Scholarly literature addressing domestic violence commonly refers to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). While the NCVS is an important and useful survey, the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All-Injury Program (NEISS) provides more object, more credible data on domestic violence as criminal justice issue.
Both NCVS and NEISS are high-quality, nationally representative, government-administered surveys that have served broad public interests for decades. NCVS addresses “criminal victimization.” That term confusingly conflates conceptually persons’ perceptions of victimization and the criminal justice system’s determination of crimes. Relations between intimates or cohabitants are subjectively more complex than relations between strangers. Criminal cases between intimates or cohabitants are also more difficult to adjudicate. Conflating subjective sense of victimization and legally defined crimes creates potentially large misunderstandings of NCVS statistics on intimate partner violence and domestic violence. NEISS, in contrast, reports hospital emergency department visits. Hospital emergency department visits are a more objective, credible measure of serious domestic violence.
NCVS greatly under-reports victims’ violence-related injuries prompting hospital emergency department visits relatively to NEISS. From 1995 to 2004, NCVS indicates, for men and women respectively, an annual average 160,000 and 123,000 estimated violence-related victimizations with injuries prompting hospital emergency department visits. NEISS, which has a much larger sample and a more direct reporting procedure, indicates for men and women respectively in 2001 an estimated 808,000 and 539,000 violence-related victimizations with injuries prompting hospital emergency department visits. NCVS apparently does not accurately measure violent victimizations resulting in serious physical injury.^ ^
Encompassing much more than serious physical injury, NCVS doesn’t effectively communicate different levels of severity of domestic-violence victimization. The Department of Justice’s annual report, Criminal Victimization, is based on NCVS data. The report for 2011 includes under the heading “violent crime” the subheadings “rape/sexual assault” and “simple assault.”^ NCVS uses the following definitions:
- Sexual assault – A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats.
- Simple assault – Attack without a weapon resulting either in no injury, minor injury (for example, bruises, black eyes, cuts, scratches or swelling) or in undetermined injury requiring less than 2 days of hospitalization. Also includes attempted assault without a weapon.^
Domestic violence is defined as all violent victimizations (“violent crime”). Domestic violence as reported by NCVS thus includes “simple assault” (which accounts for about two-thirds of all violent victimizations) and the reported category “rape/sexual assault,” as well as “robbery” and “aggravated assault.” All such victimizations are swept into the reported category “violent crime” / “domestic violence.”
In NCVS statistics, verbal threats have major quantitative importance. A NCVS technical report observes:
A verbal threat of assault was the most common type of violent victimization but had somewhat more prevalence among series victimizations. Verbal threats of assault constituted 27% of violent victimizations in nonseries and 36% of violent victimizations in series reports. … verbal threats are generally categorized as simple assaults in BJS reports.^
Verbal threats of assault that are neither made seriously nor taken seriously are common among friends and intimates. Associating such verbal threats with domestic violence victimization and crime is likely to be highly susceptible to reporting biases.
The NCVS report, Criminal victimization 2011, narrows the category of domestic violence in a conceptually awkward way. In addition to reporting victimization statistics under the headings “violent crime” / “domestic violence,” it also reports victimization statistics under the headings “serious violent crime” / “serious domestic violence.” The definition of “serious domestic violence” excludes “simple assault” from the more general category “domestic violence.” Some simple assaults might be perceived as very serious assaults (simple assaults by NCVS definition include assaults producing overnight hospital stays), while some sexual assaults (for example, grabbing a boyfriend’s buttocks) might be perceived as relatively harmless sexual overtures. Although domestic violence is defined broadly under law, it is rightly understood as a serious matter. NCVS-defined “domestic violence” and “serious domestic violence” don’t informatively specify seriousness of domestic-violence victimization.
NCVS-defined “simple assault” greatly increases NCVS figures for domestic violence. Simple assaults account for about two-thirds of reported NCVS violence, including intimate-partner violence. NCVS figures for all intimate-partner victimizations are about 50% higher than NEISS estimates for hospital visits resulting from intimate-partner violence. Given that NCVS greatly under-estimates victimizations resulting in hospital visits, NCVS must record a large share of victimizations not resulting in serious injury.
NCVS statistics and reports poorly document the extent of domestic violence against men. NCVS statistics and reports on domestic violence have emphasized the sub-category intimate-partner violence. NCVS statistics show a 15% share of men victims of intimate partner violence.^ NEISS statistics show that men accounted for 31% and 42% of serious physical victimizations from intimate-partner violence and domestic violence, respectively, in the U.S. in 2008. Non-criminal sexual intimacy is less relevant circumstance for victimization than is shared housing and shared resources. Intimate-partner violence maps simply to gender stereotypes. Domestic violence literature has pervasively gender-stereotyped domestic violence. Statistics on domestic violence should not be limited to intimate-partner violence.