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CDC Violence Survey: Unexpected Findings, Questionable Definitions

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CDC Violence Survey: Unexpected Findings, Questionable Definitions

CDC Violence Survey: Unexpected Findings, Questionable Definitions

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments
December 17, 2011

This past week newspapers across the country were filled with headlines such as, “Nearly one in five U.S. women has been a victim of sexual assault.” The accounts were based on a report recently released by the US Centers for Disease Control called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:

But not surprisingly, the media got the story wrong. Here’s why.


The CDC survey was originally designed to assess the extent and nature of intimate partner aggression, as well as the related areas of sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. The CDC commendably wanted to analyze the issue in greater detail than previous efforts.
The most important conclusion of the survey was men and women have nearly equal rates of intimate partner violence, with 6.5% of men and 6.3% of women experiencing partner aggression in the previous 12 months (pages 43-44). This conclusion is consistent with previous CDC surveys and other scholarly investigations on this subject (
But SAVE’s review of media accounts did not identify a single story that reported this overarching finding.


The 108-page CDC report contains other findings that challenge the received wisdom of many organizations in the domestic violence field. One of these pertains to psychological aggression. In the previous 12 months, 18.1% of men and 13.9% of women had experienced psychological aggression by their intimate partner, according to the survey (page 46).
Looking specifically at coercive control, men were 50% more likely to have experienced coercive control than women (Men: 15.2%; Women: 10.7%). Traditional domestic violence organizations often define domestic violence as a “pattern of power and control.”
Based on this formulation, women are clearly the most frequent perpetrators of abuse.


One aspect of partner aggression centers on the issue reproductive control. Discussions of this topic typically portray the male as scheming to impregnate a wife or girlfriend who doesn’t wish to become pregnant. But the CDC survey shows the opposite scenario is more true.
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reveals that 8.7% of men currently have an intimate partner who tried to get pregnant when he did not want to, or tried to stop either of them from using birth control. In comparison, only 4.8% of women currently have a partner who tried to get her pregnant when she didn’t want to (page 48).
So men are nearly twice as likely as women to be victims of reproductive control.


The CDC report also contains information about rape and other forms of sexual victimization. But the CDC’s definition of rape is highly controversial, because in addition to “completed forced penetration,” it also includes “attempted forced penetration” and “completed alcohol/drug facilitated penetration.”
In the area of criminal justice law, a criminal attempt is not counted the same as the actual commission. For example, FBI homicide statistics do not include attempted homicides. So the inclusion of attempts artificially inflates the true prevalence of rape.
The inclusion of “completed alcohol/drug facilitated penetration” is equally problematic. It is not difficult to identify a number of scenarios in which actions thus defined as “rape” contradict any logical or reasonable conception of rape. For example:
• A woman decides she wants to have sex with her partner. So she invites him to a bar where they drink five beers, then go to her apartment for sex.
• A woman wants to have sex, so she goes to a singles party where everyone is smoking marijuana. She meets up with a man and they both decide to have sex.
Because of these definitional problems, SAVE concludes the CDC findings about sexual violence lack validity and are fundamentally flawed.
Citing a “history of twisting rape statistics,” columnist Robert VerBruggen likewise notes about the CDC report, “Researchers ask women about their sexual experiences, and then classify some experiences as ‘rape’ that most people, including the women themselves, do not consider to be rape.” (
The CDC report contains additional evidence of sex bias, which will be addressed in future reports by Stop Abusive and Violent Environments.