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Domestic Violence

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents data on the prevalence of domestic violence and trends over time. It discusses five major analytical frameworks that have been employed to understand domestic violence: patriarchy theory, systems theory, alcoholism, personality dysfunction, and ecological models. It further mentions criminal justice system policies such as mandatory arrest, no-drop policies, protective orders, and batterer treatment programs. This article deals with female batterers and distinctive problems they raise for law enforcement and treatment policies. It is also concerned with how societal structures, socioeconomic status, stressful situations, and family dynamics contribute to domestic violence. Programs that focus on psychological issues, anger problems, communication problems, and couple interaction problems are often ignored by domestic violence advocates and prohibited by state laws. Finally, it concludes with the discussion of the policy implications of current knowledge.

Keywords: domestic violence, analytical frameworks, policies, law enforcement, state laws

Domestic violence is commonly conceptualized as a pattern of behaviors involving physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse between two people currently or previously involved in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence researchers typically define each of these components in their own way and have yet to come to a consensus on the behaviors that constitute each (Malley-Morrison and Hines 2004; Hines and Malley-Morrison 2005). However, the subtype of domestic violence that is usually brought to the attention of authorities is physical assault, and most studies and policies concerning domestic violence concentrate on this type of abuse.

Domestic violence against women is a major social concern, and educational and treatment efforts are widespread in the United States. Feminist advocacy movements of the 1970s brought domestic violence out of the home and into the public eye. It soon became viewed as an issue that researchers, the public, and the criminal justice system had to take more seriously. The first systematic study of domestic violence, The Violent Home, was published by Richard J. Gelles in 1974. It addressed such issues as the prevalence and possible causes of domestic violence. This was shortly followed by the first National Family Violence Survey in 1975 (Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz 1980), a population-based, nationwide study of the extent of family violence in the United States.

Around the same time, grassroots efforts by feminist battered women's advocates led to the opening of the first battered women's shelter, despite widespread public and governmental resistance (Straus 1980). With the spread of shelters, the public stereotype that domestic violence was a problem of the poor, mentally ill, (p. 116) and socially deviant began to fade. Domestic violence became a major social concern not only for researchers and advocates, but for government and the public. Throughout the next two decades, state laws on domestic violence proliferated at a rapid rate that continues to this day. Federal protection occurred in 1994, when the federal Violence Against Women Act was enacted. It provided women with broad protections against violence in their homes and communities. The Act was extended and expanded each time it came up for renewal, in 1998, 2002, and 2005 (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003).

Although there has certainly been much progress in research and policy making surrounding domestic violence, there are still some major problems and contentious issues within the field. Essentially, the field is split into three camps: those who feel that at the heart of all domestic violence is men's need to dominate and control women, those who feel that male dominance does not play a major role in domestic violence and that it is much more complex and often involves women who perpetrate domestic violence, and those who try to resolve this schism. Current policy is based on the first notion; however, much of the empirical research supports the second notion. Thus, what we often find in the field is that our policies do not reflect what we empirically know about domestic violence, and therefore, our policies do not fully or even adequately address the problem. While many of those who experience domestic violence in their lives have certainly benefited from the widespread recognition and acceptance of their problem, there is still much work to be done to adequately address the needs of all people who experience domestic violence.

Our empirical knowledge about domestic violence comes from several major data sources, in addition to the hundreds of studies that have been conducted on a more localized level. The major data sources include the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) (e.g., Catalano 2006), the National Family Violence Surveys (NFVS) (e.g., Straus and Gelles 1990), and the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) (e.g., Tjaden and Thoennes 2000). Sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the NCVS collects victimization data (whether reported to the police or not) twice each year through a standardized interview from a sample of approximately 100,000 individuals living in approximately 50,000 households. The households are rotated every three years, and the NCVS has been ongoing since 1972, but was redesigned in the early 1990s to more adequately address domestic violence and sexual assault. Questions related to domestic violence include: “Has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways: (a) with any weapon, for instance, a gun or knife; (b) with anything like a baseball bat, frying pan, scissors, or stick; (c) by something thrown, such as a rock or bottle?” There are also questions about being grabbed, punched, choked or threatened, or raped (or attempted rape), or whether anyone committed any other form of sexual attack or unwanted sexual act against the respondent. If respondents indicate that any of these incidents occurred, they are then asked who the perpetrator was. If the perpetrator was a (ex-)husband or wife or (ex-)boyfriend or girlfriend, the act is considered an instance of domestic violence (Catalano 2007).

