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How Violent Are American Families? Estimates From the National Family Violence Resurvey and Other Studies

NCJ Number
M A Straus; R J Gelles
Date Published
21 pages
This paper presents results of the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey and compares rates of child and spouse abuse with estimates from other studies.
Of every 1,000 couples, 160 experienced one or more physical assaults on a partner. Serious forms of assaults such as punching, biting, kicking, and choking were experienced by 34 per 1,000 American wives. Assaults by women on their male partners occurred at about the same rate as assaults by men on female partners, and women initiated such violence about as often as men. Physical child abuse (hitting, kicking, biting, punching, burning, knife or gun threats or attacks) occurred at a rate of 110 cases per 1,000 children. Children were the most violent persons in the family: almost all young children hit a sibling and over 20 percent hit a parent. The intrafamily violence rate for those 15 to 17 years old was lower, with two-thirds hitting a sibling and 10 percent hitting a parent. The results indicate a spouse assault rate about 50 times higher than that based on the National Crime Survey and a child abuse rate approximately 3.5 times higher than the number of cases known to child protective services. The overall assault rate found in this study was 5 times that reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1985. Finally, other surveys have found rates both higher and lower than those in the present study. 11 footnotes, 1 table, and 66 references.