Reliable violence against women figures are notoriously difficult to compile for a number of reasons. Police statistics are generally a poor indicator because there’s little uniformity from one agency to the next in the way these statistics are collected and recorded. And even within police agencies fluctuating statistics are as likely to reflect swings in a department’s practices and policies as much as any real changes in the rates of these crimes. Police statistics also don’t account for victims’ low and also fluctuating rates of reporting on violence against women.
Crime surveys are also riddled with pitfalls in attempting to quantify violence against women. Survey results can vary dramatically with even slight variations in survey design and interview styles. This is due mainly to women’s understandable very fragile and tentative willingness to open up to strangers about these sensitive offenses.
Nonetheless, there are some key indicators we can use, and more recently, there are some more sophisticated social science studies, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, that give us a general picture of where we’re at. All of these, unfortunately, indicate we’ve made very little progress anywhere over the last three decades in reducing violence against women, or in improving justice system response to these crimes.
Rape in the U.S.
~ The ‘Justice Gap’ for Sexual Assault Cases
~ A 2009 analysis of U.S. Dept. of Justice rape crime statistics by two of the country’s leading sexual assault experts finds that, contrary to media reports, the rate of rapes and the conviction rates for rape in the U.S. haven’t improved since the 1970’s. According to the study, even today, in only roughly 2% of rapes reported to police in the U.S., will a rapist go to jail. This is particularly staggering, because, of course, the majority of rapes are never reported to police in the first place.
Lonsway, K.A. & Archambault, J. (2009). The ‘Justice Gap’ for Sexual Assault Cases: Future Directions for Research and Reform. Manuscript in press, Journal of Violence Against Women.
For more information on this paper, please contact author Kim Lonsway at Kim@evawintl.org
~ A September, 2010 U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
On September 14, 2010, titled, “Rape in the U.S.: The Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Rape Cases”
Testimony highlighted three key issues:
~ “Police Investigation of Rape—Roadblocks and Solutions”, National Institute of Justice Visiting Fellowship—Author: Martin D. Schwartz
Study Abstract by National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) Jan. 1, 2011:
Police Investigation of Rape—Roadblocks and Solutions
~ Rape in Europe
~ Different Systems, Similar Outcomes? Tracking Attrition in Reported Rape Cases Across Europe (2009)
~ A study of sexual violence attrition statistics in the justice systems of 11 European countries, Different Systems, Similar Outcomes, Tracking Attrition in Reported Rape Cases Across Europe, (2009), reaches this conclusion quoted below: (‘Attrition’ studies are the study of the elimination rate of rape cases at each stage of the criminal justice process, from reporting to conviction.)
Lovett, J. and Kelly, L. (2009). Different Systems, Similar Outcomes? Tracking Attrition in Reported Rape Cases Across Europe.
~ Domestic Violence Homicide in the US
Probably the most accurate indicator we have of overall domestic violence rates is the number of homicides of women perpetrated by partners or ex-partners. This is because, unlike non-lethal incidents of domestic violence, the number and circumstances of homicides are generally more carefully recorded than any other crime.
In March 2008, then Senator Jo Biden, author of the original Violence Against Women Act, claimed that between 1994, when the federal law was first passed, and 2008, the domestic violence homicides of women in the U.S. had gone down by 22%. On first glance this reduction seems substantial, though not earthshaking. But what Biden didn’t mention was that in the same time period homicides overall in the U.S. had gone down by 44%.
Given that the domestic violence murders of women didn’t decrease by anywhere near the reduction of the homicide rate overall, clearly one can’t conclude that the federal VAWA money, nor all the associated work, had any particular role in reducing domestic violence homicides. Two things can, however, be said from this figure. One, the current strategies and money being aimed at reducing domestic violence homicide are utterly failing to even hold domestic violence homicide rates in trend with other homicides. And two, even with the billions of dollars being spent, domestic violence homicide appears to be stubbornly resistant to even the social changes that so dramatically reduced other forms of homicide.
~ Prosecution and Conviction Rates for Intimate Partner Violence
This 2009 meta-analysis* by a University of Michigan team finds that only 1 out of 6 domestic violence cases reported to U.S. police results in conviction. When you consider that a failure of police and prosecutors to hold a perpetrator responsible puts a woman in greater danger, this 1 out of 6 conviction rate is a disaster. And it’s an outrage, given the large amounts of public money being granted to police and prosecutors specifically to improve their handling of these crimes.
Garner, J. (2009). Prosecution and Conviction Rates for Intimate Partner Violence. Criminal Justice Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, 44-79. Abstract available here.
~ Femicide in Latin America
In September 2010, women’s organizations from 12 Latin American countries presented the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with their report titled, Latin America: Unstoppable the feminicides and violence against women. (Latin American women increasingly use the word feminicide, as opposed to femicide, to signal their understanding of state complicity in the gender based homicides of women.)
The women reported that the statistics of murders of women in Latin America are increasing, especially in Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Colombia, where the numbers of partner violence or violence within the family are unstoppable, and the laws on violence against women are not functioning. The women’s declarations also claimed that in a number other Latin American countries, governments are failing to even record the murders of women.
Latinoamérica: Imparables el feminicidio y la violencia contra las mujeres. Click here.
~ Case in Point: Femicide in Guatemala
In the first decade of the millennium, there have been over 4,000 femicides in Guatemala, a country with a total population of only 13 million people. The number of femicides in Guatemala has been increasing dramatically with each succeeding year. Even more staggering, in only 2% of these femicides has a perpetrator been brought to justice.
Child Marriage, Genital Mutilation, Sex Trafficking, Denial of Safe Abortion, Stoning, Gender based Incarceration, Gender based Infanticide, Intentional Starvation, Denial of Maternity Care, etc.
In addition to rape and domestic violence, so many other forms of violence against women and girls have barely begun to be counted. Any attempt to measure the justice and safety afforded these crimes is an absurdity at this point, in light of the prevailing impunity, official disregard, and widespread failures to even recognize these acts as crimes.