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University of Virginia Clinic


Domestic violence is a distinctive and complex type of violence. The intimate relationship between the victim and the perpetrator is historically construed as private and therefore beyond the reach of law. The often hidden site of the violence buttresses this conceptualization. The victim is often financially dependent on her abuser, and other economic and familial factors complicate the victim’s response to abuse. Moreover, women who complain of domestic violence frequently face intimidation, retaliation, and stigmatization, and thus incidents of domestic violence are notoriously under-reported and under-prosecuted throughout the world, including the United States.

Any meaningful analysis of the nature and content of the United States’ obligations with respect to domestic violence must flow from a comprehensive understanding of the reality that States are obliged to address. Until the United States enacts effective preventative and remedial measures to eradicate violence against women within its borders, the promise of women’s rights in the United States will remain a deferred dream.

Each year, between one and five million women in the United States suffer nonfatal violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Domestic violence affects individuals in every racial, ethnic, religious, and age group; at every income level; and in rural, suburban, and urban communities. Notwithstanding the prevalence of domestic violence across demographic categories, it is overwhelmingly a crime perpetrated against women. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to be the victims of domestic violence. The Department of Justice reports that between 1998 and 2002 in the United States, 73% of family violence victims were female, 84% of spouse abuse victims were female, and 86% of victims of violence committed by an intimate partner were female.