The stereotype about violent crime against women usually revolves around some stranger lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting victim.
A new Justice Department report suggests the problem for most female victims of crime is much closer to home.
American women concerned about falling victim to murder, rape, or assault often have more to worry about from their own circle of acquaintances or households than from strangers, says the report released Wednesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
"For this kind of violent crime 'stranger danger' is not what women need to worry about. It is people they know well who are more likely to be perpetrators," says Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, director of the National Crime Victims Treatment Center in Charleston, S.C.
The study, entitled Female Victims of Violent Crime, comes at a time when the overall violent crime rate is down. It also says that the rate of violent crime directed at women is drawing closer to the traditionally higher rate of crime directed at men.
SEVENTY-EIGHT percent of female victims surveyed in 1992-93 study, knew the offender. Nine percent of offenders were relatives; 29 percent were either a current or former spouse or a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend; and 40 percent were acquaintances, the report says.
In contrast, in violent crimes against men only half of male victims know the assailant.
Experts believe many of the violent crimes directed at women are progressive. An abusive relationship with a spouse or boyfriend may begin with a shove and escalate over time to a punch and eventually regular beatings.
They say that a better understanding by women of the risks they face may encourage more women to report violent crimes committed by acquaintances and relatives.
Many women are reluctant to file complaints against loved ones or colleagues. Some still believe that it isn't a real crime unless it is committed by a stranger, experts say.
As more women victims recognize the problem and report all crimes, they say, authorities will be in a better position to prevent their continued victimization.
"It can help us look at intervention in crimes that are committed against women at an earlier stage," says Diane Alexander director of information services at the National Victim Center in Washington. "We need to let people know that it is not OK to be abused by someone you care about and that there are options out there for you," she says.