November 1994, NCJ 149259
This report summarizes the following Department of Justice statistics about violence between intimates:
Data about murder are from two sources: the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Report from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program and a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study of 1988 murder cases from prosecutor's files in large urban counties.
Information on police policies and unites for domestic violence is from the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistic survey (LEMAS).
Information about confined violent offenders was collected in the 1989 Survey of Inmates in Local Jails and the 1991 Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities.
Additional detail and methodological explanations about each of these datasets are contained in the publications listed.
What is violence between intimates?
Violence between intimates includes those murders, rapes, robberies, or assaults committed by spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends. In this report, intimates are distinguished from--
other relatives (parent, child, sibling, grandparent, in-law, cousin)
acquaintances (friend, someone known) strangers.
Violence between intimates is difficult to measure; it often occurs in private, and victims are often reluctant to report incidences to anyone because of shame or fear of reprisal.
How many people are victims of nonfatal violence committed by intimates?
According to an analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) from 1987-91, intimates commit an annual average of 621,015 rapes, robberies or assaults representing over 13% of all of these violent victimizations.
In the NCVS in 1992, 51% of the victims of intimate violence were attacked by boyfriends or girlfriends, 34% were attacked by spouses, and 15% were attacked by ex-spouses. In 1992, 54% of the general population age 12 and over were married, 30% were never married, 10% were divorced, and 7% were widowed.
Most violence between intimates is assault: the intentional inflicting of injury on another person. In 1992, 81% of the violent victimizations committed by spouses and ex-spouses were assaults. The remainder were rapes and robberies, which also may have involved assault.
How many murders are committed by intimates?
According to the FBI's Crime in the U.S., 22,540 murders were committed nationwide in 1992. The relationship between the victims and the offender was known in 61% of these murders and unknown in 39%. About 15% of the murders where the relationship between the victim and the assailant was known involved a victim described in police records as an intimate spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend of the killer. (See methodological note for further information about these data.)
Of those murders where the relationship between the victim and the killer was known, about 10% involved the killing of a spouse or ex-spouse and nearly 6% involved the killing of a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Females are more likely than males to be victims of violence by intimates. Annually, compared to males, females experienced over 10 times as many incidents of violence by an intimate. On average each year, women experienced over 572,000 violent victimizations committed by an intimate compared to approximately 49,000 incidents committed against men.
Average annual number of single-offender violent victimizations 1987-91
|Victim-Offender Relationship||Sex of Victim||Sex of Victim|
Source: BJS, Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report 1994
Women are much less likely than men to become victims of violent crime in general, but they are more likely to be victimized by intimates, such as husbands or boyfriends. Men are more likely than women to be victims of violence perpetrated by acquaintances or strangers.
Average annual rate per 1,000 population of single-offender violent victimizations, 1987-91
|Victim-Offender Relationship||Sex of Victim||Sex of Victim|
Source: BJS, Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report, 1994
Women were more likely to be raped or assaulted by an acquaintance than by an intimate, another relative, or a stranger. Robbery was the only non-fatal crime in which women were more likely to be victimized by strangers than intimates, other family members, or acquaintances.
In over 90% of the violence by intimates recorded in the NCVS from 1987-91, the victim was female.
|Victim-offender relationship||Percent of all victims who were female|
|Other known offender||38%|
Source: Highlights from 20 Years of Surveying Crime Victims: The National Crime Victimization Survey, 1973-92, 1993
An estimate 1,432 females were killed by intimates in 1992 according to the FBI's Crime in the U.S.
Female victims represented 70% of the intimate murder victims. About a third of all female murder victims over age 14 were killed by an intimate compared to 4% of male murder victims. The wives-to-husbands ratio for spousal murder differs for blacks and whites: 59% of black victims of spousal murder were wives while 74% of white victims were wives.
What are the characteristic of women violently victimized by intimates?
White and black women had equivalent rates of violence committed by intimates and other relatives (about per 1,000 persons).
Hispanic and non-Hispanic females had about the same rate of violence attributable to intimates, 6 per 1,000 persons.
