Sex Bias in Statistical Reports on Violent Victimization

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Shares of violent victimization by sex vary greatly across classes of the perpetrator’s relation to the victim. Consider U.S. 2008 data on violent victimizations for which the victim makes an injury-related visit to a hospital emergency department. Men are victims in about 63% of all such violent victimizations. Men account for an even higher share of victimizations among violent victimization committed by strangers. Among domestic violence victimizations, the share of victimizations of men is 42%. Men’s share of serious injury-treated violent victimizations is highest for victimization committed by a stranger, and lowest for victimizations committed by an intimate partner.

Like major government reports on injuries, U.S. Department of Justice statistical reports highlight statistics by sex for statistics where victims are predominately female and downplay or ignore sex for statistics where victims are predominately male. Compare, for example, two Department of Justice reports published in late 2012. The first addressed intimate partner violence from 1993 to 2010.^ The second addressed violent victimization committed by strangers from 1993 to 2010.^ The first report emphasizes statistics by sex, particularly those concerning female victimization. The second report contained only one figure concerning victimization by sex. That report merely noted in passing:

In 2010, males experienced violent victimizations by strangers at nearly twice the rate of females^

The report on intimate partner violence shows that men are victims in 15% of intimate partner victimizations. Better data show that men are victims in 31% of intimate partner victimizations leading to a hospital emergency department visit. Where a majority of victimizations are victimizations of women, reports emphasize the sex of victims. Where a majority of victimizations are victimizations of men, reports treat the sex of victims as a relatively unimportant victim characteristic.

Reporting on intimate partner violence, rather than domestic violence, heightens sex bias. Intimate partner violence is commonly defined as violence committed by current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends. Domestic violence among adults also includes violence among persons living together, such as parents and adult children, adult siblings, or other cohabiting adults (relatives and housemates). Based on injury-related visits to U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2008, men were victims in 31% of intimate partner victimizations. The same data show that men were victims in 42% of domestic violence victimizations. Victims have more difficulty avoiding future victimization when victimization occurs within circumstances of relational interdependence, such as financial interdependence, housing interdependence, and strong third-person common ties. Those relevant victimization characteristics map to domestic violence, not just intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence offers the sensationalism of sexual love betrayed and more bias toward female victims. Those are poor reasons for social-scientific studies to focus on intimate-partner violence rather than domestic violence.

Sex bias in statistical reporting on victimization underscores lack of public concern for injuries to men and re-enforces sex bias in public claims about violent victimization. Sex bias in statistical reporting also obscures data relevant to recognizing lack of services for men who are victims of domestic violence. More fundamentally, the criminal justice system vastly disproportionally imprisons men. Lack of concern for men being violently victimized orients the criminal justice system toward unequal justice.

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