Comparative Analysis of False Domestic Violence Claims

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Different communicative fields support and propagate criminal suspicion of men in different ways. Define as S the claim “domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women” or the many closely related formal variants of that claim. S has been prevalent throughout public discourse. S supports highly damaging criminal suspicion of men. S has no rational basis in good reason. S instances by year, the use of frightening comparators with S, and the share of debunking S instances differ across communicative fields (news sources, web texts, law journals, Congressional documents, and judicial opinions). Those S differences provide a quantitative index of different communicative fields’ reasoning about criminal acts. They indicate the extent that different communicative fields support criminal suspicion of men.

Simple textual searches through general-purpose databases of different communicative fields provide a dataset of S instances for quantitative analysis. The dataset of S instances is called the Domestic Violence Claims Dataset (DVCD). The S statistics below, summarized from the DVCD, should be consider lower bounds on the actual number of S instances. Collecting instances of S through general searches of textual corpora not pre-selected for S helps to ensure the representativeness of S statistics relative to communicative fields. Because the scope of searching is difficult to measure and standardize across communicative fields, count differences between fields are less informative than time-series trends and S instance shares within fields.

"Domestic violence is leading cause of injury to women":
S Instances in Different Communicative Fields, 1985-2010

yearscommunicative fields
Source: Domestic Violence Claims Dataset.
newslaw journalsCongresscourts
2006-20101094012
2001-200511075242
1996-20001881294617
1991-199538096872
1986-1990441130
peak-years comparison
1993-74101429810
2006-10 as share of 1993-727%28%1%20%

While S concerns criminal acts, law journals were relatively slow to produce S. The Surgeon General reportedly claimed S in 1984. The earliest directly documented S instance occurred in a news article in 1987. Two S instances occurred in the Congressional Record in 1988. From 1986 to 1990, news articles and Congressional records contain at least 44 and 13 instances of S, respectively. From 1986 to 1990, only one instance of S occurred in a law journal (in 1989) and no instances occurred in judicial opinions. That judicial opinions lagged in producing S isn’t surprising: judicial opinions producing S have typically done so through citations to Congressional records and law journal articles. Law journals are commonly thought to be a leading forum for thinking about issues of law. Law journals’ relative late performance in producing S might be attributed either to stronger reason or less attention to current issues of legal practice. Law journals’ subsequent frequent production of S favors the latter explanation.

S instances per year peaked about 1994 in news articles, law journals, and Congressional documents. The 1994 peak is particularly sharp for news articles. S instances in news articles in 1994 (126 instances found) were about double the level in 1993 and 1995. In 1994, O.J. Simpson was charged with murdering Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J. Simpson‘s wife. That sensational event probably stimulated news articles asserting S.

S instances in U.S. judicial opinions peaked at 6 in 1997. Judicial opinions are a communicative field with different characteristics from news articles. Judicial opinions typically don’t respond to high-profile current events such as the O.J. Simpson case. No S instance in a judicial opinion was essential to the argument in that judicial opinion. Judicial opinions produced S in the context of documenting, in a supporting way, authoritative claims about domestic violence. The reduction in S instances in judicial opinions after 2000 is difficult to interpret. Fewer S instances may reflect fewer cases that presented judges with the opportunity to assert S.

After peaking in the mid-1990s, the frequency of S instances dropped much less in news articles and law reviews than in Congressional documents. Congress has regular opportunities to produce S through, for example, statements associated with yearly proclamations of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Nonetheless, only one instance of S occurred in Congressional documents from 2006 to 2010. Many instances of S occurred in news articles and law journals from 2006-2010. Instances of S in that period amounted to about 27% of instances during the general peak from 1993 to 1997. Politicization is commonly thought to work against good reason. But with respect to reducing production of S, deliberation in Congress outperformed news articles and law journals. Commercial, market-driven news arguably favors sensational crime stories and encourages punitive criminal justice policy.^ However, status-driven competition for publications in law journals has responded no better than market-driven news in moving away from sensational, false claims of S.

