Christina Hoff Sommers on Domestic Violence Myths

Eugene Volokh
February 4, 2011

Here are the opening paragraphs of her article, which I checked and which are quite correct:

“The facts are clear,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.”

That’s a horrifying statistic, and it would be a shocking reflection of the state of the black family, and American society generally, if it were true. But it isn’t true.

For Holder’s statement, see here; for the actual data from the Centers for Disease Control, run a query here, and you’ll get these results (I used the 2007 data, but 1999–2007 gives the same ranking):

… Leading Causes of Death, United States
2007, Black, Females, … Age … 15–45 …

1 Malignant Neoplasms 2,192
2 Heart Disease 1,769
3 Unintentional Injury 1,528
4 HIV 1,261
5 Homicide 867

(To figure out the percentage of homicides that were perpetrated by intimate partners, you’d have to go here; this will give results just based on the 16 reporting states, so the national percentages may differ in considerable measure, but the 16-state percentage is about 65% of all homicides, based on 2008 data, which would extrapolate to about 560 homicides nationwide.) Domestic violence — and especially domestic murder — is a horrible thing, but, as Sommers points out, “Victims of intimate violence are best served by the truth.” Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

UPDATE: Some readers suggest that the Attorney General may have misspoken, and was simply trying to say that “Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of homicide for African-American women ages 15 to 45.” But I’m skeptical about that, considering the context:

The National Violence Against Women Survey found that 18.8 percent of African American women reported surviving rape. Approximately 40 percent of black women report coercive sexual contact by age 18, and intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45. [T]hese statistics are shocking and completely unacceptable.

It isn’t particularly shocking and unacceptable, I think, that, of the homicides of black women age 15 to 45, most are domestic partner homicides. If somehow all of them became another kind of homicide, the result wouldn’t be materially more acceptable: While domestic partner homicide may be somewhat morally worse than other homicide (since it involves a violation of trust as well as murder), the moral difference is modest.

But if it were indeed true that “intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death,” that would have been shocking and unacceptable: First, it would suggest a considerably higher number of homicides. Second, homicides are indeed morally much worse than cancer, heart disease, car accidents, and the like. While a person is still dead, the homicide is a much worse (and more shocking) reflection on the surrounding society.

So I doubt that the accurate statement (“intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of homicide”) would have been included in the Attorney General’s statement; perhaps it might have been, but it would have packed far less punch. I don’t think, then, that the Attorney General misspoke, or that the difference between the statement and the accurate statement is minor. Rather, I think someone in the Justice Department erroneously included the statement in the speech — likely as a result of an honest mistake, but still a substantial one — precisely because it seemed to be saying that intimate partner homicide is the main cause of death for that group. No-one else checked it. And, as Sommers points out, no-one has since corrected it.

Source: http://volokh.com/2011/02/04/christina-hoff-sommers-on-domestic-violence-myths/#more-42441