Nav: Home

New Penn research examines gun use, injury and fear in domestic violence

February 17, 2017

A weapon, whether a body part such as hands, fists and feet or an external instrument like a gun, often accompanies intimate-partner violence. Susan B. Sorenson of the University of Pennsylvania wanted to better understand just how frequently each type generally, and guns specifically, appeared in these cases.

In collaboration with the Philadelphia Police Department, she studied more than 35,000 domestic-violence incidents from 2013. She found that assailants used hands, fists or feet to attack in about 6,500 of them, and in nearly 1,900 used external weapons such as knives, scissors or baseball bats. About one-third of events with external weapons involved a gun, and 80 percent of such incidents were male-on-female.

Knowing this breakdown provides an important comparison, said Sorenson, a professor of social policy in Penn's School of Social Policy & Practice and director of The Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. "We need to know how guns are used compared to other weapons and how all weapons are used against women," Sorenson said.

This research is part of her broader effort to study intimate-partner violence from many different angles.

"A lot of the policies that are laid out about guns and domestic violence focus on preventing homicides, which is really important," she said. "But there has been less attention on what it means for the women who are alive and not just as a risk factor for their death."

To that end, Sorenson began working with the Philadelphia police, which gave her access to an entire year of department-mandated paperwork on 911 calls related to domestic violence, regardless of whether an arrest took place. That form included information about what the responding officer saw and did at the scene, as well as a body map to indicate injuries and a place for what Sorenson described as the "narrative," where officers write in their own words what the victim described.

In addition to revealing what percentage of the time a gun became part of a domestic incident, the data showed that in most such events, males attacked females and that gun use in domestic disputes actually equated to fewer injuries.

Sorenson posited that's true because, when a gun enters a situation, women are more likely to back down than fight back. Study findings show that when an assailant uses a gun rather than another kind of weapon, a woman is less likely to incur injury but substantially more likely to be frightened.

"When faced with another form of weapon, she might try and defend herself, whereas when there's a gun, the weapon is, by definition, lethal," she said.

This underscores the idea of coercive control, in which an abuser doesn't necessarily want to physically hurt a victim but rather cement the power dynamic between the two by brandishing a gun, thus increasing the intimidation factor. "They get what they want without causing physical harm," Sorenson said.

Though such research provides important context, it's likely only part of the larger picture about firearms in domestic violence. The National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted since 1973 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, showed that from 2002 to 2011 guns appeared 5 percent of the time at such incidents. That analysis includes any event with a firearm, not just those the police learn about, meaning there's likely even more gun use than is reported.

Understanding this can better prepare those who encounter victims immediately following an incident.

"Even when the person is not presenting in the emergency department with a gunshot wound or having been pistol-whipped, it's important for health-care professionals to ask about guns," Sorenson said. "If a gun is used and there is increased fear, the person is less likely to leave the relationship."

The same goes for law enforcement, she said.

"Police officers are first responders. They're going to see these incidents when the people want intervention and are calling and asking for help. Police can be really good partners in preventing a situation from escalating."
-end-
Sorenson is presenting this research, which she published in the Journal of Women's Health, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

University of Pennsylvania

Related Domestic Violence Articles:

Training family doctors to better support domestic violence survivors
Women who are experiencing domestic violence feel better supported, more confident and less depressed when they are counselled by trained family doctors, according to new research.
Domestic violence reduces likelihood of mothers breastfeeding in developing countries
Mothers who have suffered from domestic violence are substantially less likely to follow recommended breastfeeding practices in low to middle-income countries, a new study shows.
Treatment for sexual and domestic violence offenders does work
A first-of-its-kind meta-study has found that specialised psychological programmes for sexual and domestic violence offenders have led to major reductions in reoffending but best results are achieved with consistent input from a qualified psychologist.
Study: Brain injury common in domestic violence
Domestic violence survivors commonly suffer repeated blows to the head and strangulation, trauma that has lasting effects that should be widely recognized by advocates, health care providers, law enforcement and others who are in a position to help, according to the authors of a new study.
Dentists can be the first line of defense against domestic violence
New findings indicate that oral biomarkers may help health providers identify victims of domestic violence.
Radiologists can help identify victims of domestic violence
Radiologists may play a crucial role in identifying signs of intimate partner violence, a type of domestic violence, according to a new study.
Domestic violence is widely accepted in most developing countries, new study reveals
Societal acceptance of domestic violence against women is widespread in developing countries, with 36 per cent of people believing it is justified in certain situations.
Preventing murder by addressing domestic violence
Victims of domestic violence are at a high risk to be murdered -- or a victim of attempted murder -- according to a Cuyahoga County task force of criminal-justice professionals, victim advocates and researchers working to prevent domestic violence and homicides.
Exposure to domestic violence costs US government $55 billion each year
The federal government spends an estimated $55 billion annually on dealing with the effects of childhood exposure to domestic violence, according to new research by social scientists at Case Western Reserve University.
Dating partners more violent and account for more domestic violence than spouses
More than 80 percent of intimate partner violence reported to local police involves current and former boyfriends and girlfriends, according to research from Susan B.
More Domestic Violence News and Domestic Violence Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.