Women age 20 to 34 had the highest rates of violent victimization attributable to intimates (16 per 1,000 persons) of any age group.
Women who graduated from college had the lowest rates of violence attributable to intimates (3 per 1,000 persons) compared to women with less than a high school education (5 per 1,000), high school graduates, (6 per 1,000) or women with some college (6 per 1,000).
Women with family income under $9,999 had the highest rates of violence attributable to intimate (11 per 1,000 persons) and those with family incomes over $30,000 had the lowest rates (2 per 1,000).
Divorced or separated women had higher rates of violence by intimates (16 per 1,000 persons) than women who never married (7 per 1,000) or married women (1.5 per 1,000).
Location of residence
Women living in central cities, suburban areas and rural locations experienced similar rates of violence committed by intimates.
Source: BJS, Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report, 1994
How many female victims of intimate violence experienced repeated victimizations?
About 1 in 5 females victimized by their spouse or ex-spouse reported to the NCVS that they had been a victim of a series of 3 or more assaults in the last 6 months that were so similar that they could not distinguish one from another. For assaults in general in 1992, fewer than 1 in 10 victimizations involved this type of victimization.
What are trends in violence between intimates?
During the past five years, rates of intimates rapes, robberies and assaults for both male and female victims have been constant.
According to the NCVS between 1987 and 1992, the rate of violent victimizations committed by intimates varied little from the average annual rate of 5 per 1,000 for females and 0.5 per 1,000 for males. The proportion of all violence committed by intimates was also consistent during the period: about 27% of all violence against females and about 2% of all violence against males.
Improvements to the NCVS will better measure intimate violence
In the mid-1970's the National Academy of Sciences evaluated the NCVCS for accuracy and usefulness. While the survey was found to be an effective instrument for measuring crime, reviewers identified aspects of the methodology and scope of the NCVS that could be improved. Many of the recommendations resulted in improvements to the measurement of domestic violence.
Within the categories of violent crime measured by the NCVS, the redesign will produce fuller reporting of those incidents that involved intimates or other family members.
The redesigned questionnaire was implemented into 100% of the sample in June 1993 and an initial release of the data was made at the end of October, 1994. Regular processing of the NCVS data results in a release of the analysis of the detailed variables including victim-offender relationship several months after the initial release. Therefore, no data from the redesign are included in this report.
Additional information about the redesign of the NCVS and the changes in domestic violence questions is presented at the end of this report.
The murder rates for both male and female intimates have declined; the rate for males dropped the most, falling in half from 1977 to 1992.
During the last 15 years--
The ratio of male to female victims of intimate murder fell
In 1977, 54% of the murder victims who were killed by intimates were female. By 1992, the ratio of female to male victims had changed, with 70% of the victims being female. In other words the number of male victims fell from 1,185 in 1977 to 657 in 1992 and the number of female victims increased from 1,396 to 1,510 during the same period.
Murder rates of young black females killed by intimates declined
For black female victims of intimates murder age 18-34, the rate fell from 8.4 per 100,000 in 1977 to 6 per 100,000 in 1992. During the same time period the rate for white females age 18-34 remained relatively constant (1.4 per 100,000). (James Alan Fox, Domestic Homicide in America: Trends and Patterns for 1976-92, unpublished paper, June 23, 1994.)
The ratio of black husbands to black wives killed fell
In 1977, more black husbands were killed then black wives. In 1982, the same pattern prevailed, but by 1992, fewer black husbands were killed than black wives. For whites, wives have consistently outnumbered as victims of intimate murder.
How many victims of intimate violence face an armed assailant?
For rape, robbery, and assaults recorded in the NCVS, 18% of the women victimized by intimates faced an armed offender, compared to 33% of those victimized by strangers, 22% by other relatives, or 21% by acquaintances.
Of the intimate victimizations where weapons were present, 40% involved knives or sharp instruments, 34% involved guns, 12% involved blunt objects, and 15% involved other weapons. Strangers, compared to other types offenders, were more likely to be armed with guns.
Most murders of intimates are committed with firearms
According to the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Reports in 1992, 62% of the murder victims known to have been killed by intimates were shot to death.
