If domestic violence seems like it has been prevalent forever, that’s because it has.
What seems like an epidemic today — nearly a third of U.S. women and a tenth of men have experienced physical violence or stalking by a partner — is a savage behavior humans have long struggled to outgrow. Scientists have observed the same behavior in males of other primates toward their partners.
While progress is slow, it’s steady, especially for assaults by an intimate partner. The U.S. Department of Justice says the rate for violence by partners has fallen by two-thirds since 1994.
But domestic violence still accounts for a fifth of all violence against victims, and intimate partners are involved more than twice as often as other relatives.
In New Jersey alone, there were 32,691 claims of domestic violence in 2015, up slightly from the year before but down 10 percent since 2011.
A state task force last year made many good recommendations, from changing laws and policies to improving law-enforcement response and referral practices.
A bill that recently passed the Assembly would make one needed change, requiring municipal prosecutors — who handle nearly half of domestic-violence cases — to be trained on the subject. Other bills would require more training for judges, law-enforcement officers and other legal personnel.
The police training should include more thorough and uniform gathering of evidence in domestic-violence cases. It can be discouraging for law enforcement when the majority of victims refuse to testify and want charges dropped. A victims’ advocate at the Atlantic County Women’s Center wants 911 calls, witness testimony, photos of injuries and details of the scene at the first response to be routine parts of evidence gathered — which seems reasonable and necessary.
Local prosecutors have come up with another effective strategy. They require that, before charges are dismissed, offenders successfully complete an anger-management class or a batterers intervention program. The Legislature should consider making that the law as well.
Training of law enforcers and court personnel should focus on reducing the terribly high rate of domestic violence killings.
Domestic violence is responsible for a third of the female homicide victims in the U.S., the FBI says. In New Jersey last year, there were 52 deaths from domestic violence.
One promising method to reduce this tragic toll is recommended by a study published in February in the journal Violence and Victims. It looked closely at the cases of 210 women who had received protective orders against men.
The researcher, from the University of Kentucky School of Medicine, found that the frequency of coercive threats matters — saying things such as “If I can’t have you, nobody will,” “I will mess you up” or “You will just disappear.”
Women who were threatened very frequently — averaging on 99 days in the past six months — were 10 times more likely to be violently assaulted or raped than those at moderate threat levels of six or seven days with threats.
High rates of coercive threats should trigger more intervention by law enforcement and social agencies. The study also found that protective orders reduce coercive threats to women by three-quarters.
The path to further reducing the destructive, wasteful and heart-rending resort to violence at home looks pretty clear. These steps should be implemented as soon as is practical.