Domestic violence is a problem everywhere in the country. While men are sometimes the victims of domestic violence, surveys suggest that approximately 80% of domestic violence victims are female.
Some evidence suggests that there are more domestic violence victims per capita in California than the national average. That evidence does not necessarily suggest that women in California are at greater risk of becoming domestic violence victims than women who live elsewhere, but it does point to the need for California to make a greater commitment to helping victims and to teaching abusers how to manage their anger.
Measuring domestic violence
Getting a handle on the extent of the domestic violence problem in California is not easy. Arrest statistics tell only part of the story. Not every act of domestic violence results in an arrest and not every arrest is based on a truthful accusation.
Surveys may provide better insight into the domestic abuse problem but surveys often reach conflicting results. Some surveys are agenda-driven while others reflect a more scientific approach. Different definitions of “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse” can lead to different results, as can survey methodologies. In addition, when survey respondents are asked to “self-report” violence, some people may be fearful or ashamed to admit that they have been victimized (even after receiving assurances of anonymity), while others may define themselves as victims when an objective assessment would show that they are not.
The Centers for Disease Control & Injury Prevention (CDC) employ some of the most respected scientists in the United States government. The CDC’s National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey (NIPSVS) may therefore be one of the more reliable sources of domestic violence statistics.
A section of the NIPSVS contains data about the proportion of people in each state who experience intimate partner violence over the course of a lifetime. The CDC cautions against using the data to make a state-by-state comparison, because a victim who presently lives in California may have been victimized in a different state.
According to the most recent NIPSVS, 32.9% of women living in California have, at some point in their lives, been the victim of violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. That adds up to more than 4.5 million women now living in California who have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives.
The California results are higher than the nationwide average of 1 women in 4 who reported being the victim of intimate partner violence or stalking. The survey defines “intimate partner” as two people of the same or opposite gender living together currently or in the past in a romantic or sexual relationship.
California Women’s Heath Survey
The California Women’s Health Survey reflects the combined effort of two private organizations and various state agencies that address physical and mental health. That survey concluded that about 40 percent of women residing in California reported being a victim of intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetimes. Survey results also showed that:
- Non-white women reported higher rates of intimate partner violence than white women
- Younger women (18-29) reported the highest rates of intimate partner violence
- Low income women reported higher rates of intimate partner violence that women with higher incomes
- Women who graduated from a four-year college or university had lower rates of intimate partner violence than women who had a high school education
- Women who self-reported more than 2 weeks of poor mental health or feelings of being overwhelmed reported higher rates of intimate partner violence than women who did not self-report those feelings
Perhaps the most important statistics are those that demonstrate a gap between services that domestic violence victims need and services they receive. A statewide survey conducted on September 12, 2012 found:
- More than 5,000 victims received services relating to domestic violence that day.
- Almost 3,000 of those victims were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing.
- Nearly 800 victims who asked for emergency shelter or transitional housing were turned away because the programs did not have adequate resources to serve their needs.
- Hundreds of additional victims were unable to receive other needed services (such as legal representation, transportation, or child care) because service providers lacked the resources to fill their requests.
No person who needs help, whether a victim of domestic violence or an abuser who wants to enter a treatment program, should be turned away. Instead of building prisons and jails, California government should address domestic violence by making a total commitment to helping people who need it.