Firearms were most frequently used to kill--
wives & ex-wives (69%)
husbands and ex-husbands (61%)
Boyfriends were more often killed with knives (54%)
than firearms (41%)
The proportion of murders involving firearms was smaller for victims killed by intimates (62%) than for victims killed by strangers (75%) or acquaintances (69%). For all types of victims killed by firearms, most are killed by handguns. Over three-quarters of the firearms used to kill intimates were handguns. Wives and girlfriends were more likely than other types of victims to have been killed with shotguns.
Some murder victims are also armed. In a study of murder cases in large urban counties in 1988, about 15% of the victims killed by spouses were armed with a gun, knife, or other weapons.
How many victims of intimates receive a nonfatal injury?
According to the NCVS, about 3% of the women who were victimized by intimates received serious but nonfatal injuries. This proportion was similar to that for women victimized by other relatives, acquaintances, or strangers.
About 54% of the women victimized by intimates received minor injuries. Women victimized by other relatives, acquaintances, or strangers were less likely to sustain minor injuries.
If the attacker was an intimate rather than a stranger, injured women were also more likely to--
receive medical care (27% vs. 14%)
require hospitalization (15% vs. 8%)
For rape victims, however, the outcome was different: women who were raped by a stranger received injuries in addition to the rape itself more often than women raped by someone they knew.
Most women who are victims of intimate violence took some form of self-protective action
The NCVS data show that 80% of women victimized by an intimate took some form of self-protective action, including 40% who took a physical action and 40% who took passive/verbal action. Of women victimized by intimates, the proportion who used self-protective action was about the same as that for women victimized by strangers, acquaintances, or relatives other than intimates. The proportion of women who used physical self-protection such as fighting back was higher for women victimized by an intimate than for women victimized by a stranger (40% vs. 20%)
Of women who tried to protect themselves against intimate attackers--
over half believe their self-protective behavior helped the situation
almost a quarter believe their actions actually made the situation worse
Reporting to the police by females victimized by non-strangers increased to equal the reporting by females victimized by strangers.
For all violent victimizations--
victims of all types report about half of their victimizations to the police
since 1973, the percent reported to the police increased
Female victims of violence--
are more likely to report to the police than male victims
are reporting an increasing proportion of both stranger and non-stranger crimes
Female victims of violence by intimates--
report over half of their victimizations to the police
are about as likely to report to the police as those female victims who were attacked by other relatives or strangers
What reasons do women victimized by intimates give for reporting or not reorting the crime to the police?
According to the NCVS, the most frequent reason female victims of intimates gave for not reporting to police was that they believed the incident was a private or personal matter. The reason for not reporting most often given by females victimized by strangers was that they felt the incident was minor and might not be considered a crime.
Almost 6 times as many women victimized by intimates (18%) as those victimized by strangers (3%) said tha they did not report their violent victimization to police because they feared reprisal from the offender.
Half of the female victims attacked by intimates said that the most important reason they reported to police was to punish the offender and another quarter said that the most important reason was to stop or prevent this from happening to "me or others." The most common reasons given for reporting by women victimized by non-intimates were similar to those given by women victimized by intimates.
How do the police respond to reports of intimate victimization?
Victims reported to the NCVS that police respond to over three-quarters of all reports by females victimized by intimates, as well as by acquaintances, other relatives, or strangers by coming to the crime scene.
According to victims' perceptions, the police responded within 5 minutes in 36% of the victimizations where the offender was a stranger, in 25% where the offender was an intimate, in 24% where the offender was a relative other than an intimate, and in 24% where the offender was an acquaintance.
Police take a report in over two-thirds of all incidents of violence reported, regardless of the victim-offender relationship. However, the police are more likely to take a formal report if the offender is a stranger (77%) rather than an intimate (69%), other relative (67%), or acquaintance (70%).
Police question witnesses in about the same proportion of violent victimization of females, regardless of the victim-offender relationship. Searching the scene for evidence occurs more often when a stranger rather than an intimate or other known offenders committed the crime.
How do police agencies deal with domestic disputes?