"Domestic violence is leading cause of injury to women":
S Instances Associated with Frightening Comparators & Debunking, 1996-2005

fieldtotal instancesinstances with frightening comparatorsshare with frightening comparatorsinstances with debunking claimsshare with debunking claims
Source: Domestic Violence Claims Dataset.
Congress7057%00%
courts19632%00%
law journals2047336%31%
news1283124%1411%
web2018643%2211%

Debunking claims against S have been relatively rare and not influential. The first documented debunking instance was in a news article in 1994. That news article included a clear statement disavowing S from a co-author of the Surgeon General’s 1992 statement on domestic violence. Nonetheless, many instances of S occurred in news articles, web texts, law journals, and judicial opinions after that debunking article was published.

News articles published between 1996 and 2005 contain 14 debunking S instances. Debunking S instances account for about 11% of total S incidents in news articles. Debunking instances occurred in news stories with titles such as “Ending Bias in Domestic Assault Law,” “Bashing Boys Is, Like, Not Ok,” “In Abuse, Men Are Victims, Too,” and “Reports of domestic violence exaggerated.” All the identified authors of the S debunking articles are women. Just two women wrote 10 of the 14 debunking articles. Stories about the need to help battered women or about praiseworthy efforts to do so are the typical context in newspapers for affirmative incidents of S. While men did not explicitly author any of the debunking articles, men wrote about 40% of news articles affirmatively stating S. Compared to news article affirmatively stating S, news articles debunking S were much less common and only authored by women.

Among the 204 instances of S in law journal articles published between 1996 and 2005, only three of those instances were associated with debunking claims. One instance put the debunking claims in a footnote to an affirmative S claim. It sourced the debunking to one woman and did so in a way tending to undermine her credibility.^ Another instance put both the affirmative claim and the debunking claim in a footnote. The debunking claim was a newspaper reference and the statement that S was based on a sample of black women. The third debunking instance declared:

While no one would argue that the statistics show that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of injury among women, there is polarization in the field regarding what constitutes domestic violence, its causes, and appropriate treatment to end that violence. ^

That statement debunks S, but, as the dataset of S instances shows, it does so with a grossly false claim. Many instances of S have been produced across communicative fields. At least with respect to S, law journals show surprisingly little exercise of good reason.

The predominance of women among authors of law-journal articles asserting S is probably best understand in terms of the different professional interests of female and male law professors. In 2000, roughly 30% of law professors were female.^ About 70% of law journal articles asserting S had female authors. Hence female law professors were more likely to assert S than were male law professors. Nonetheless, as the paucity of debunking claims against S in law journals indicates, neither female nor male law professors have seriously challenged S. Asserting S in law journals appears to be largely a convention of writing about domestic violence or family law more generally. Female law professors predominately in the highly under-appreciated field of family law.

Among searched communicative fields, the web had the highest frequency and quality of documents with debunking S instances. Structured web searches for S in early 2006 found 11% of S instances to be associated with debunking claims. The second-highest result on the Google search result page for S instances containing the phrase “leading cause” was a web page that provided detailed injury statistics, by cause, based on data from the 1996 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey Data File. That web page noted that the relevant data file could be freely downloaded from the website of the National Center for Health Statistics. Tables of leading causes of injury, based on the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, are currently easily available online via WISQARS, an online system of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Debunking claims, and authoritative injury data, exist on the web along with many affirmative instances of S. Affirmative S instances exist on web sites of colleges, major non-profit organizations, and organizations involved in the administration of criminal justice. Low-cost, readily accessible communication across the web hasn’t resolved with good reason important, contrasting factual assertions.

Frightening comparators used with S provide an additional indicator of non-reasoning. Among communicative fields searched, the web had the highest share of S instances associated with frightening comparators. Law journals had the second-highest share. Congressional documents, in contrast, had the lowest share of S instances associated with frightening comparators. The difference is large: the share of S instances associated with frightening comparators is 43% and 36% for the web and law journals, respectively, while Congressional S instances had a frightening-comparator share of only 7%. At least with respect to S, freedom to think and write without respect to political and economic interests (the web and law journals) didn’t produce better reasoning than a high-pressure political field (Congressional documents).

Comparative analysis of false domestic violence claims in different communicative fields suggests that criminal suspicion of men won’t be mitigated through the growth of more free, more information-rich fields of public communication. Such communication, however, is not the only possible direction of development of democratic communication. New fields and new forms of communication offer the best hope for better democratic governance of criminal justice and punishment.

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