How true are Domestic Violence statistics ?

by Robert Whiston   June 3rd 2011 

‘Not very’ is the short and telling answer, according to BBC research.

On any ‘slow news day’, domestic violence can be relied upon to fill in the precious minutes and keep the audience’s attention.

But can the figures quoted in such features be relied upon ?

Apparently not.

The BBC radio programme ‘More or Less’ has cast serious doubt on DV figures  promulgated by all manner of agencies – and the reason is that no one checks the numbers and too many outlets pick up and then quote statements that were wrong in the first place.  ‘More or Less’ is a programme designed to debunk the numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life.

One of the most frequently-cited statistic states that domestic violence is the leading cause of death or injury for women aged 15 – 44.”

Taken from the transcript, this is how the programme More or Less explains why some DV claims (and this one in particular) are completely wrong. It would appear that a Mr. Frank Fisher who runs a political blog was surprised to hear the following DV figures cited on the ‘BBC 10 o’clock News’ in March 2009: [1]

  • “The Gov’t says incidents of DV have fallen substantially but that it still affects 1 in 4 women. Indeed, for women aged between 15 to 44 it’s the biggest cause of mortality”
  •  “DV kills more women aged between 15 to 44 than anything else ?”

This is a so staggering and obviously erroneous claim that it’s surprising no one has queried it before.  It should, admits the programme, have been checked by the BBC news team staff – but to paraphrase the narration:

  • “It not just news outlets that don’t verify their data – Kent police made a similar claim that DV was the ‘leading cause of death for women aged between 15 and 44.”
  • The Guardian says that globally violence against women, not just DV, was the leading cause of death among women aged between 15 and 44.”

The programe then went on to claim/explain how erroneous statisitics ‘mutate’ as they circulate, adding:

  • “A less virulent stain of deception play on the public claims that DV is the leading cause of morbidity (i.e. ill health) among women aged between 19 and 44.”

Transcibing the narration,  as best as we can and almost word for word, it went on to say that:

  • This milder strain has appeared in a number of official publications, most notably a 2005 Home Office document, “Domestic violence; a national review(see Appendix A).

As a consequence, it has subsequently been accepted and therefore ‘validated’ by the Min of Justice, the CPS, and the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The problem is thus a national one and one that is multi-faceted. Various people and agencies keep re-quoting (misquoting each others work) without first checking or going to a credible source, beleives the programme (this is a phenomenon we first noted with Betsy Stanko’s work ‘Counting the Cost’ , cira 1998, where she overtly tried to get her data to match previous findings and this aptitude appears common among Radical Feminist authors).

The ‘More or Less’ programme makers therefore went directly to the ONS and found the statistic was “completely wrong.”

It is quite common, said Tim Harford the  ‘More or Less’  programe narrator, for a “rogue statisitics to spread, mutate” and keep circulating.

 1 in 4

So where, the programme’s Tim Harford asked, did these statistics come from ?

‘More or Less’ contacted the Home Office as the most obvious source. The Home Office’s reply was that the figure was used only for “illustrative purposes” only, adding that the figure first appeared in a World Development Bank (“World Development Report“),  in 1993.

[  What ! ! Simply for ‘illustrative purposes’ ? Is this  seeking justice at any price ?  It make one wonder what other ‘hard facts’ produced by the Home Office’s are, in fact, for illustrative purposes” only ? – RW]

Left: Prof. Slivia Walby of Lancaster University.

The programme then consulted Prof. Slivia Walby of Lancaster University who, among other things, holds the UNESCO chair for gender issues and violence. Asked about levels of violence against women she clearly stated that UK statistics showed that DV amounted to only 4% of women per annum and if one was more restrictive, i.e. to purely physical violence against women, this would fall and represent 3.4% (it falls still further if single unmarried women are excluded).

This underscores the 1999 findings of Home Office Study No 199 which found the level of violence against women was the same as that against men, namely circa 4% pa. This is a report which ministers and the Women’s Unit have studiously ignored for over a decade (see Appendix A and Ref esp the role of Baroness Scotland and Vera Baird).

So what ‘is’ the biggest killer ?

