Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and DV Statistics

RADAR Release: December 16, 2007

Two weeks ago the Boston Herald ran an inflammatory story claiming "by New Year's Eve 57 people will have died this year in Massachusetts because of domestic violence - a toll not seen in 15 years."

The death toll information was compiled by the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, a.k.a. Jane Doe Inc. The spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc. declared the situation a "crisis" and predictably called for more funding. This flawed article was the focus of RADAR's December 12 Alert.

This past week the Boston Globe ran a copy-cat story quoting a Jane Doe Inc. spokeswoman who made the same claim:

But the Jane Doe spokeswoman neglected to mention one critical fact: Jane Doe Inc. started counting domestic violence homicides differently in 2006 -- see

Jane Doe Inc's projection of 57 "domestic-violence-related" deaths by year end is based on the 42 deaths they'd counted under their new rules as of September 21, 2007. Among the deaths Jane Doe Inc. included were 3 people killed in Florida who had once lived in Massachusetts as well as 9 perpetrators who committed suicide.

So the Boston Globe article erroneously reports, "Over the past two years, the number of domestic violence homicides has almost tripled, from 15 in 2005." But obviously you can't compare numbers based on different counting methods. By using their new counting method, Jane Doe Inc. has artificially inflated the count by 40% over what it would have been using the methods in effect in 2005.

There's more to the disinformation.

Based on figures published in the Globe's annual Dec. 31 "In Memoriam" editorials, the number of DV-related deaths in Massachusetts fluctuates dramatically from year to year. These fluctuations are unrelated to changes in funding. Although there were 6 fewer DV-related deaths in Mass. in 1998 when Violence Against Women Act funding jumped by 63%, maintaining the funding at the newly increased level didn't prevent 12 additional deaths the following year.

And when Federal funding dropped by 10% in 2001 due to across the board budget cuts, the number of DV-related deaths in Mass. decreased rather than increased as compared to the previous year. (See for the Congressional Research Service summary of VAWA fund allocations.)

The following graph shows the death counts given in the Globe's "In Memoriam" editorials. In some years the number has dropped as low as 14, while the number in the year before or after is double that. The 2007 count fits that same general pattern.

Even one death is one too many. But there has not been a threefold increase, as Jane Doe Inc., is claiming.

The conclusion is clear: Jane Doe Inc. is playing fast and loose with the numbers to create a crisis atmosphere and pressure legislators to enact more DV laws.

Please contact the Globe and politely inform them that the projected threefold increase in DV-related deaths is based on a flawed apples-to-oranges comparison designed to sway Massachusetts lawmakers:

* Call the City Editor at 617-929-3100 and request the Globe to run a correction.
* Send an email to the letters editor at

Please also send a copy of your email to RADAR at

Date of RADAR Release: December 16, 2007

Want to improve the chance that they'll pay attention to your letter? Click here.

R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence.

No comments: