As long as we’re talking about violence against women…

It’s VAW week here, it seems. I railed about the Oscar Pistorius trial last week and how it obscures the larger pictures of violence against women in South Africa. As of last night, it seems that the House is ready to (sneakily?) pass the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, replete with protection for LGBTQ individuals and college students, and a strengthened ability for trial courts to act within their own borders (call your congressperson). The CDC also released a special report of its violence and victimization data with a focus on gender and sexual orientation. This is huge because national level surveys often don’t provide large enough samples of LGBTQ individuals or victims of violence in general to extrapolate to national level statistics.

Last, but not least, the UNFPA released a pamphlet advertising its commitment to data-gathering on violence against women and girls and gender-based violence. In the era of big data, it’s perhaps hard to believe. But while we may be able to track all of the things you buy and the time you spend driving and how much time you spend on the internet at work instead of working, we know very little about gender-based violence all over the world. In my own field work, perhaps the biggest constraint I found is that there is not a good consensus on how to define violence. UNFPA agrees:

Why is it so hard for the humanitarian community to generate quality data and meet ethical and safety standards?
• Lack of standardization in GBV terminology, data collection tools and incident classification; also, lack of uniformity in how and what data is collected.
If I have to be a brat about it, I’d say what data are collected, but I think the spirit is right. Consensus on what is included in violence and better attention paid to the dangers and pitfall associated with measuring violence against women and girls should be a significant part of the work going forward.

CDC intimate violence report by gender and sexual orientation

For what appears to the be the first time, the CDC has released a report on intimate partner violence separated out by sexual orientation. As most national level surveys that address domestic violence include very limited samples of out LGBT populations, this is pretty huge. After a quick read, the report seems to confirm what we already knew, that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to have been stalked and experienced rape or physical violence by an intimate partner. While 35% of heterosexual women report one or more of these, 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women report the violations. Heterosexual and bisexual women reported mostly male perpetrators (98.7% and 89.5%), while lesbian women reported mostly (67.4%) female perpetrators.

Bisexual men also reported higher levels than heterosexual men of lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, but gay men had the lowest rate. The numbers might surprise you. 29% of heterosexual men report such violations, while 35.0% of heterosexual women did, with the vast majority of both reporting that the offender was of the opposite sex.

It’s important to note that the takeaway message from these findings is not that men and women batter at the same rate. These statistics are well in line with survey results from national level longitudinal studies such as the National Survey on Families and Households in spirit, if not in absolute percentages (underreporting on such surveys is expected). Extensive work on surveys like this repeatedly emphasize that incidence and report of violence are not the same as power and control. While relatively similar numbers of men (~25%) and women (>30%) report light to moderate physical violence, far more women (23.6% of hetersoexual women to 29.4% of lesbian women) than men (13.9%-16.4%)report severe physical violence, including half of bisexual women.


These statistics underscore the disproportionately large role that men play in perpetrating violence, even while it obscures the larger reasons behind it. They also show those in the LGBT community are at much greater risk for violence and stalking by intimate partner, be it a man or a woman, and hopefully calls attention to the need for the House of Representatives to pass VAWA in the form passed with a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate.

What’s the matter with Kansas?, redux

I saw mutterings that a repeal of domestic violence laws might actually take place in Kansas a few weeks ago, but I had a hard time believing that it might actually come to pass. It did, and now the mainstream news is covering it. I’m not a lawyer, but I have to believe this violates equal protection clause of the Constitution. It’s unbelievable to me that anyone would use the economy to justify picking and choosing which crimes to prosecute. Beyond that, though, I’m astounded that even if you are able to justify your actions so callously–as those in charge in Topeka are doing–you cannot see that it’s incredibly short-sighted to repeal domestic violence laws. You create such perverse incentives–increase in battering, reduction in reporting, decrease in intervention by police, family members, neighbors. Haven’t we established that domestic violence is extremely costly? To individuals, to society, to workplaces, to the insurance system, to children. Endangering women and children is not the way to make a point.

How we measure violence

I’ve noticed lately that the way we talk about prevalence of gender-based violence has changed lately. While we used to talk mostly about incidence of violence, a measure riddled with problems of underreporting and non-response, more scholars, NGOs and thus media outlets are concentrating more on measures of acceptability of violence. The questions “is wife-beating ever justified?” and “when is wife-beating justified” are garnering more attention than ones that seek to pin down the number of times a wife was actually beaten. The extremely high affirmative response rate to these questions (a recent TrustLaw post cites a UN study claiming at least 25% of people think it’s justifiable for a man to beat his wife in 17 of 41 countries surveyed) reinforces the notion that we might be missing a lot with surveys that get at instance.
it of course, does nothing to mitigate problems of reporting in places where the practice is outwardly condemned. In the US, I’d imagine, the statistic isn’t very useful as you’re unlikely to find many people who would assert that domestic violence is justifiable.
Additionally, it seems that, just like with incidence reports, the answers are subject to social norms and prevailing custom. In that sense, though, the question about justifiability may more closely measure the social norms themselves than questions about incidence.