(p. 117) The NFVS takes a different approach. These national population-based surveys have been conducted three times: in 1975 (2,143 families), in 1985 (8,145 families), and in 1992 (1,970 families). In contrast to the NCVS, these surveys are not crime-based. People are asked to participate in a survey on conflict resolution in families, not on criminal victimization. Thus the survey is framed completely differently. For example, the directions of the survey instrument, the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS), include these words: “No matter how well a couple gets along, there are times when they disagree, get annoyed with the other person, or just have spats or fights because they're in a bad mood or tired or for some other reason. They also use many different ways of trying to settle their differences. I'm going to read some things that you and your partner might do when you have an argument. I would like you to tell me how many times in the past 12 months you and your partner did each of these things.” The CTS addresses behaviors such as talking out the issue, yelling and screaming, slapping, punching, beating up, and using a knife or gun. All items that refer to physical aggression are considered domestic violence items, and they are divided into minor (e.g., slapping, grabbing, pushing) and severe (i.e., those that have a greater likelihood of causing an injury: punching, kicking, beating up) physical aggression (Straus and Gelles 1990).

The NVAWS was a national telephone survey administered between November 1995 and May 1996 to a representative sample of 8,000 women and 8,000 men in the United States. Respondents were asked to participate in a study of crime and personal safety. Multiple, behaviorally specific questions, similar to the items on the CTS, were used to screen respondents for rape, physical assault, and stalking victimization. Respondents who endorsed any of these items were subsequently asked detailed questions about the victimization incident, such as the identity and relationship of the perpetrator, the frequency and duration of the violence, and the extent and nature of injuries they sustained (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).

Information specific to the field of domestic violence can be found in several scholarly journals that either focus on this issue or have a large percentage of their articles that deal with it, including the Journal of Family Violence, Violence and Victims, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Violence Against Women, Aggressive Behavior, and Aggression and Violent Behavior. Overall, some of the major conclusions of forty years of research in this area include the following:

  • Exact prevalence rates are difficult to establish. The highest rates come from studies that use the CTS and frame the problem in terms of family conflict. However, these studies are subject to much criticism because they continually find equal rates of violence by men and women.

  • Domestic violence against women is still a major social concern, although rates have been steadily declining since the 1970s.

  • Domestic violence against men is an unrecognized social problem, and unlike domestic violence against women, there has been no decline in domestic violence against men since the 1970s.

  • (p. 118) Major policy changes began to occur in the late 1970s due to feminist advocacy, and laws have continually developed and changed. They are typically based on a feminist model that conceptualizes domestic violence as men's need to control and dominate women, even though empirical research shows that this conceptualization has major flaws.

  • Treatment for men who perpetrate domestic violence is also based on a feminist model, and there is no evidence that such treatment works. Nonetheless, these treatment models are typically ordered by courts and mandated to be feminist-based according to state laws. No other treatment options are available for men who are arrested and court-ordered for batterer intervention treatment.

  • Batterer intervention programs assume that men are the perpetrators; therefore, treatment for women who perpetrate domestic violence is woefully lacking.

This chapter has five sections. The first discusses data on the prevalence of domestic violence and trends over time. The second discusses five major analytical frameworks that have been employed to understand domestic violence: patriarchy theory, systems theory, alcoholism, personality dysfunction, and ecological models. The third discusses criminal justice system policies: mandatory arrest, no-drop policies, protective orders, and batterer treatment programs. The fourth discusses female batterers and distinctive problems they raise for law enforcement and treatment policies. The last discusses policy implications of current knowledge.

