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In the wake of the 2014 Santa Barbara mass shooting, there's been a justifiable outcry over domestic violence, especially sexual violence. One of the items often cited [e.g.] is the following:

Studies by the Surgeon General's office reveal that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined. Other research has found that half of all women will experience some form of violence from their partners during marriage, and that more than one-third are battered repeatedly every year.

It's generally quoted as a current statistic, but the most recent official citation I can find is Journal of American Medical Association, 1990 although I've also found the exact same quote, except mentioning the Surgeon General cited to Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991 and a few scattered references to the same statistic in 1992.

On the other end of things, there are statistics from 1996 showing domestic violence to be a distant 9th on the leading causes of injury, a tenth as likely as automobile accidents. Given that there was significant legislation passed in 1990 regarding domestic violence, it would not surprise me if this is a case of outdated quotations where people left off the date on the quote.

Long story short, was the statistic in the quote applicable at any point after 1990?

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    There is some missing qualification in the claim - presumably "injury resulting in hospitalisation" or "death due to injury". Most injuries are never reported, and I think it very likely stubbed toes outnumber domestic violence incidences. – Oddthinking Jun 2 '14 at 13:02
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    @Oddthinking: There is that. As Mark Twain once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". I debated even asking about it, but I received a fair amount of hateful speech on Facebook for posting my doubts over the veracity of the statement, so I figured I'd see if others had more insight. – Sean Duggan Jun 2 '14 at 13:06
  • This might be helpful: robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/27 – DJClayworth Jun 2 '14 at 15:37
  • @DJClayworth: Huh. Apparently, the statistic has jumped countries too. – Sean Duggan Jun 2 '14 at 15:50
  • @SeanDuggan Not so much. While working in public health, I had never heard this before. Although certainly a public health problem, I've never heard domestic abuse considered a major cause of death or injury for women. Hopefully this isn't taken seriously in Great Britain. It would be very harmful for public policy! – Razie Mah Jun 2 '14 at 15:56
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For the US, for verifiable statistics, no this is not the case. But that is probably not the whole story.

Statistics

The WISQUARS CDC Nonfatal injury report allows us to compare injuries by cause, gender and age group. Let us compare the numbers of injuries due to assaults (which should include all reported domestic violence injuries) with accidental transportation injuries, for women in the age range 15-44, for 2012 - the most recent year available.

  • There were 505,000 injuries due to assaults (4.8M for the years 2003-2012)
  • There were 1.1M injuries due to transportation accidents (12M for the years 2003-2012)

Since domestic violence is logically a subset of assaults, there cannot have been more reported injuries due to domestic violence than due to traffic accidents.

Reasons why these might not be the truth

Domestic abuse is very much an under-reported crime. For example where a partner is 'persuaded' not to go to a hospital or report their injury, if it's 'only' a severe bruise or a black eye, or a cut (or maybe it's worse). Or where the injury is reported as 'walked into a door' or some other lie. There are plenty of papers that attempt to give estimates of the degree of under-reporting, or to estimate injury rates by other means than reporting statistics.

  • Are there perhaps a range of estimates indicating what percentage of domestic violence cases are never reported, as there are such numbers with rape cases? – Avi Jun 3 '14 at 3:30
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    Is there a reason to assume that this is special for women? Or is it also true for men? After all, domestic violence against men seems to be roughly on par with that against women (at least according to some statistics, the numbers vary extremely widely). – Konrad Rudolph Jun 4 '14 at 13:28
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    @KonradRudolph That would be a separate question. – DJClayworth Jun 4 '14 at 13:30
  • @DJClayworth To some extent, yes. I’m contending that this is a loaded question though. And so that we don’t misunderstand each other (as is wont in such discussions): I am not denying that we have a rampant sexism problem, and that (sexual) violence against women forms a big part of that. I do contend, though, that domestic violence should not be confounded with that. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 4 '14 at 13:59
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    The question specifically asks about women, so I don't want to get into discussions of how or if it relates to similar questions about men (or any other discussions not related to answering the question). – DJClayworth Jun 4 '14 at 14:10
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These statistics seem to contradict the WISQUARS CDC Nonfatal injury report quoted above:

Nearly 5.3 million intimate partner victimization occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older. This violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths.

Center for Disease Control, 2003

Conservatively, each year 1 million women suffer nonfatal violence by an intimate.

Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey (NCJ-154348), August 1995, p.3.

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    While this contradicts the value in the other report, it doesn't address the question of whether it's the leading cause of injury. Note that the other report indicates three causes of injuries numbering more than a million. So even if this number were a better estimate than the emergency room numbers, it doesn't actually give evidence that domestic violence causes more injuries than car accidents. Also, the 2003 number should be compared to other 2003 numbers, not the 1996 numbers. Both statistics seem to change from women aged 15-44 to a more general statistic. – Brythan Jul 17 '16 at 1:46

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