Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, and Stalking:

National Data Collection Efforts Underway to Address Some Information Gaps

GAO-11-833T: Published: Jul 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 13, 2011.

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This testimony discusses issues related to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In hearings conducted from 1990 through 1994, Congress noted that violence against women was a problem of national scope and that the majority of crimes associated with domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking were perpetrated against women. These hearings culminated in the enactment of VAWA in 1994 to address these issues on a national level. VAWA established grant programs within the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) for state, local, and Indian tribal governments and communities. These grants have various purposes, such as providing funding for direct services including emergency shelter, counseling, and legal services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assaults and stalking across all segments of the population. Recipients of funds from these grant programs include, among others, state agencies, tribes, shelters, rape crisis centers, organizations that provide legal services, and hotlines. In 2000, during the reauthorization of VAWA, language was added to the law to provide greater emphasis on dating violence. The 2006 reauthorization of VAWA expanded existing grant programs and added new programs addressing, among other things, young victims. In fiscal year 2011, Congress appropriated approximately $418 million for violence against women programs administered by DOJ and made an additional $133 million available for programs administered by HHS. The 2006 reauthorization of VAWA required us to study and report on data indicating the prevalence of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking among men, women, youth, and children, as well as services available to the victims. Such data could be used to inform decisions regarding investments in grant programs. In response, we issued two reports in November 2006 and July 2007 on these issues, respectively. This testimony is based on these reports and selected updates we conducted in July 2011 related to actions DOJ and HHS have taken since our prior reviews to improve the quality of recipient data. This testimony, as requested, highlights findings from those reports and discusses the extent to which (1) national data collection efforts report on the prevalence of men, women, youth, and children who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, and (2) the federal government has collected data to track the types of services provided to these categories of victims and any challenges federal departments report that they and their grant recipients face in collecting and reporting demographic characteristics of victims receiving such services by type of service.

In November 2006, we reported that since 2001, the amount of national research that has been conducted on the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault had been limited, and less research had been conducted on dating violence and stalking. At that time, no single, comprehensive effort existed that provided nationwide statistics on the prevalence of these four categories of crime among men, women, youth, and children. Rather, various national efforts addressed certain subsets of these crime categories among some segments of the population and were not intended to provide comprehensive estimates. For example, HHS's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Violent Death Reporting System, which collects incident-based data from multiple sources, such as coroner/medical examiner reports, gathered information on violent deaths resulting from domestic violence and sexual assaults, among other crimes. However, it did not gather information on deaths resulting from dating violence or stalking incidents. We reported in July 2007 that recipients of 11 grant programs we reviewed collected and reported data to the respective agencies on the types of services they provide, such as counseling; the total number of victims served; and in some cases, demographic information, such as the age of victims; however, data were not available on the extent to which men, women, youth, and children receive each type of service for all services. This situation occurred primarily because the statutes governing the 11 grant programs do not require the collection of demographic data by type of service, although they do require reports on program effectiveness, including number of persons served and number of persons seeking services who could not be served. Nevertheless, VAWA authorizes that a range of services can be provided to victims, and we determined that services were generally provided to men, women, youth, and children. The agencies administering these 11 grant programs--HHS and DOJ--collect some demographic data for certain services, such as emergency shelter under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and supervised visitation and exchange under VAWA. The quantity of information collected and reported varied greatly for the 11 programs and was extensive for some, such as those administered by DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) under VAWA. The federal agencies use this information to help inform Congress about the known results and effectiveness of the grant programs. However, even if demographic data were available by type of service for all services, such data might not be uniform and reliable because, among other factors, (1) the authorizing statutes for these programs have different purposes and (2) recipients of grants administered by HHS and DOJ use varying data collection practices.

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