According to the 1990 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics Survey (LEMAS), 93% of the large local police agencies (agencies with more than 100 offenders) and 77% of the sheriffs' departments have written policies concerning domestic disturbances.
As of 1992, 14 States and the District of Columbia had laws mandating arrest in crimes of domestic violence. (Barbara J. Hart, Esq., "State codes on domestic violence: Analysis, commentary and recommendations," Juvenile & Family Court Journal, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 43:4, 1992). The States with mandatory arrest laws include Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.
To legally arrest a suspect, police are required to obtain an arrest warrant from a judge before arresting a suspect unless they are able to show at the time of the arrest they had probable cause to believe the suspect had committed the crime. Warrantless probable-cause arrests in cases of domestic violence are authorized in 47 States and the District of Columbia. Most State codes permitting warrantless arrests for domestic violence crime also instruct police to inform victims of certain rights including the availability of protection orders, shelter or emergency facilities, and transportation.
What are the characteristics of defendants accused of killing their spouse?
In a study of murder cases in large urban counties in 1988, of defendants who killed their spouse--
almost 60% were male
77% were over age 30
By comparison, of defendants in non-family murders--
93% were male
65% were under age 30
Over half of the defendants who killed their spouse had a prior criminal history. However, they were less likely to have prior criminal history than defendants who killed non-family members. Also, they were less likely than non-family murder defendants to be unemployed (25% vs. 37%) but more likely to have a history of mental illness (12% vs. 3%).
Most defendants in spousal murder cases are convicted
In the study of murder cases in 1988 in large urban counties, about 80% of the defendants in spousal murder cases were convicted or pleaded guilty.
Outcomes of murder cases where the defendant killed a spouse are similar to the outcomes of non-family murder cases.
What are the characteristics of spousal murder cases in urban areas?
Time and place of the murder
Over a third of the victims of spouses were killed during the day. Comparatively, a quarter of the non-family murder victims were killed during the day. About 86% of victims who were killed by spouses were murdered at home, a proportion similar to other victims of murder by a family member. About a fifth of non-family murder victims were killed at home.
Number of victims
Most defendants who murdered their spouse killed no one else at the time. Of the defendants accused of killing a spouse, 2% killed more than one victim. The proportion of defendants accused of killing more than one victim was 13% when one of the victims was a parent, 12% when one of the victims included a child, and 5% when the victims were unrelated to the defendant.
About 23% of the murdered spouses precipitated the incident by provoking the defendant with a deadly weapon, a non-lethal weapon, or other physical contact such as hitting with fists or pushing. Non-family victims were about as likely to have precipitated the incident as spouses.
Alcohol use at the time of the murder
Over half of the defendants accused of murdering their spouse had been drinking alcohol at the time of the offense. Non-family murder defendants were more likely to have been drinking. Also, almost half of the victims of spousal murder had been drinking alcohol at the time of the offense, about the same proportion as the non-family murder victims.
Time to arrest
Over 62% of the defendants accused of murdering spouses were arrested on the day of the crime. About 32% of the defendants accused of killing non-family member were arrested on the day of the crime.
Source: BJS, Murder in Families, Special Report, NCJ-143498, July 1994
There are differences in outcomes of cases where a woman is accused of killing her husband and those were a man is accused of killing his wife.
In spousal murder cases in large urban counties in 1988, women defendants were more likely than men to have their cases--
diverted, rejected or dismissed (12% vs. 9%)
result in an acquittal (13% vs. 1%)
Of those accused of killing their spouses--
41% of the men and 31% of the women were convicted at trial
46% of the men and 38% of the women pleaded guilty
Persons convicted of killing their spouses were about as likely as other murderers to be convicted on the most serious arrest charge
Of those convicted in large urban counties in 1988, spousal murderers were less likely than non-family murderers to be convicted of first-degree murder or other types of murder (47% vs. 58%) and more likely to be convicted of voluntary/non-negligent manslaughter (43% vs. 29%).
