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Intimate partner violence: Down but far from out

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment November 29, 2012 08:00 AM

A new report released this week by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) documents a long-term decline in intimate partner violence. Specifically, according to the BJS analysis, the overall rate of violence involving spouses, former spouses and boyfriends/girlfriends declined by 64% nationally from 1994 to 2010. This is surely welcomed news for victim advocates and service providers who have long struggled to increase awareness of the plight of women and sometime men who are trapped in an abusive relationship.

Note, however, that the BJS figures arise from the agency’s annual household survey of personal victimization. Thus, homicide -- the most serious form of relationship violence and the type that tends to generate the most disturbing headlines -- is excluded from the BJS definition of intimate-partner violence.

This is not to suggest, of course, that BJS is unconcerned about violence that reaches lethal proportions. However, the only source of information on homicide having this level of specificity comes from the Supplementary Homicide Reporting program of the FBI, a different division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

So how do trends in lethal violence among intimate partners compare to those pertaining to non-lethal forms of aggression? The good news is that episodes in which an intimate-partner relationship turns deadly have also grown fewer in number over the past three decades, despite the all-too-frequent cases where cupid’s arrow is laced with poison. As shown in the figure below, the number of intimate partner homicides has dropped from nearly 3,500 in 1980 to about 2,000 in 2010.

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Life without parole: Right for some, wrong for others

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment November 8, 2012 04:00 PM

It has been nearly two years since 24-year-old Jared Lee Loughner opened fire upon a crowded plaza in Tucson, killing six and wounding several others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Yet, after all the legal maneuvering, Loughner received sentence that guarantees he will never again walk free.

Mass murderers like Loughner or Winchester's Thomas Mortimer deserve nothing less than life imprisonment given the enormity of their crimes. While absolutely fair and appropriate for such atrocities, there are many other offenders, particularly here in Massachusetts, who receive the very same fate but who arguably deserve something less extreme.

In Massachusetts all defendants convicted of first degree murder are sent away to prison for life without the possibility of parole, regardless of any mitigating circumstances surrounding the offense or the offender. By contrast, two dozen states having life without parole on the books include it among a group of alternative sentences depending on the circumstances of the offense and the offender.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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