Domestic violence impacts literally millions of women each year. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report prepared by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Center for Disease Control found that nearly one in three women in the United States have been slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
With that grim statistic in mind and the alarming nature of professional football player Ray Rice’s case it may be surprising to know that domestic violence has dropped precipitously since the mid-1990s.
The rate of domestic violence in U.S. households declined 63 percent, from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 1994 to 5.0 per 1,000 in 2012. Both serious domestic violence (rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault) and simple assault (push, shove, slap, threaten) decreased.
Why the long and sustained drop in domestic violence?
Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined suggested, “Those countries in which women are better represented in government and in the professions, and in which they earn a larger proportion of earned income, are less likely to have women at the receiving end of spousal abuse.”
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found access to protective orders, assistance with child custody and support, divorce and property distribution and domestic legal disputes around immigration, housing and public benefits help alleviate the burdens of domestic violence.
Lonnie A. Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation wrote recently that these services "appear to actually present women with real, long-term alternatives to their relationships."
Criminal justice practitioners have focused a lot of attention -- with considerable success -- on enhanced sentences, emergency shelters, counselors and hotlines. Those efforts are priceless after an assault has occurred. However, such efforts do not prevent the pervasiveness of violence.
Domestic violence includes rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault committed by intimate partners -- current or former spouses, boyfriends and immediate family members.
I recently wrote in a column for GateHouse Media, “The greatest impact on violence against women in America and around the world is to empower women. In this country, women have excelled at every level. That kind of transformation is underway in many countries around the globe. However, until full equality is achieved professionally and personally, here and abroad, the scourge of domestic violence will continue.”
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Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.