Dealing with the frequently-cited statistic which states that “domestic violence is the leading cause of death or injury for women aged 15 – 44”, official statistics do not confirm it.

For instance, in the year 2007, nearly 6,000 women aged between 15 and 44 died.

  • Over 2,000 of these deaths were due to cancer and other tumour related illnesses (for a perspective on cancer death, statistics for 1998 are shown at Appendix B).
  • Approx. 1,100 women died of “external causes”, which include; assaults of all types; accidents (inc. road accidents); suicides; and (not just) DV.

Is the ‘More or Less’ team being too lenient towards their News dept colleagues when they suggest that perhaps “BBC news has chosen to confuse morbidity with mortality” ?

The predominantly female staff of news collators and editors makes this explanation less than tenable and its more likely to be an instance of justifying a stereotypical gender image and ‘wish fulfillment.’ In plain English, another case of being given the chance to be “anti-men.”

To confuse morbidity with mortality is an elementary mistake which, if true, can only reflect on the educational standards to be found with the BBC these days.


Prof. Slivia Walby goes on to explain that:

  • “There is not a ‘crime code’ for DV  [*] and statistical researchers have to rely on interpretation by the police which could otherwise be an assault on a man by another man and not a woman at all.” 

[*] All crimes in England have an official Home Office ‘crime code’ .

This means that the figures we have for DV are in effect filtered and approximated by each of over 40 police forces in the process of interpretation and are at best “best estimates.”

An alternative to data collected by the police is the survey conducted by the Home Office known as the BCS (British Crime Survey), but Prof. Slivia Walby points out that in recent years the DV part of the BCS has changed.

She says it has been reduced in size and scope from the original and so only limited information is now available. The reason for this reduction / truncation is said to be “costs.” Nevertheless, the numbers she indicates that we can rely on  shows that DV against women is 4% in any one year, and solely physical DV totalling 3.4% in any year (see 4% above). The problem with the infamous ‘1 in 4’ dogma is that the small print contains the caveat “over a life time”, ie any where between 40 and 50 years.


However, before dealing with other aspects of the broadcast it is noteworthy that the ‘More or Less ‘team must have come under some significant pressure from lobby groups / charities to mention that they were advised / encouraged to drop the topic.

Some told the programme makers that they should not be asking these sorts of questions and asked what purpose did it serves to query this social evil ? Intimidation is no stranger to stranger to the DV industry and especially Erin Pizzey who has been on the receiving end. She was intimidated at her Refuge in Chiswick, not by men but by women trying to wrest control from her. Erin was again intimidated on her speaking tour of North America.

And intimidation (blackmail) of corporate brands and media outlets has become so common in the last 20 years as to not be worth mentioning these days.


Above it was  cited that ‘The Guardian’ was  reported as having stated;

  • “. . . . globally, DV was the biggest killer of women aged between 15 and 44.”

Unfortunately, for women’s presssure groups and fund raisers, that isn’t true either. [2]

The ‘More or Less’ team spoke to Colin Mavers (sp ?) “the man in charge of statistic on death and the burden of disease” at the UN World Health Organisation  (WHO) to comment on world mortality figures. He confirmed that UN data showed DV and rape was only in 6th place – not first.

The dubious prestige of being the biggest killer of women aged between 15 and 44, went to HIV / AIDS. This is followed by TB and then suicide (The Guardian, please note).

Yet ‘The Guardian’ remains to be convinced. In Nov 2008 it published a DV related article headlined “Stop looking the other way.” [3] According to their world view, “Violence against women is a pandemic more extensive than HIV/Aids” and the article claimed that ‘statistics , proved their claim:

  • A small minority of victims of domestic violence and murder are men but in four out of five domestic murders it is women who are victimised. Just look at the statistics. Violence against women is a pandemic more extensive than HIV/Aids. It is the main cause of death and disability globally for women aged 15 to 44 – rape and gross bodily violence cause more death and permanent disability than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria combined. [ even war ? – RW ]

In the above quote, death has been joined by disability as well as rape and DV as the measure to be used when assessing the lot of women, and this is allegedly “worse than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria combined.” Globally, the homicide of a woman by an intimate (most homicide of a woman are anyway), is not – repeat ‘not’ – in the top 10 causes of death among women.

