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Family Abuse and Crime

Risk And Protective Factors, Social And Demographic Risk Factors, Situational And Environmental Factors, Research On Victims

Since the early 1970s, violence in the family has been transformed from a private concern to a criminal justice problem. Violence in intimate relationships is extensive and is not limited to one socioeconomic group, one society, or one period in time. Every type and form of family and intimate relationship has the potential of being violent.

In 1998, a National Academy of Sciences panel assessing family violence interventions defined family violence:

Family violence includes child and adult abuse that occurs between family members or adult intimate partners. For children, this includes acts by others that are physically or emotionally harmful or that carry the potential to cause physical harm. Abuse of children may include sexual exploitation or molestation, threats to kill or abandon, or lack of emotional or physical support necessary for normal development. For adults, family or intimate violence may include acts that are physically and emotionally harmful or that carry the potential to cause physical harm. Abuse of adult partners may include sexual coercion or assaults, physical intimidation, threats to kill or harm, restraint of normal activities or freedom, and denial of access to resources. (National Research Council, p. 19)

There are three main sources of data on family violence: (1) clinical data; (2) official report data; and (3) social surveys. Clinical studies carried out by psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors are a frequent source of data on family violence. This is primarily because clinicians have the most direct access to cases of family violence. Official reports constitute a second source of data on family violence. In the United States, there is abundant official report data on child maltreatment (because of mandatory reporting laws). On the other hand, few other countries have enacted mandatory reporting laws, and thus most nations rely on official data from hospitals or criminal justice agencies for their estimates on the extent of violence and abuse of children. There is no tradition of officially reporting spouse abuse in the United States or other countries, with the exception of a handful of states in the United States that collect data on spouse abuse.

Each of the major data sources has its own validity problems. Clinical data are not representative, and few investigators gathering data from clinical samples employ comparison groups. Official records suffer from variations in definitions, differing reporting and recording practices, and biased samples of violent and abusive behaviors and persons. The biases of social survey data on intimate violence include inaccurate recall, differential interpretation of questions, and intended and unintended response error.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law