I. Prevalence of Domestic Violence

 Domestic ViolenceClick to view larger

Figure 5.1. Trends in domestic violence, 1975–2004.

Note: The NFVS was conducted three times (1975, 1985, 1992). The results presented are for severe violence victimization only. In 1993 the NCVS changed its methodology for surveying domestic violence; therefore, results prior to 1993 are not comparable to the current NCVS.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, the National Family Violence Survey, and the National Violence Against Women Survey provide very different estimates of the prevalence of domestic violence. The NCVS data show that 3.8 per 1,000 women sustained a physical assault from an intimate partner in 2004. This represents nearly a two-thirds decline from 1993, when 9.8 per 1,000 women sustained domestic violence. By contrast, 1.6 per 1,000 men sustained a physical assault from an intimate partner in 1993, and in 2004, 1.3 per 1,000 men did (Catalano 2006). Data from the NCVS represent only those incidents of domestic violence that were deemed criminal by the survey respondent. Thus, the NCVS provides the lowest rates of domestic violence of all major studies because most people do not consider violence perpetrated against them by family members to be criminal, particularly if it is by a woman (Straus 2004). The NFVS frames the study of domestic violence around issues of family conflict, and these surveys show much higher rates: 11.6 percent of men used some type of violence against their female partners, most of which was minor (e.g., slapping, shoving, pushing), and 3.4 percent used severe (p. 119) violence, which was defined as violence that had a high likelihood of causing an injury (e.g., beating up, punching, using a knife or gun). In addition, 12.4 percent of women used some type of violence against their male partners, and 4.8 percent used severe violence (Straus and Gelles 1986).

Despite differing methodologies, the three NFVS were similar to the NCVS in that they also showed declines in rates of physical assault against female partners but consistent rates of physical assaults against male partners. The NFVS showed that between 1975 and 1985, there was a 27 percent decrease in the rate of severe violence perpetrated by male partners, culminating in a projected national incidence of 1.8 million female victims of severe violence in 1985. By contrast, there was no decline in rates of severe violence perpetrated by female partners: The projected national prevalence of severe violence sustained by male partners at both time periods was 2.6 million (Straus and Gelles 1986).

Figure 5.1 displays the domestic violence prevalence data over time for both the NCVS and the NFVS. The NFVS was conducted three times, and only the severe violence victimization data are shown. For the NCVS, only data from 1993 on are (p. 120) displayed because the survey questions regarding domestic violence were revised beginning with the 1993 survey to better assess domestic violence. Although both surveys show declines in domestic violence for female victims, there is little evidence of decline in domestic violence for male victims. Moreover, the rates for the NCVS are substantially lower than those for the NFVS. These differences are due to the different contexts in which the surveys are presented (i.e., crime surveys versus family conflict surveys).

A final source of information on domestic violence rates comes from the NVAWS. According to the 1995–96 NVAWS, 1.8 percent of women and 0.8 percent of men were victims of physical assaults from a current or former intimate partner within the prior 12 months (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000). These NVAWS rates are approximately five to six times as great as the NCVS, but are one-sixth to one-fifteenth the rate of the NFVS. The reason for the intermediate rates is that the NVAWS used a methodology that was similar to that used for the NCVS (e.g., respondents were told they were being interviewed about personal safety issues and their perception of male violence) but used a measure of domestic violence that was based on the NFVS (i.e., Conflict Tactics Scales).

The prevalence rates reported in all of these national studies show that despite the apparent decline in rates of physical assault against female partners, domestic violence continues to be a major social problem. Moreover, the steady rates of domestic violence against male partners over the past 30 years show that this is a social problem we have done little to address.

II. Contextual and Causal Mechanisms: Major Theoretical Perspectives

Several major theoretical perspectives guide research on domestic violence. Some individual-level predictors that have found considerable empirical support are family-of-origin violence, alcohol abuse, and personality dysfunction. Researchers have also been concerned with how societal structures, neighborhood conditions, socioeconomic status, stressful situations, and family dynamics contribute to domestic violence. Theories that address these variables are reviewed next, although this discussion is not exhaustive of all theoretical perspectives.

