WASHINGTON - Child abuse and other forms of violence involving families fell by more than half between 1993 and 2002, in line with the decline in crime overall, the government said Sunday.
The rate of family violence fell from about 5.4 victims to 2.1 victims per 1,000 residents age 12 and older, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Simple assault was the most frequent type of violent offense. Murder accounted for less than one-half of 1 percent of all family violence between 1998 and 2002 _ the most recent years analyzed for the report.
The report looked back to 1993 _ the year the survey was redesigned _ for a long-term trend in family violence, but analyzed the most recent years to glean detailed information on patterns of crime.
Almost half of the 3.5 million victims of family violence between 1998 and 2002 were spouses. Fewer than one in 100 died as a result.
The study by the Justice Department agency found that:
- 73 percent of victims were female.
- 75 percent of offenders were male.
- most of all family violence happened in or near the victim's home.
- 74 percent of victims were white.
- most victims were between 25 and 54.
- 79 percent of offenders were white; most were at least 30.
Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, said the report "offers a ray of hope that our nation is finally on the right track in addressing the violence that devastates so many families in this country.
"But our work is not nearly done. Domestic, dating and family violence are still taking a terrible toil," she said.
Added Beverly Balos, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who is an expert in domestic violence issues: "We should be celebrating the overall decline in domestic violence in terms of thinking about services that have been possible over the last 10 years in individual states. It's made a difference in keeping women and children safe."
Violent crimes are rape, robbery, aggravated assault and homicides including murder and manslaughter. Family violence includes all types of violent crime committed by someone related to the victim.
Balos noted the drop in family violence is part of an overall decrease in violent crime in past years.
According to the most recent Justice Department report on violent crimes, the violent crime rate remained at the lowest level recorded since 1973. The rate was 22.6 per 1,000 people. In 2002, it was 23.1 per 1,000.
Family violence is measured through the National Crime Victimization Survey, based on survey interviews with samples of the U.S. population. It is also measured through the FBI's National Incident Based Reporting System, based on statistics compiled by local police departments.
Figures from the survey show that family violence accounted for 11 percent of all violent crime between 1998 and 2002, both reported to police and unreported. Police statistics show that family violence makes up nearly 33 percent of all police-recorded violence.
The report said the discrepancy could result from the willingness of victims and others to report crime to police. Also, the police statistics are not directly comparable to the survey's in terms of geographical coverage. Police figures are based on data from agencies reporting in 18 states and the District of Columbia; the survey's cover the entire country.