National Violence Against Women Survey: Communicative Context

face of a prisoner

The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) was formally an authoritative, scientific study. Two U.S. federal expert agencies, the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, sponsored the study. NVAWS conducted a detailed, social-scientific survey of 16000 respondents in 1995 and 1996. The survey included detailed questions on reported victimizations, organized serially as “rape victimization,” “physical victimization,” “stalking victimization,” and “threat victimization.”^ Two female principal investigators for NVAWS designed the survey, edited the data, and authored the full research report. NVAWS produced major reports under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice, including its full research report published in 2000. Numerous scholarly, peer-reviewed articles have been published based on NVAWS.

Despite its authoritative, scientific standing, the NVAWS has remarkable weaknesses. Among the serious weaknesses of NVAWS:

The scholarly literature contains other technical criticisms of NVAWS.^ ^ Many other social-scientific studies of violence exists. With respect to serious injuries from both violence and domestic violence, the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All-Injury Program (NEISS AIP) provides much better quality national estimates of domestic violence than does NVAWS.

NVAWS contributed to widespread misunderstanding about violence against women. During the period in which NVAWS collected data and reported its findings, false claims that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women were widespread in public discourse. NVAWS did nothing to correct those false claims. During the period in which NVAWS collected data and reported its findings, credible, available data showed that men suffered 54% more serious injuries from violence than women did. With respect to all victimizations from violence, males ages 12 and over suffered a 44% greater rate of violent victimization than did females of those ages.^ NVAWS did not provide that relevant statistical context. The Executive Summary for the NVAWS Full Report declared:

Information generated by the NVAW Survey validates opinions held by professionals in the field about the pervasiveness and injurious consequences of violence against women. … The study makes it clear that violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence, should be classified as a major public health and criminal justice concern in the United States. The large number of rape, physical assault, and stalking victimizations committed against women each year and the early age at which violence starts for many women strongly suggest that violence against women is endemic.^

The NVAWS Full Report, labeled on its cover as a “research report” had on its upper right corner the source identification:

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice

On the upper right corner of this publication was an official seal of the U.S.

NVAWS provides worse quality data on violence against women than do other authoritative, scientific sources. NVAWS most important contribution to public knowledge may be to document how criminal suspicion of men is communicated in public discourse.

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