Campus & Community

Hidden Tolls of Intimate Partner Violence Brought to Light

3 min read

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,” and that “no one shall be subjected to torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”

“If we accept the declaration, then we must see intimate partner violence as a human rights issue,” said Nancy Isaac, a researcher with the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. “And, as with many transgressions against human rights, there are profound effects on public health.”

Intimate partner violence is the intentional emotional and/or physical abuse of an intimate partner such as a spouse, ex-spouse, current or past boy- or girlfriend, or current or past same-sex partner. Death is the worst outcome of this violence – a result that occurs with disturbing frequency. In Massachusetts, during the years 1992 through 1995, 194 people were killed in incidents related to intimate partner violence.

This dramatic statistic is contained in a report released in February 1999. In addition to counting the number of deaths, the publication, Homicides Related to Intimate Partner Violence, 1991-1995, also characterized the events. A few of the facts contained in the report:

• 23 percent of individuals killed in incidents related to intimate partner violence were people other than the partner.

• 18 percent of the homicide victims were children.

• 43 percent of all female homicide victims were killed by current or former intimate partners.

“This is the first time a report accurately enumerated how many people were killed in intimate partner violence,” Isaac said. “Most previous studies focused on one or another group of victims.”

The authors reviewed hundreds of police reports and conducted interviews with homicide detectives, social service workers who aided the victims, and family members. They compiled a list of victims that included, in addition to the obvious victims, a divorce attorney, a brother, and a stranger who happened to be passing by an incident of violence.

“One of the interesting things we found is how difficult it is, with current police reporting routines, to accurately identify which homicides are related to intimate partner violence,” Isaac said. “If a woman is killed by a boyfriend she left two years before, the police are unlikely to report that as intimate partner violence.”

The U.S. Department of Justice records this type of information in a database that is used by researchers and policymakers throughout the country. The accuracy of the database is therefore critical to the validity of the research and the value of the policies that are made based upon that research.

The report contained several recommendations, including improving data collection for deaths related to intimate partner violence, forming a system of domestic violence death reviews, and beginning a public education campaign about the risks of intimate partner violence.