A. Patriarchy Theory

Patriarchy theory dominates policy making on domestic violence (Dutton and Corvo 2006). The cause of domestic violence, patriarchal theorists hold, is the gendered structure of society. Men have economic, political, social, and occupational power over women, and this power structure is reflected in intimate (p. 121) heterosexual relationships. Men use violence strategically to maintain their dominant status over women and have been socialized to believe that violence against women to maintain dominance is justified (e.g., Dobash and Dobash 1979). Thus all domestic violence is a result of men operating within a global patriarchal system that denies equal rights to women and legitimizes violence against women (Hammer 2003).

There is limited empirical support for this theoretical perspective. In a meta-analysis of studies investigating domestic violence against women and the male partner's patriarchal ideology (Sugarman and Frankel 1996), the only component of patriarchal ideology that consistently predicted wife assault was the perpetrator's attitude toward violence, which is not necessarily a component of patriarchal ideology. A more recent meta-analysis found that traditional sex role ideology and domestic violence against women were only moderately associated (Stith et al. 2004). Moreover, there is abundant evidence that contradicts patriarchy theory, including the consistent findings that women physically assault their partners at rates comparable to men (Archer 2000), that the majority of women's use of domestic violence is not self-defensive (Hines and Malley-Morrison 2001), that the overwhelming majority of men do not think that physically assaulting their female partner is acceptable (Simon et al. 2001), and that the rates of domestic violence in gay and lesbian couples are at least as high as in heterosexual couples (Hines and Malley-Morrison 2005).

B. Systems Theory

Systems theorists argue that domestic violence takes place within a dyadic system and that the system works in such a way as to maintain those dysfunctional interactional styles. Interactions within couples are bidirectional, and both members interact in ways that promote domestic violence. Thus domestic violence is not simply one member of the couple abusing the other, but is a function of the stresses of everyday life in which conflicts arise, negative interactions escalate, and violence is sometimes a response (e.g., (Giles-Sims 1983). Systems theory is supported by empirical findings that many domestic violence situations are bidirectional (e.g., Stets and Straus 1990) and that there is assortative mating for antisocial behaviors (e.g., Capaldi, Kim, and Shortt 2004; Moffitt et al. 2001; Serbin et al. 2004).

Systems conceptual frameworks have been valuable in highlighting the complexity of domestic violence and have led to the development of effective therapeutic techniques for domestic violence that address both members of the couple (Holtzworth-Munroe et al. 1995; OʼLeary, Heyman, and Neidig 1999; Stith, Rosen, and McCollum 2003). However, they have consistently been challenged by patriarchal theorists as frameworks that blame the victim (i.e., the female partner) and put her in danger (Bograd 1984). Thus, therapeutic techniques based on systems frameworks are precluded under most states' laws.

(p. 122) C. Alcohol Abuse

Abuse of alcohol is a consistent predictor of domestic violence. This link has primarily been demonstrated among clinical samples of male batterers (e.g., Fals-Stewart 2003), but has also been shown in community samples of men (e.g., Leonard 1993) and men and women in convenience (e.g., Hines and Straus 2007) and population-based (e.g., Caetano, Schafer, and Cunradi 2001) samples. The model that currently receives the most empirical support to explain this association is a mediational model, in which certain dispositions of the drinker may influence the association between alcohol abuse and domestic violence perpetration. Specifically, people with elevated levels of antisocial personality traits display an increased likelihood of perpetrating domestic violence while drinking (e.g., Fals-Stewart, Leonard, and Birchler 2005; Hines and Straus 2007; Murphy et al. 2001).

The influence of alcohol abuse on domestic violence is particularly striking when one considers treatment studies of male alcoholics who are also batterers. When male alcoholics stop using alcohol through the administration of empirically based alcohol treatment programs, their rates of domestic violence perpetration decrease significantly and mirror those of population-based samples (O'Farrell et al. 2003). This finding demonstrates the importance of screening for and treating alcoholism in male batterers. In fact, alcoholism treatment has a stronger effect on reducing recidivism rates for battering than do treatment programs specifically designed to treat battering.