In Britain, said Mavers, it is not in the top 5 causes – suicide is the 2nd highest cause of death after cancer which is in 1st place.

Morbidity Globally

For morbidity, i.e. poor health (as opposed to death), ‘depression’ is globally the leading cause among women, followed by schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders.

So 3 mental illnesses comprise the largest segment of morbidity (where women loose the largest amounts of expected ‘life years’), among women aged 15 to 44.

Asked if there was any credible way of construing that morbidity was the leading cause of death among women age 15 to 44, Colin Mavers answered that it was doubtful, and that ‘unsafe sex’ was by far the biggest cause of death.

Violent Men Myth

It is educational and enlightening to look back at DV as it was reported in earlier years. Take for instance the article by Neil Lyndon and Paul Ashton in The Sunday Times (London 29/01/1995). which exposed the blatent, deceitful manipulation of DV number conducted by, among others, feminist criminologist, Dr Susan Edwards (now Prof. Susan Edwards ?).

Having thoroughly scotched the figures promoted by the fledgling “Women’s Aid type organisations as wholly bogus, the emphasis of the article is, without hesitation, on the violence and brutishness of men – not their capacity to murder. The idea that men kill women in large numbers is therefore a recent variation on a fraudulent theme. The following are extracts from towards the end of The Sunday Times (1995) article:

  • “These figures would seem to be confirmed by statistics compiled by Scotland Yard, which show that 21% of all domestic violence victims in 1993-94 were men. In that year an overall increase of 15.33% was recorded in recorded incidents of domestic violence; but there was a 35% increase in the number of male victims.”
  • “Nobody denies or disputes that violence occurs in the home. Nobody denies that some men are violent to their women (though it is inconceivable to the official mind that a woman might be violent to her man).”
  • “If you doubt the reasoning and the evidence of this article, ask yourself this: how many women have you known who were regularly beaten up by their men?  If it is true that domestic violence is an unacknowledged horror of our time, a phenomenon which illustrates the general attitudes of all men to all women and the relations of power between them, why don’t you know tens or hundreds of battered women? Nicole Simpson may have been one; but how many OJs do you know ?”


Bringing the investigation to a close, the More or Less team were content to ascribe the deliberately phoney statistics as simply “multiple bouts of statistical inflation” without figuring out why such bouts should occur in the first place.

Perhaps they were unaware of The Sunday Times exposé of Susan Edwards in Jan 1995 who similarly manipulated Met Police DV figures.[4]

Unfortunately, it transpires, thatthe World Development report and UN report shows DV and rape as only in 6th place, not first, in the 1993 revealed the More or Less team.

Intriguingly rape was then dropped from the DV category and no mention as made thatit was a global figure not an UK or England only “fact.”

The More or Less team then state that the HO ‘booted the whole figure up to first place’ and passed off as a UK statistic.

The amateurishness is overtaken only by the naive audaciousness of the fraud.

If false rape allegations undermine the solemnity and gravity of genuine rape reports then what are bogus Home Office figures doing to the trustworthiness of the Home Office and the reputation of its research department ? It is recklessly and deliberately allowing bogus figures to be religiously copied into government deliberations, policy reports and media propaganda.


Appendix A

The 2005 Home Office document; “Domestic violence; a national review”

  • Page 2. “For women aged 19-44, domestic violence is the leading cause of morbidity, greater than cancer, war, and motor vehicle accidents. 89% of the victims who suffer sustained domestic violence are female, however we also know that domestic violence can affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and male victims.”
  • Page 3. This Group is chaired by Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland, QC, The Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic Violence.
  • Page 7.  £32 million has been provided for improvements to existing and new refuge places through ODPM’s Homelessness & Housing Support Directorate and the Housing Corporation.

The budget for housing the poor, including couples, was already miserably small and arguably to siphon off £32 milion  – improperly, some would say – for two women’s charities, Women’s Aid and Refuge, must be highly suspect.

