A new study shows that when guns are part of domestic violence, women actually suffer fewer injuries, but experience greater fear.
According to a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, that’s because when a gun enters the situation, women are more likely to back down than fight back.
“A lot of the policies that are laid out about guns and domestic violence focus on preventing homicides, which is really important,” said Dr. Susan B. Sorenson, a professor of social policy in Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice and director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence.
“But there has been less attention on what it means for the women who are alive and not just as a risk factor for their death.”
For the study, Sorenson worked with the Philadelphia Police Department, which gave her access to an entire year of department-mandated paperwork on 911 calls related to domestic violence, regardless of whether an arrest took place.
That form included information about what the responding officer saw and did at the scene, as well as a body map to indicate injuries and a place for what Sorenson described as the “narrative,” where officers write in their own words what the victim described happened.
Studying more than 35,000 domestic-violence incidents from 2013, she found that assailants used hands, fists, or feet to attack in about 6,500 of them, and in nearly 1,900 used weapons such as knives, scissors, or baseball bats. About one-third of events with weapons involved a gun, and 80 percent of such incidents were male-on-female.
The study findings show that when an assailant uses a gun rather than another kind of weapon, a woman is less likely to incur injury, but is “substantially” more likely to be frightened.
“When faced with another form of weapon, she might try and defend herself, whereas when there’s a gun, the weapon is, by definition, lethal,” she said.
This underscores the idea of coercive control, in which an abuser doesn’t necessarily want to physically hurt a victim but rather cement the power dynamic between the two by brandishing a gun, increasing the intimidation factor, she explained.
“They get what they want without causing physical harm,” Sorenson said.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted since 1973 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, showed that from 2002 to 2011 guns appeared fiive percent of the time at such incidents. That analysis includes any event with a firearm, not just those the police learn about, meaning there’s likely even more gun use than is reported.
Understanding this can better prepare those who encounter victims immediately following an incident, according to Sorenson.
“Even when the person is not presenting in the emergency department with a gunshot wound or having been pistol-whipped, it’s important for health-care professionals to ask about guns,” Sorenson said. “If a gun is used and there is increased fear, the person is less likely to leave the relationship.”
The same goes for law enforcement, she said.
“Police officers are first responders. They’re going to see these incidents when the people want intervention and are calling and asking for help,” she said. “Police can be really good partners in preventing a situation from escalating.”
The study was published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
Source: University of Pennsylvania