Does the rate of domestic violence vary across cultures?

Domestic Violence Read more from
Chapter The Psychology of Trauma

The 1994 murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman caused an enormous scandal. O.J. Simpson, a popular former football player and Nicole’s estranged husband, was arrested for the murders after a dramatic, televised car chase. There was a documented history of domestic violence in the Simpson family, with police records of multiple 911 calls made by Nicole during O.J.’s violent outbursts. There were also graphic photographs of Nicole’s bruised face taken years before the murder.

Despite what the defense described as an airtight case, O.J. was acquitted. His attorney, Johnny Cochran, skillfully turned the jury’s focus from the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson to the credibility of the Los Angeles Police Department. Simpson was later found guilty in a wrongful death civil suit. After the trial, considerable media attention was given to the ongoing racial divisions in the United States revealed by public response to this inter-racial scandal. Unfortunately, this highly publicized case brought little attention to the problem of domestic violence.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2001 to 2005, 0.4 percent of women and 0.09 percent of men reported an assault by an intimate partner to the police per year. This accounted for 21.5 percent of all nonfatal assaults for women and 3.6 percent for men. Further, in 2005, 1,181 women and 329 men were murdered by intimate partners. Between 1976 and 2005, 30.1 percent of female murders and 5.3 percent of male murders were committed by intimate partners. Thus women are 3.6 times more likely than men to be murdered by an intimate partner and 4.4 times more likely to suffer nonfatal intimate partner assaults. The good news, though, is that the incidence of all violent crimes by intimate partners has decreased dramatically over the last few decades.

Rates of domestic violence, particularly violence against women, appear to vary drastically across cultures. According to a 2009 report by the World Health Organization, the lifetime rate of spousal battery among ever-partnered women ranged from 15 to 72 percent. Rural areas had much higher rates of spousal abuse than urban areas. The lifetime rate of sexual or physical violence from an intimate partner was 72 percent in rural Ethiopia, 69 percent in rural Peru, and 62 percent in rural Bangladesh. The rate was 15 percent in urban Japan, 24 percent in urban Serbia and Montenegro, and 29 percent in urban Brazil. Although the annual rate of spousal abuse was much lower than the lifetime rate, abuse was rarely a one-time thing. If it happened once, it was likely to occur again.

O.J. Simpson (right) with attorney Robert Shapiro during his August 1994 trial (AP Photo/Nick Ut, Pool).


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