This week’s federal report that intimate partner violence in the U.S. fell 64 percent from 1994 to 2010 does not include homicides because it is based on a survey of victims, notes criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University. Quoting the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reporting program, Fox writes for the Boston Globe that intimate partner homicides also dropped–from nearly 3,500 in 1980 to about 2,000 in 2010.
Some critics have suggested that the downturn in intimate partner homicide is little more than a demographic artifact, resulting from changes in living arrangements. By this theory, as divorce rates have risen and rates of marriage have declined, fewer men and women are “eligible” to be murdered by their spouses. As some support for this view, the number of unmarried women murdered by boyfriends has increased over the past few decades, from about 400 in 1980 to almost 600 in 2010. The steepest decline in intimate homicides has been in women killing their partners (husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends), down from about 1,500 in 1980 to about 500 in 2010, a remarkable two-thirds decline. Given the expanding array of legal and social interventions, murder is less often the only or last resort for a woman to protect herself from a current or former intimate who abuses or stalks her.