D. Personality Dysfunction

There is also empirical support for the prediction of domestic violence perpetration by personality dysfunction. Dutton et al. (1994) found that several personality dysfunctions—borderline personality, antisocial personality, aggressive-sadistic personality, and passive-aggressive personality—are related to domestic violence perpetration by men. They theorize that this association is due to long-standing attachment disorders that have their roots in paternal rejection, exposure to abuse in childhood, and a “failure of protective attachment.” These men seem to have developed a “fearful-angry” attachment style, which causes them to lash out violently toward their female partners during confrontations and perceived separations.

Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) have also found that personality dysfunction predicts some male battering and theorized that there were three types of male batterers. Violence by family-only batterers results from a combination of stress and low-level risk factors, such as childhood exposure to marital violence and poor relationship skills. On occasion, during escalating conflicts, these men may engage in aggression that typically does not escalate. Borderline-dysphoric batterers come from a background involving parental abuse and rejection, (p. 123) which leads them to have difficulty forming stable and trusting attachments to an intimate partner. Instead, they are highly dependent on, yet fearful of losing, their female partner. Consistent with this attachment style and their borderline personality traits, these batterers are jealous, lack adequate relationship skills, and have hostile attitudes toward women. Generally violent-antisocial batterers resemble other antisocial, aggressive men. They have experienced high levels of family-of-origin violence and associate with deviant peers. They are impulsive, lack interpersonal skills, have hostile attitudes toward women, and view violence as acceptable. Their domestic violence is part of their general engagement in antisocial behavior, and their female partners are readily accessible victims, but not their only victims.

Findings of personality dysfunction among male batterers suggest that treatment modalities addressing these underlying issues would lead to improvements in violent behavior. Moreover, the Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) typology points to different prevention and intervention programs depending on the type of batterer. If we ignore the existence of different types of batterers, we will not be effective in ameliorating domestic violence because our treatment programs will be based on the notion that all batterers are alike.

E. Ecological Models

Increasingly, domestic violence researchers embrace an ecological model (e.g., Gelles 1998; Hines and Malley-Morrison 2005; Dutton 1985). This perspective developed because of the recognition that no one theory can explain all domestic violence, and therefore it is necessary to view domestic violence within a set of nested levels of influences. The microsystem consists of the individual's immediate setting (e.g., the home). The mesosystem consists of relations among the settings in which the individual is involved (e.g., between home and work). The exosys-tem includes the larger neighborhood, the mass media, and state agencies. Finally, the macrosystem consists of broad cultural factors (Bronfenbrenner 1979). Belsky (1993) and Hines and Malley-Morrison (2005) argue that it is also important to consider biological characteristics that exist even before birth and that individuals bring to every interaction.

An ecological perspective conveys the notion that to understand how someone may commit domestic violence, we need to understand the genetic endowments of the individual, the microsystem in which he or she grew up, the microsystem in which he or she is currently embedded, characteristics of the neighborhood within which he or she functions (including the availability of social services and the criminal justice system), and the larger society that either condones or condemns domestic violence (Hines and Malley-Morrison 2005). Inherent in an ecological perspective is the notion that to properly prevent and intervene in domestic violence, the treatment modality must match the level of the ecological model.

(p. 124) III. Law Enforcement Policies

The primacy of the criminal justice system in domestic violence cases has to do with the way it is structured: The police provide a free service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and their responsibilities include serving and protecting the public. They are the obvious source for help for people in the midst of a domestic dispute. The police are highly visible authority figures and usually provide a quick response to allegations of assault (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003). In the 1970s the criminal justice system began undergoing a major overhaul in how it addressed issues of domestic violence. These changes resulted from criticisms by the feminist community about how the police typically handled domestic violence calls, which were relegated to the bottom of the call list and addressed only after other, “more important” calls had been dealt with (Ford 1983; Martin 1979; Berk and Loseke 1980–81). Because most crimes against women happened in the home, the perception that the police essentially ignored domestic violence was viewed by feminists as a sign that the criminal justice system was sexist (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003).

