Perpetrator Categories for Domestic Violence

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Spouse abuse, intimate-partner violence, domestic violence, and family violence, although often discussed interchangeably, can encompass significantly different categories of perpetrators. The categorization of girlfriends or boyfriends with respect to intimate partner violence, domestic violence, and family violence is not obvious. A person identified as a boyfriend may or may not have been sexual intimate with the victim, may or may not be emotionally intimate with the victim, may or may not live with the victim, and may or may not be considered to be a member of the victim’s family. In addition, domestic violence, defined with respect to living space, has different implications for the classification of relatives and roommates than does family violence, defined with respect to genetic relations and formal marital bonds. Understanding statistics on domestic violence and related types of violence requires understanding the categorization of perpetrators and what categories of perpetrators are included within the given statistics. Available categories of perpetrators and the treatment of multiple perpetrator incidents and series incidents can interact in subtle ways to affect significantly the resulting statistics.

U.S. national surveys of victimization, violence, and injuries differ greatly in categorizations of perpetrators. The U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All-Injury Program (NEISS) reports ten categories of violence perpetrators. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) reports twenty categories of violence perpetrators, and the National Violence against Women Survey (NVAWS), fifty-five. To facilitate comparisons and estimation, five types of violence are categorized: intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic violence (DV), violence by friends or acquaintances (excluding IPV and DV), violence by strangers, and violence by unspecified perpetrators. Self-injury is excluded from this grouping of violence. Injury from police and other justice-system officials, which is negligible relative to other violent injuries, is included in violence by strangers. The tables below show the definition of these five violence-perpetrator categories in terms of the perpetrator categories reported in the NEISS, NCVS, and NVAWAS.

NEISS perpetrator categories do not distinguish among spouses, partners, ex-spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, and ex-girlfriends. All these perpetrator categories are included in the aggregate category “intimate partner violence.” That’s consistent with the common norm of sexual intimacy in the U.S. today.

“Domestic violence” as defined here includes “intimate partner violence,” plus perpetrators categories indicating relatives, roommates, boarders, foster parents, and nannies. The NEISS does not distinguish (non-intimate) roommates or boarders from acquaintances or friends. Hence for NEISS statistics, domestic violence excludes violence that roommates or boarders perpetrated.

“Violence by friends and acquaintances” includes violence by friends, acquaintances, and other social relations (co-workers, neighbors, etc.). This category excludes violence by any perpetrator categories included in domestic violence. For NEISS statistics, this category includes roommates and boarders.

“Violence by strangers” includes perpetrator categories explicitly indicating strangers or persons known only by sight. In the NCVS, perpetrators “known by sight” are persons described as known, and then described as known by “sight only.”

As defined here, domestic violence, violence by friends or acquaintances (ex. IPV & DV), and violence by strangers are non-overlapping categories spanning all violence for which perpetrators are specified.

NEISS and NVAWS associate one perpetrator category with each incident. NCVS, in contrast, allows multiple perpetrator categories to be reported for a multiple perpetrator incident. For multiple-perpetrator incidents, the incident in statistics here is allocated fractionally and equally among identified perpetrator categories for the incident. Perpetrator distribution statistics are then calculated as perpetrator shares of incidents.

NEISS, NCVS, and NVAWS perpetrator categories and a common-set crosswalk are included in the dataset on serious injuries from domestic violence.

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