|Strategies for Confronting Domestic Violence - A Resource Manual (UN, 1993, 130 p.)|
|IX. Gathering and sharing information|
Official reporting systems are one way to collect information on domestic violence. Some reporting systems enable the monitoring of the responses of different services, including health facilities, police, courts, corrections facilities, womens groups, social services agencies and community organizations, to the incidents that they are reporting. In addition, at the national level, reporting mechanisms may be used to monitor the effectiveness of broad-based strategies such as public education campaigns.
However, there are many obstacles which prevent researchers from gaining a clear picture of domestic violence from official reporting systems. Detection and diagnostic techniques have limitations. Victims, practitioners* and agencies** may be reluctant to report incidents of domestic violence. Official crime statistics are limited to those acts the law legally defines as domestic violence. Limits in the data also hamper the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of response measures. Finally, differing definitions and research methods make comparing data problematic.
*Practitioners may be reluctant to report incidents of abuse for a number of reasons, including prejudicial attitudes towards victims; concern for their welfare should the violence be made public; concern for violations of privacy; concern for the confidentiality of the practitioner-client relationships. See D. G. Saunders and S. T. Azar, Treatment programs for family violence, in Family Violence, L. Ohlin and M. Tonry, eds. (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 483-484.
**Agencies may limit the amount of official reporting in which they are willing to engage. When agencies have limited human and financial resources, they may see the reporting process as detracting from the provision of services. Agency policies and procedures may also serve to limit the reporting process. See D. Finklehor, G. T. Hotaling and K. YllI>Stopping Family Violence: Research Priorities for the Coming Decade (Newbury Park, California, Sage Publications, 1988), p. 30.
For all of these reasons, official reporting mechanisms, including the coding of offences in computerized systems, uncover only part of the problem. Indeed, even where mandatory reporting legislation is in place, compliance is by no means automatic.***
***In recent surveys in the United States, from one third to one half of the professionals questioned had not reported recent cases of child sexual abuse despite mandatory reporting legislation. See Saunders and Azar, loc. cit., p. 485.
Most practitioners and researchers agree that the full extent of the problem is not revealed by official statistics. Thus, other data, including that culled from victim surveys and perpetrator inquiries are needed to add to the data obtained via routine reporting mechanisms.* It is critical, however, that such studies are designed and administered to avoid causing victims any further distress. Practitioners developing such surveys should consult with agencies providing services to victims to ensure that the surveys are appropriate.
*This is the case in several European countries. See R. Bruynooghe and others, Physical and sexual violence against women: situation in Europe, report commissioned by the Secretary of State for the Environment and Social Emancipation for the First Conference of European Ministers on Physical and Sexual Violence against Women, held at Egmont Palace, Brussels, from 14 to 15 March 1991.