DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Study Shows Racial Disparity
A new Justice Department study shows a sharp decline in domestic murders, particularly homicides by black women against their black male partners, the New York Times reports. In addition, the report notes racial differences in domestic homicide rates. In 1998, 4.5 of every 100,000 black women were killed by their domestic partners, compared with 1.75 for white women. Yet the number of black female victims dropped 45%, while the number of white women killed by boyfriends and husbands rose 3% during the same period. The report did not offer explanations for the racial disparity, but criminologists and women's rights supporters offered some suggestions, noting that "black women traditionally were much more likely to be victims of domestic homicide than white women, so that the legal, social and economic changes of recent years have helped black women more than white women" (Butterfield, 5/18). Another factor which may explain the racial discrepancy is "that black men have been disproportionately jailed and imprisoned, taking them out of their homes, therefore making it less likely that they will either kill their partners or be killed in domestic quarrels."
Across the Board Decline
Overall, domestic partner murders in the U.S. declined from 3,000 in 1976 to 1,830 in 1998. Experts such as Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri, offered the following explanations for the general decline in domestic homicides.
- Changes in living arrangements, with fewer people in long-term committed relationships, "which means less opportunity for killing."
- Improved access to the criminal justice system for women, including an increase in shelters and legal advocacy, which reduces the number of homicides committed by women against their partners. These services do not seem to reduce the number of murder committed against women, however. Assistant Professor Laura Dugan argues, "Men tend to kill in a fit of rage or jealousy, so the new legal services for women are not as successful in preventing men from killing their partners."
- Improved economic status of women, particularly black women, who receive four times more education than black men. Attorney General Janet Reno credited the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and called for its renewal, saying "Violence still devastates too many lives" (Associated Press/Washington Times, 5/18).