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Epidemiological Considerations in the Conceptualization and Utilization of "Prevalence" and "Incidence Rate" in Family Violence Research: A Reply to Brownridge and Halli (1999)

NCJ Number
Journal of Family Violence Volume: 18 Issue: 4 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 219-225
Sonia Helie; Marie-Eve Clement; Marie-Claude Larrivee
Date Published
August 2003
7 pages
This paper critiques Brownridge's and Halli's (1999) assessment of the conceptualization and use of "incidence" and "prevalence" terminology in the literature on family violence.
Brownridge and Halli have argued that the literature on family violence manifests confusion in the conceptualization and use of the terms "incidence" and "prevalence." First, they note the failure to distinguish between incidence and prevalence studies, which they believe is due partly to the different dimensions of violence being measured. They also suggest that the different time frames used throughout the studies are part of the problem. Second, they propose a gold standard that would ignore the limit of how long ago the violence occurred and which views "prevalence" as "the extent to which violent behavior is distributed in the population" and "incidence" as "the amount of violent behavior that occurs among those in the population who experience violence." Although this critique of Brownridge's and Halli's arguments basically agrees with their assessment of the confusion about "incidence" and "prevalence" in the research literature on family violence, it argues that their proposed gold standards sometimes depart from established concepts in epidemiology. They apparently ignore definitions of "prevalence" and "incidence" commonly used in conventional epidemiology. Although epidemiological measures may require adaptation to the measurement of family violence, this critique maintains that the longstanding and well-established tradition of epidemiology can be of use in social research. Although this critique concedes that Brownridge's and Halli's definition of "prevalence" harmonizes with the traditional, epidemiological definition and can be well adapted to the measure of violence, their concept of "incidence" is viewed as more problematic. In epidemiology, "incidence" is considered to be the number of new cases that occur within a population at risk that is observed for a given length of time. The implications of these differences are discussed for the child abuse and neglect literature. 1 table, 2 figures, and 30 references


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