For convicted murderers, the most serious conviction offense was--
first-degree murder for 18% of the women who killed their husbands and 24% of the men who killed their wives
voluntary/non-negligent manslaughter for 54% of the women who killed their husband and 37% of the men who killed their wives
Most convicted murderers are sentenced to a prison term, regardless of their relationship to the victim
The study of murder cases in large urban counties in 1988 found some sentencing differences between murderers convicted of killing their spouses and their murderers:
Of the men convicted of killing their wives, 94% were sentenced to prison, including 15% who were sentenced to life terms. Women who killed their husbands were less likely to receive a prison sentence: 81% were sentenced to prison, including 8% who received a life term.
Spousal murderers were more likely than non-family murderers to be sentenced to probation rather than incarceration (9% vs. 3%). Of the women convicted of killing their husbands, 16% were sentenced to probation compared to 5% of the men who killed their wives.
Of those convicted of spouse murders, men receive longer prison sentences than women
In large urban counties, the average prison sentence length on a murder or non-negligent manslaughter conviction (excluding life sentences or the death penalty) was--
17.5 years for men convicted of killing their wives
6.2 years for women convicted of killing their husbands
Of the 328,000 State prisoners incarcerated for a violent offense in 1991, 7% had victimized an intimate
Like the prison population, 7% of jail inmates serving sentences in 1989 for violent offenses had victimized intimates
Most violent State prisoners were incarcerated for crimes against strangers
87% of the State prisoners incarcerated for robbery victimized a stranger
Source: BJS Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, 1991
Almost two-thirds of the violent State prisoners who victimized were convicted of murder or assault.
Of violent State prisoners who victimized intimate, 35% were convicted of murder and 30% were convicted of assault
48% of the violent State prisoners who victimized their spouses were convicted of murder
Over a quarter of the State prisoners who victimized a boyfriend or girlfriend were convicted of rape or other sexual assault
Source: BJS Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, 1991
The background characteristics of prisoners who victimized intimates were similar to those of prisoners convicted of similar crimes who victimized non-intimates
In 1991, of violent State prisoners who victimized intimates--
about half grew up living with both parents
12% had lived in a foster home at some point
22% reported some physical or sexual abuse
31% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol
35% had a family member who served time in prison or jail
Female prisoners are more likely than male prisoners to have harmed an intimate
In 1991, of the State prisoners incarcerated for violent crime excluding robbery, over a quarter of the female prisoners and a tenth of the male prisoners harmed an intimate. About a third of the female prisoners incarcerated for homicide killed their husbands, ex-husband, or boyfriend.
Two-thirds of the State prisoners incarcerated for harming intimates had a criminal history
In 1991, of those male prisoners with violent offenses against intimates--
30% were first offenders (persons who had not been sentenced to probation or incarceration prior to this conviction)
34% had a previous conviction for a violent offense
36% had a previous conviction for a nonviolent offense
This pattern was similar to that for violent male prisoners with other types of victims.
In general, violent female prisoners were more likely than violent male prisoners to be first offenders. For female prisoners incarcerated for intimate violence the pattern is the same:
72% were first offenders
13% had a previous conviction for a violent offense
15% had a previous conviction for a nonviolent offense
Female prisoners with violent offenses against intimate victims were more likely than those who victimized others to be first offenders (72% vs. 52%).
Sentencing lengths of State prisoners who victimized intimates are similar to those who attacked non-intimates
In 1991, the average sentence length for State prisoners convicted of violence other than robbery was about 20 years. Of those prisoners convicted of violence against intimates--
16% were sentenced to 5 years or less
14% were sentenced to 5 to 10 years
50% were sentenced to 10 or more years
20% were sentenced to life terms or the death penalty
The proportion of female prisoners convicted of violence against intimates who receive life terms or the death penalty (33%) is higher than that for male prisoners convicted of violence against intimates (19%) and that for female prisoners who victimized non-intimates (22%). This difference is probably attributable to the higher proportion of female prisoners who victimized intimates being convicted of some form of homicide.
How long do State prisoners who victimized intimates expect to stay in prison?
