A quick search of newspapers on Lexis Library shows that the claim that a woman suffers 35 instances of domestic violence before she reports to the police is still going strong. This should not be a surprise as both Women’s Aid and Refuge repeat the statistic. See The Independent (9 September 2013) or Sarah Wollaston MP writing in the Daily Telegraph (19 June 2013) in the wake of the accusations against Charles Saatchi in respect of his very public assault on Nigella Lawson. Wollaston says, ‘On average a woman is assaulted 35 times before first contacting the police’ without giving a source and links it to other specific English and Welsh stats. Further examples are the Daily Post (North Wales) on December 24, 2009 or Grimsby Evening Telegraph, January 12, 2004 or even The Guardian, October 15, 1993.
Many of the receptions of this stat give no source but Refuge do, as the work of Peter Jaffe (1982) but with no further details of publication or journal title. Whilst much of his work is featured on his institute’s associated website to end abuse no title as early as this is featured.
I have no doubt about the seriousness of domestic violence or that delays, sometimes fatal, occur in victims reporting. Any criminologist can take you through the problems of crime stats but this article from Full Fact examines whether the figures were 400,000 or more than double that. There is also a wealth of research pointing at the delays and poor decision making of the police and other authorities - some of it by Jaffe and various colleagues. However, I’ve always worried about the prevalence of the statistic and its failure, seemingly, to be updated.
I’ve several times tried to persuade undergrad students doing dissertations to track it down or to update it but without success. So given the coverage of Clare's’ Law and International Women’s Day I decided to look into it myself.
It did not prove easy. A search on Google Scholar didn’t seem to throw up a single authored work by him published in 1982 but intimations from references in other work suggested a joint article by Jaffe, P., and Burris, C. A. (1982). Their An integrated response to wife battering: A community model. Ottawa: Research Report of the Solicitor General of Canada contains the ’35 times’ figure but is not the main focus.
Some of the confusion might come from Jaffe himself as in ‘The Impact of Police Charges in Incidents of Wife Abuse’ (with Wolfe, Telford and Austin Journal of Family Violence Vo1 No 1 1986) he incorrectly cites Burris, C. A., and Jaffe, P. (1984). ‘Wife battering: A well-kept secret’ as the source for the ’35 times’ figure!
Jaffe and Burris examined the processing of ‘wife assault’ cases (the terminology of the day) through the criminal justice system in London, Ontario, Canada and found that between January and June of 1979, 222 females reported assaults or threatened assaults by their partners or ex-partners. These women had been assaulted an average of 35 times before 1979.
So an old, small, non-UK study still ‘rules’. I am sure domestic violence researchers in the UK and elsewhere struggle to get their voices heard in policy and media but guess they must have newer and more relevant figures than Jaffe and Burris. My hunch is that the continued popularity of the figure is, in part, due to its narrative impact for campaigners and lazy or hard-pressed journalists.
So my challenge to DV researchers is to get your figures into the media.