a man's hand," she said.

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