Most State prisoners are released from prison eventually: some before their entire sentence is served through paroles or good time provisions, the rest when their sentences expire. State prisoners who victimized intimates and those who victimized others share similar expectations about how long they will serve. For State prisoners who victimized intimates--
60% expected to serve at least 5 years
the average time expected was about 9 years
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Criminal Victimization in the United, 1992, NCJ-145125, March 1994
Highlights from 20 Years of Surveying Crime Victims: The National Crime Victimization Survey, 1973-92, NCJ-144525, October 1993
Violence Against Women, NCJ-145325, January 1994
Murder in Families, Special Report, NCJ-143498, July 1994, and special analysis of the dataset
Sheriff's Departments 1990, Bulletin, NCJ-133283, February 1992
State and Local Police Departments 1990, NCJ-133284, February 1992
Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991, NCJ-136949, March 1993, and special analysis of the dataset
Profile of Jail Inmates, 1989, Special Report, NCJ-129097, April 1991
Women in Jail, 1989, Special Report, NCJ-134732, March 1992
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports
Crime in the United States, 1977-92 annual
Special analysis of the Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1992
James Alan Fox, Domestic Homicide in America: Trends and Patterns for 1976-92, unpublished paper, June 23, 1994
Barbara J. Hart, Esq., "State codes on domestic violence: Analysis, commentary and recommendations," Juvenile & Family Court Journal, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 43:4, 1992
Since nearly 4 in 10 murders reported by law enforcement have an unknown victim-offender relationship, it is possible that they may distribute in the same way as known cases, especially if the unknown cases disproportionately occur in some jurisdictions due to poor reporting of this variable. However, it may also be the case that unknown assailants are more likely to be reported in cases where the victim and offender have no prior relationship, indicative of a higher prevalence of stranger murders. In light of the substantial fraction of murders with unknown victim-offender relationships, readers are urged to use caution in estimating the proportion of murders occurring between intimates.
Marianne W. Zawitz of the BJS staff prepared this report. Substantial assistance was provided by Patsy Klaus, Ronet Bachman, Patrick Langan, Helen Graziadei, and Carolina Wolf Harlow of the BJS staff.
November 1994, NCJ-149259
Additional details about the redesign of the National Crime Victimization Survey
The redesign of the NCVS
In the mid-1970's the National Academy of Sciences evaluated the NCVS for accuracy and usefulness. While the survey was found to be an effective instrument for measuring crime, reviewers identified aspects of the methodology and scope of the NCVS that could be improved. They proposed research to investigate the following:
an enhanced screening section that would better stimulate respondents' recall of victimizations
screening questions that would sharpen the concepts of criminal victimization and diminish the effects of subjective interpretations of the survey questions
additional questions on the nature and consequences of victimizations that would yield useful data for analysis enhanced questions and inquiries about domestic violence, rape, and sexual attack to get better estimates of these hard-to-measure victimizations
The redesign has improved the measurement of domestic violence
Respondents may be reluctant to report acts of domestic violence as crimes, particularly if the offender is present during the interview. In addition, victims may not perceive domestic violence as discrete criminal acts but as a pattern of abuse. Though these issues still pose measurement problems, the redesigned screening section includes explicit questions about incidents involving family members, friends, and acquaintances. Screening questions also include multiple references to acts of domestic violence to encourage respondents to report such incidents even if they do not define these acts as crimes. The survey staff review these reported incidents using standardized definitions of crime. Thus, within the categories of violent crime measured by the NCVS, the redesign will produce fuller reporting of those incidents that involved intimates or other family members.
A comparison of the old and new questionnaire illustrates the expanded cues that help a respondent recall an incident.
2. People often don't think of incidents committed by someone they know. Did you have something stolen from you OR were you attacked or threatened by--
a. Someone at work or school
b. A neighbor or friend
c. A relative or family member
d. Any other person you've met or known?
3. Did you call the police to report something that happened to YOU which you thought was a crime?
4. Did anything happen to you which you thought was a crime, but did NOT report to the police?
2. Did you call the police to report something that happened to YOU which you thought was a crime?
3. Did anything happen to YOU which you thought was a crime, but did NOT report to the police?
END OF FILE
The source for the above statistics is the Department of Justice at: