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Legal definitions of abuse vary among cultures and even within the U.S. legal system from state to state. However, in 1994, domestic violence was recognized as a distinct criminal behavior in the Uniform Crime Reports, and stalking and domestic violence were added as categories to the National Incident-Based Reporting system (Yegidis, 1997). The legal definition of domestic violence as it relates to the policy discussed in this analysis is "the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon" by one related person to another or by a spouse or a person cohabited with (P.L. 104-208, 1996). Social workers and other human service professionals have defined domestic violence as a pattern of behavior that may include the physical, sexual, economic, emotional, and psychological abuse of one individual by another that has historically been used as a means of asserting social control over women and children (Yegidis, 1997). This form of abuse occurs between unrelated partners and ex-partners with no legal ties, as well as spouses (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994; Digirolamo, 1995). Although the term domestic violence often refers to any violence within households, for the purpose of the analysis presented here, the focus is on violence against women.
Rates of Abuse
The U.S. Department of Justice compiles statistics on domestic abuse and other crimes through the National Crime Victimization Survey and data collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Supplemental Homicide Report of the Uniform Crime Reports. According to the FBI crime statistics, of the 22,540 murders nationwide in 1992, 10% were committed by spouses or ex-spouses, and 6% were committed by unmarried partners. On average, 10 times as many incidents of abuse are committed against women each year than against men. From 1987 to 1991, in 90% of the incidents of violence between intimates recorded in the National Crime Victim Survey, the victims were women (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994).
Among the variables other than gender that predict whether a woman is at risk of being battered are race-ethnicity, age, educational level, and income. In 1994, equivalent rates of violence (6 per 1,000) were committed against White women, Black women, and Latinas by intimates and other relatives. Women aged 20 to 34 had the highest rate of abuse by intimates (16 per 1,000) of any age group. Female college graduates had the lowest rate of victimization (3 per 1,000), compared to high school graduates and those with some college (both 6 per 1,000). Finally, women with household incomes under $9,999 had the highest rate of victimization (11 per 1,000) of all income groups (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995). However, the differences in the rates for each category are not significant. In fact, incidents of domestic violence are typically underreported in higher education and income groups to avoid the stigma attached to them (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995).
Clearly, these data indicate that violence against women is a widespread social problem. It is also apparent that firearms exacerbate the problem of domestic violence, because women are often assaulted by intimates who are armed. According to the National Crime Victim Survey (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995), 18% of the female victims in 1995 were assaulted by armed offenders, 34% with guns and 40% with knives or other sharp objects. The FBI's Supplemental Homicide Reports (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995) indicated that in 1992, 62% of the murder victims who were known to be killed by intimates were shot to death with firearms.
Previous Responses to Domestic Violence
The police have traditionally responded to violence in the home, mainly because they are available 24 hours a day (Buzawa & Buzawa, 1990). By the early 1970s, "it was widely noted that [law enforcement] practices had been of limited effectiveness," and battered women consistently stated that the police had not …