 Appendix B

 Cancer Deaths (England & Wales)


NB. Ovarian cancer although ranked only 5th has recieved special government attention.
In 2008 the British government began vaccinating all schoolgirls in England against the virus that causes cervical cancer. It is offered to girls in Year 8 at school, ie aged 12 to 13 – and there is a ‘catch-up’ campaign for those aged of 18. There is still nothing for men and prostate cancer.

Also from Hansard March 30th 1999, Col 651

  • “During 1997-98, the MRC (Medical Research Council) spent £691,000 on lung cancer; £18,000 on prostate cancer; £3,328,000 on breast cancer and £1,469,000 on bowel cancer. The MRC’s figures relate to research specifically into these named cancers, and research which has been classified as being undertaken in one of these sites may well have implications in another and vice versa. As a guide, the MRC spent £13.2 million on cancer in 1994-95.

There are almost as many men dying of prostate cancer as women dying of breast cancer but men get £18,000 of funding research and women get over £3 million. Women have long had a ‘screening’ programme – men have not.

If £3 million of the £13m is accounted for by breast cancer, and £2 million spent on lung and bowl cancers, where did the other £8 million go ?

Appendix C

 Résumé of ‘The Future of Feminism’, by Sylvia Walby (formerly of Leeds, LSE,  Bristol, and now Lancashire Uni).

 “In The Future of Feminism, Sylvia Walby offers a provocative riposte to the notion that feminism is dead. Substantiating her arguments with evidence of the vibrancy of contemporary feminism in civil society and beyond, she provides a succinct yet comprehensive critical review of recent treatments of feminism explaining why they have got it wrong.

The book provides the definitive account of feminism’s new and varied projects, goals, alliances and organizational forms, including feminism as a global wave. It offers engaged accounts of feminist activities across a range of domains in the economy, polity, violence and civil society. Successful feminist projects are not always named as feminist, sometimes being mainstreamed into coalitions with social democratic and global human rights activists. Feminism is now global, though also taking local forms, and these new coalitions are the basis for the future of feminism.” 

Appendix D

Knocked for six: the myth of a nation of wife-batterers

by Neil Lyndon and Paul Ashton

[ Extract only ]

 The Sunday Times,London ,29/01/95 (Copyright 1995).

“ . . .. In reply, Mr Maclean produced a table of figures prepared by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. This shows thatthe number of domestic violence incidents recorded by the Metropolitan police  in 1993 was 11,420.”

“That figure is equal to 0.66% of all women living with partners in the capital, and less than half the figure of 25,000 reported incidents previously given to us by the Met. It is less than a quarter of the figure given by Edwards, whose work has been sympathetically received by the Metropolitan police. It is less than one eighth of the figure given by Horley, whose Chiswick Family Refuge has been supported by public funds.”

“  . . . . ..  Figures for Londonmay be taken as general examples. In 1990, a spokesman on domestic violence for the Metropolitan police told one of the authors of this article thatit received “about 25,000 calls a year” reporting incidents of domestic violence. That would represent 1.44% of all women inLondon living with a partner. Therefore, one woman in every 70 living with a man inLondon would be reporting domestic violence to the police. That figure, said the man from the Met, was “an extrapolation forLondon as a whole drawn from research in specific areas”.

“The research upon which the Met depended was conducted by a feminist criminologist, Dr Susan SM Edwards. The figure she had actually given, in The London Policing Study, was more than double the number supplied by the Met.”

“She wrote: “The number of women who officially reported violence to the police in the Metropolitan police district alone in one year was estimated at58,000.” That figure would represent 3.35% of women living with a partner, or one woman in every 30 a disturbing proportion.”


[1] Friday, 15 May 2009 (UK)

[2]  The Guardian, cited by ‘More or Less’

[3] “Stop looking the other way” Tuesday 25 November 2008

[4] “Knocked for six: the myth of a nation of wife-batterers”, by Neil Lyndon and Paul Ashton, The Sunday Times of London 29/01/95 (Copyright 1995.

  • See also BBC sites: 



2 responses to “How true are Domestic Violence statistics ?

  1. “How true are Domestic Violence statistics ?
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