Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women

Reviewed by
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW

from an article of the same title by:
Patricia Tjaden, Ph.D.
Nancy Thoennes, Ph.D.

Center for Policy Research
Denver, CO

Published: U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 1998

What is the National Violence Against Women Survey and why was it needed?
The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAW), conducted from November 1995 to May 1996, was a national telephone survey of adults and a joint project of National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control. For several decades the public awareness of and research into the causes and effects of violence against women has produced much data. In the late '90s however, important gaps in data still remained, namely, information regarding:
    The relationship between certain types of violence against women (i.e., child abuse) and later victimization as adults
    Minority women's experiences with violence
    The consequences of violence (i.e., injury rates, use of medical services).
The NVAW survey proposed to close these gaps. In addition, the U. S. Department of Justice will use data from the survey to better protect Americans from violence, to provide justice to criminals, and to inform the nation about the extent and nature of violence against women.

How was the NVAW survey different from other surveys?
  1. Both men and women were surveyed.
  2. State of the art techniques protected respondents' confidentiality and safety as well as minimized the chance of retraumatization.
  3. Prevalence rates (numbers of victims) and incidence rates (numbers of victimizations) were gathered.
  4. The survey used behaviorally specific questions, adapted from the 1992 National Women's Study survey, to minimize respondents' doubt about the type of information sought.
  5. The survey gathered detailed information about the characteristics and consequences of victimization for various classes of perpetrator, such as victim's first husband.
What were the study's findings?
Lifetime prevalence rates of reported physical assault among respondents:
    52% for women
    66% for men
12 month prevalence rates of reported physical assault among respondents:
    1.9% for women
    3.4% for men
Prevalence of reported rape is higher among youth.
    54% of female rape victims were first raped before age 18.
    22% of female rape victims were first raped before age 12.
    32% were between 12 and 17 years old when first raped.
Childhood victimization places victims at risk for later victimization.
    18% of the female rape victims who reported being raped before age 18 were raped again as adults.
    Only 9% of adult female rape victims, without childhood rape experiences, were raped more than once.
More research is needed on minority violence experiences. Differences seem to exist in minority women's risk of violence.

American Indian/Alaska native women:
a) Reported more rape and physical assault than other minority women on the NVAW survey.

b) Earlier studies found both that Native American couples were significantly more violent than white couples and overall homicide was 2 times the U. S. average.

c) Little is known about differences between the diverse American Indian tribes and Alaska Native communities regarding experiences of violence.
Asian-American women:
a) Reported fewer experiences of violence on the NVAW survey than other minority women despite earlier studies that indicated violence was a major problem among this population.

b) Because data about Asian American and Pacific Islander women were combined in this study, little is known about differences between these two diverse groups of women.
Hispanic women:
a) Were less likely to report rape than non-Hispanic women.
Women experience more partner violence than men do.
a) 25% of women vs. 8% of men reported intimate partner violence had occurred at some time in their lives.

b) 1.5% of women vs. 0.9% of men reported being raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey.

c) Differences in rates of partner violence increased as seriousness of the assault increased:
    Women were 2-3 times more likely than men to report low level violence (pushed, grabbed, having an object thrown at them).

    Women were 7-14 times more likely than men to report more serious violence (choked, beaten, threatened by a gun or shot).
Violence against women is primarily partner violence.
76% of women victims reported being assaulted or raped by current or former intimate partners.
Violence in general is primarily male violence.
Male perpetrators reportedly victimized 93% of female adult victims & 86% of male adult victims.
Regarding injuries and use of medical services:
  • Twice as many women as men reported injuries caused by a rape, and significantly more women than men reported injuries resulting from a physical assault.
  • Most injuries reported by men or women victims were minor injuries.
  • 36% of adult female rape victims and 30% of adult female assault victims received medical treatment.
  • The number of treatments exceeded the number of rapes and assaults because some victims received more than one medical service.
Stalking is a significant social problem.
  • Lifetime prevalence rates:
    • 8% of women reported being stalked
    • 2% of men reported being stalked
  • 1% of female and 0.4% of male respondents said they had been stalked in the preceding 12 months.
What are the policy implications of the NVAW study?
  1. Adult violence prevention strategies should focus on reducing violent behaviors in men.
  2. Stalking should be treated as a legitimate criminal justice problem and public concern.
  3. Violence against women should be considered a major criminal justice problem and public health concern.
  4. Rape prevention strategies should focus on preventing rapes of minors.
  5. Rape research should explore long-term effects of and treatment strategies for childhood rape victimization.
  6. More research is needed to understand both prevalence and incidence rates of violent crimes within ethnic minority populations, as well as research that discriminates between minority groups such as between different American Indian tribes. Current research results are contradictory, but suggest these populations are at risk.
  7. Violence against women intervention strategies should focus on the risks to women from former and current intimate partners.
  8. The American medical community should receive comprehensive training about the medical needs of female victims of crime.
  9. Given that the majority of crime victims are not getting medical care for crime related injuries, health care professionals need to evaluate crime victimization histories during routine medical visits. With such assessments, previously untreated health care needs could receive attention.
Reviewed by: Priscilla Schulz, LCSW, August 1999
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