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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 13, 2013

Since '94 law, domestic violence down two-thirds in U.S., Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore says

Domestic violence is so common that one in four women and one in seven men "have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner," according to a national survey done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, could it also be true that incidents of domestic violence have fallen dramatically?

On Dec. 11, 2012, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and 119 other members of Congress signed a letter calling on House leaders to hold a vote on re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Moore was among the lead writers of the letter, which declared that since the federal law was adopted in 1994, "cases of domestic violence have fallen by 67 percent."

Nearly two decades have passed, but a two-thirds drop is sizable.

Is Moore correct on the number? And, if so, to what extent is the law responsible for the decline?

The law and the numbers

The Violence Against Women Act gives money to state and local law enforcement entities to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. After the law’s adoption in 1994, Congress re-authorized it in 2000 and 2005, but failed to do so before its session ended in December 2012. Supporters of reauthorization hope to take up the matter again in 2013, possibly as early as January, said Moore spokeswoman Nicole Williams.

Moore, of Milwaukee, is a longtime advocate for domestic violence victims. In December 2010, we rated as True her statement that in Wisconsin, "deaths from domestic violence" were "at the highest in 10 years."

In the latest attempt to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, versions of the 67 percent decrease claim were also made by others: the White House, in a fact sheet; the left-leaning political advocacy group, in a TV ad; and a U.S. Justice Department official, in testimony to Congress.

When we asked Moore’s spokeswoman for evidence to back the figure, Williams cited a Justice Department report from September 2011.

But we found a more recent report from the department, issued in November 2012, two weeks before Moore’s letter. Williams said "we are now transitioning to using" the figures in that report.

The new report was based on "nonfatal victimizations reported and not reported to the police" against persons age 12 or older from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households.

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The first finding in the report: from 1994 to 2010, the rate of nonfatal intimate-partner violence in the U.S. declined by 64 percent. The rate dropped from 9.8 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 3.6 per 1,000.

Intimate partner violence was defined to include rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.

The 64 percent figure is nearly as high as the 67 percent decrease Moore claimed.

But Moore mentioned the Violence Against Women Act and the decrease in the same breath, not saying one caused the other, but suggesting there was a strong connection. So let’s see what role the law played in reducing domestic violence.

Why are numbers declining?

The Violence Against Women Act contains provisions that could lead to a reduction in domestic violence -- through raising awareness of the offense as a crime, locking up violators and deterring potential offenders.
According to a May 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, the law provides grants to, among other things:

  • Help fund state and local prosecutions of violent crimes against women.
  • Encourage state and local arrest policies for domestic violence cases.
  • Educate and train judges and court personnel on domestic violence laws.
  • Help state and local governments enter data on domestic violence into national databases.
  • Establish a national domestic violence hotline fund and fund battered women’s shelters.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence, which is pushing for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, credits the law for declines in domestic violence.

And a 2002 University of North Carolina study estimated that the law had saved billions of dollars in social costs by reducing incidents of domestic violence.

But it’s also clear that other factors bear on the decline.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers in 2003 concluded that three other factors were key in declines in domestic violence incidents between 1993 and 1998 -- an increase in legal services for victims; improvement in women’s economic status; and the aging of the population.

Barbara Paradiso, director of the Center on Domestic Violence at the University of Colorado Denver, told us that the Violence Against Women Act is one reason for the decline in domestic violence. But experts debate over what factors are most responsible, she said.

Our rating

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore said that since the Violence Against Women Act was adopted in 1994, "cases of domestic violence have fallen by 67 percent."

Her statement is generally on the money, though a bit dated. It also needs some clarification -- namely that there are factors in addition to the law that are linked to the decrease.

We rate Moore’s statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Letter to House leaders, Dec. 11, 2012

PolitiFact National, "Significant increases fulfill the promise," April 23, 2010

PolitiFact Oregon, "Are one in four women and one in seven men victims of domestic violence," May 25, 2012

Congressional Research Service, "The Violence Against Women Act: Overview, legislation and federal funding," May 10, 2012

Email interview, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore senior advisor/communications director Nicole Williams, Dec. 20, 2012 and Jan. 3, 2013

U.S. Department of Justice, "Criminal victimization, 2010," September 2011

U.S. Department of Justice, "Intimate partner violence, 1993 to 2010," Nov. 27, 2012

Violence Against Women journal, "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994," April 2002

Email interview, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence technical assistance specialist Patty Branco, Jan. 4, and 7, 2013

Email interview, FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer Jr., Jan. 5, 2013

Email interview, University of Colorado Denver Center on Domestic Violence community relations director Sam Cole, Jan. 5, 2013

Interview, University of Colorado Denver Center on Domestic Violence director Barbara Paradiso, Jan. 8, 2013

Contemporary Economic Policy journal, "Explaining the recent decline in domestic violence," April 2003

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Since '94 law, domestic violence down two-thirds in U.S., Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore says

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