Female victims of violence found likely to be attacked by person they know

January 31, 1994|By Dallas Morning News

Two-thirds of the women who are victims of violent crimes are attacked by a husband, a boyfriend, a relative or acquaintance, a new Justice Department report says.

And women are 10 times more likely than men to be victimized by someone they know, the Bureau of Justice Statistics study found.

The report, released yesterday, indicates that the American home is becoming an increasingly violent place for women, experts said.

"It's always been a myth that it's safer for women in their own home," said Rita Smith, coordinator of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Denver. "A large percentage of women would be safer on the street than at home. Most women believe that if someone loves you, they won't hurt you."

Of the attacks on women, 28 percent of the offenders were intimates, such as husbands or boyfriends, and another 39 percent were acquaintances or relatives, the report states.

In 1988, the last time the study was conducted, women were found to be six times more likely than men to have been attacked by someone they knew.

Overall, men are more likely to be victims of violent crime. But while the rate of violent crimes against males has decreased since the bureau began its annual victimization surveys in 1973, the rate against females has remained relatively constant, researchers found.

The report is based on 400,000 interviews with women conducted between 1987 and 1991, said Ronet Bachman, a bureau statistician. It included rape, robbery and assault, but excluded murder and kidnapping.

Dr. Leslie Wolfe, executive director of the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington, said women's safety is an issue everywhere, not just in the home.

"Women are not safe from male violence in any setting," she said.

Ms. Bachman, who wrote the report, said the recent figures should inform both women and lawmakers about the problem of domestic violence.

The Violence Against Women Act, aimed at protecting women from domestic violence and sexual assault, swept through Congress last year, emerging with more than 300 sponsors.

Lawmakers are expected to spend much of the year reconciling House and Senate versions of the bill.

The legislation includes tougher penalties for domestic violence

and sexual assault, and greater protections for victims of such crimes.

"This is a landmark piece of legislation," said Dr. Wolfe. "It brings together several strands of efforts to address domestic violence."

According to the bureau survey, about 2.5 million females 12 years old and older are the victims of violent crimes, or attempted crimes, in a given year.

One in four attacks involved a gun or knife, the study found. Young black and Hispanic women were more likely to be attacked than other women. Women who lived in urban areas were twice as likely to be robbed or raped than those who lived in suburbs, according to the report. The report did not provide an explanation for either statistic.

The bureau's annual victimization survey and periodic reports such as this one are aimed at providing a more complete look at crime than the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reports, which are a based on police reports, said Ms. Bachman.

"Over 50 percent of rapes and assaults are never reported to RTC police. This report provides a wealth of information that other surveys don't," she said. "Our survey truly represents American women."

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