Because feminist advocates were the major proponents of change within the criminal justice system, current criminal justice policies and procedures are rooted in feminist theory and exemplified in the Duluth Model, which stresses that male battering is a calculated choice by men to exert their power and control over women (Pence and Paymar 1983). Although there is evidence that the criminal justice system is currently more sensitive to cases of domestic violence than in earlier times (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003), there are serious problems in how domestic violence cases are handled. I discuss four major interventions—mandatory arrest, no-drop policies, protective orders, and batterer intervention programs—for cases of domestic violence, when and why they were instituted, and the evidence concerning their efficacy.

A. Mandatory Arrest

The policy of mandatory arrest (or pro-arrest) quickly became widespread following the release of the initial results of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment (Sherman and Berk 1984). Over the course of a year and a half, 51 patrol officers in two Minneapolis precincts were randomly assigned to respond to cases of domestic violence in one of three ways: separate the parties, advise the couple of alternatives, or arrest the offender. Of the 330 domestic violence cases included in the study, recidivism rates were lowest in the arrest group. Ten percent of the arrested offenders reoffended, compared with 24 percent of the separation group and 19 percent of the alternatives group.

Based on these initial results, Sherman and Berk (1984) argued that arrest had by far the best deterrent effect of all alternatives, and political activists subsequently lobbied for mandatory or preferred arrest policies. The number of police (p. 125) jurisdictions that changed their policies to pro-arrest policies tripled within one year, and more than one-third of police departments changed their policies in response to this study and ensuing media coverage (Cohn and Sherman 1987).

Various researchers subsequently pointed out the flaws of the Minnesota Domestic Violence Experiment. The most pressing problem was that it was a preliminary study that took place in only two precincts in Minneapolis, and the results were not necessarily generalizable across the country, or even everywhere in Minneapolis. A second problem was that officers had advance knowledge of the response they were supposed to make and therefore could reclassify a domestic violence case if they did not wish to make the assigned response. This reclassification happened an unknown number of times, and it is not known what would have happened to the results if officers had strictly followed the study protocol. A third problem was that officers sometimes gave a “treatment” that they were not supposed to; this happened in 17 percent of cases, all of which were dropped from the study and not analyzed. These dropped cases may have differed substantially from the cases that were analyzed; after all, they led officers to deviate from the mandates of the study. A final problem was that only 49 percent of the victims agreed to be interviewed to establish recidivism rates (Binder and Meeker 1988; Lempert 1989). This is particularly significant given that later analyses showed that the deterrent effect of arrest was found only when using victim data (Gartin 1991). It is likely that victims who were not revictimized composed the majority of victims who participated in the follow-up interview; they could be located more easily, would have had less ambivalence coming in to be interviewed about their domestic violence problems, or were happy with the police response.

These caveats were ignored. Advocates for battered women pushed for legislation that mandated arrest, and much of that legislation continues to be enforced today.

However, because of the methodological problems and widespread policy effects of this study, the U.S. National Institute of Justice funded five replications (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003). These five studies found that arrest had only a short-term overall effect on recidivism rates and that this effect was no longer apparent one year following the initial arrest. Moreover, arrest worked only for those offenders who had something to lose—for example, their marriage, job, or home—as a result of being arrested. Arrest had no impact on offenders who were unemployed, were not married, did not own a home, or had been arrested previously (Dunford, Huizinga, and Elliott 1989; Sherman et al. 1992; Hirschel et al. 1991; Berk et al. 1992; Pate and Hamilton 1992). Thus the deterrence effects of arrest worked only against those who had a low likelihood of reoffending anyway but did little to deter the most dangerous, chronic offenders.

One particularly disconcerting finding from the Milwaukee replication showed that domestic violence recidivism increased for arrested black men but decreased for arrested white men (Sherman et al. 1992). Using these data, Mills (2003) concluded that arresting all male domestic violence offenders would prevent 2,504 acts (p. 126) of domestic violence against white women but cause 5,409 black women to sustain additional acts of domestic violence.

