Black and Hispanic couples are two to three times more likely to report male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence than white couples, and alcohol plays a role in the increased risk of violence, especially among black couples.

It is probably not surprising that statistics concerning intimate partner violence vary widely from study to study and from year to year. Interpersonal violence is not a topic that either the victim nor the perpetrator is eager to reveal. It can be embarrassing for both to talk about outside the household.

Therefore, intimate partner violence is probably vastly under-reported, and the actual percentages reported in research surveys can and do vary widely from study to study.

Domestic Violence More Prevalent Among Ethnic Groups

Although completely accurate numbers are probably not available, research generally agrees that among ethnic groups in the United States, blacks are the most likely to experience domestic violence—either male-to-female or female-to-male—followed by Hispanics and then whites. Asians are the least likely to experience intimate partner violence.

A five-year University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health study in 2000 of 1,025 couples—including 406 white, 232 black, and 387 Hispanic—found that black and Hispanic couples are two to three times more likely to report male-to-female and female-to-male intimate partner violence than white couples.

White couples reported rates of male-to-female and female-to-male partner violence at eight and 10 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, black couples reported rates of 20 percent and 22 percent, respectively; and Hispanic couples reported rates of 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Cases That Result in Arrest and Conviction

The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on intimate partner violence cases in which someone is arrested and convicted. Their report expresses the number of victims per 1,000 people.

In 1994 the bureau reported that 15.6 whites, 20.3 blacks and 18.8 Hispanics per 1,000 people were victims of domestic violence. But by the year 2010, those numbers had fallen to 6.2 whites, 7.8 blacks, and 4.1 Hispanics.

There was an overall decline of 64% of intimate partner violence victimizations per 1,000 from 1994 to 2010. Again, the BJS figures reflect only cases in which someone has been arrested and convicted.

Less Violence or Fewer Reports?

When many jurisdictions began passing laws that required police to take one of the parties to jail any time they received a domestic violence call, the number of calls for help declined. There is also evidence that some Hispanic victims do not call the police for help because they are told by their abusers that they will be deported if they call. Both these situations could skew the statistics for domestic violence among ethnic groups.

How Alcohol Fits Into Domestic Violence

When you add alcohol to the mix, the picture can become even more fuzzy, given the propensity for heavy drinkers and binge drinkers to minimize their alcohol consumption. Researchers have reported widely different conclusions about the role that alcohol plays in domestic violence.

Through the years, there seems to be a general consensus among researchers that although alcohol and drug abuse don’t necessarily cause domestic violence, it is definitely a risk factor for predicting violence in relationships.

There is research that shows that the chances of male-to-female domestic violence occurring on days when the man is drinking heavily is eight times more likely than on days they are not drinking. Severe physical aggressionis 11 times more likely on days men drink.

Alcohol as a Catalyst for Violence

However, researchers insist that although alcohol may be a catalyst for violence, intimate partner violence itself stems from other social problems and the substance abuse has to be seen as the “overlap of two separate social problems.”

The University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health study that found rates of intimate partner violence were twice as high for blacks and Hispanics compared to whites, also found that frequent or heavy drinking increased violence for all three groups, but especially for blacks—for both male-to-female and female-to-male violence.

The study found a consistent pattern that violent incidents are especially likely to occur in black couples when the perpetrator is a frequent or frequent-heavy drinker.

Alcohol Increases Violence More in Blacks

The more the perpetrator drinks, the greater the percentage of violence in all groups. In white females, for example, the rate goes from a little over 10% for nondrinkers to almost 20% for heavy drinkers. But for black females, the rate of violence skyrockets from 22% for nondrinkers to almost 60% for heavy drinkers.

Of all the ethnic groups, heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk the greatest for men who are in a relationship with a frequent or heavy-drinking black female.

In male-to-female violence, the rate for males went from 20% for nondrinkers to more than 40% for frequent-heavy drinkers.

But, remarkably, the Houston researchers concluded that alcohol was not the cause of increased violence among black couples, but said the problem “undoubtedly has more to do with economic stress in black couples and racial inequality in U.S. society than it does with any distinctive effects of alcohol among African-American men and women.”

The results of their own study, however, seem to indicate that heavy alcohol consumption plays a major role in couples whose relationships become violent.


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