Nonetheless, proponents of mandatory arrest still argue that it is a necessary policy. Their argument centers around four issues. First, because these women are basically trapped in their relationships they may not be able to express their preference for arrest when the police arrive. Second, they may not understand the danger they are in. Third, arrest allows the victim to consider her options, such as going to a shelter or filing for a protective order. Fourth, arrest puts the responsibility for punishment where it belongs, on the state, and prevents the victim from resorting to vigilante justice (Stark 1996).

Others argue that relieving victims of their decision-making power by mandating arrest is ultimately patronizing to battered women (e.g., Buzawa and Buzawa 2003; Mills 2003). Often victims simply want the violence to stop or fear the consequences that may accompany arrest, such as retaliation by their batterer or loss of his income. In addition, victims might be deterred from calling the police in the future or obtaining medical help for injuries if they fear that their abuser might be arrested. Thus true victim empowerment would be achieved by giving victims some control over the outcome of police intervention, as occurs in nondomestic assault situations. Of course, there are situations in which arrest is indicated; however, it is only one of several alternatives that should be considered.

Implicit in many of the arguments for mandatory arrest is the notion that all battering incidents are the same. However, not all batterers are the same, not all battering incidents are the same, and not all victims are the same. Thus having one overarching policy that is supposed to be based on what victims really want ignores the complexity of the situation. Some victims merely want the police to stop the abuser and take him or her away to cool off; some want their abuser arrested. Some fear, probably rightfully, that if their abuser is arrested, he or she will exact revenge. It is important to consider these individual issues in these battering incidents.

B. No-Drop Policies

Mandatory arrest policies were instituted at a time when the nation was expanding its “war on drugs” and prosecutors were pressured to increase the prosecution of drug crimes. Thus mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence had some consequences that initially were unanticipated but probably should have been. Because police officers now had to arrest domestic violence offenders, more and more cases were referred to the prosecutor, without concomitant increases in budgets or manpower to handle such cases. The already overstrained systems were on the verge of breaking because of these additional domestic violence cases (Balos and Trotsky 1988; Cahn 1992).

One study in Milwaukee showed that backloads of cases, time to disposition, and pretrial crime increased after mandatory arrest policies were instituted, (p. 127) whereas convictions and victim satisfaction with how prosecutors handled cases decreased (Davis, Smith, and Nickles 1998). Without adequate resources, prosecutors' offices often were unable to handle effectively the increase in domestic violence caseloads, and the typical response was to reduce charges dramatically. This practice was criticized because it subverted what mandatory arrest laws were trying to accomplish (Davis and Smith 1995). However, prosecutors saw their actions as reasonable, especially given the noncooperation of many victims. In 60 to 80 percent of domestic violence cases, victims ultimately repudiate the case because they want to drop the charges; often they refuse to appear in court as a witness (e.g., Ford 1983; Rebovich 1996).

Because domestic violence cases were getting dismissed by the prosecutors' offices or dropped by victims, states began to enact “no-drop” policies, which effectively limited the discretion of victims and prosecutors. Under no-drop policies, prosecutors cannot drop cases unless there are documented failures to find evidence that a crime occurred. In addition, if the victim wants to prosecute the prosecutor must follow the victim's wishes. For victims, these policies imposed restrictions that limited their ability to drop charges, and in some jurisdictions, if a victim refuses to testify in court he or she can be subpoenaed and held in contempt of court (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003).

Although these no-drop policies sound strict, prosecutors nonetheless find them to be flexible. Many jurisdictions screen out cases prior to instituting the no-drop policy, and fewer than 20 percent of jurisdictions reported that these policies had any severe effects on how they handled cases (Rebovich 1996).

Studies of sites that instituted no-drop policies have shown some positive impact. For example, in Washington, DC, the prosecution rates of domestic violence cases began to approximate those of nondomestic misdemeanor cases, and some cities seem to have experienced a decrease in recidivism rates (Epstein 1999). However, limited resources for prosecutors' offices to handle such cases, in addition to continued victim noncooperation, still pose problems for the effective institution of such policies (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003; Wills 1997). Another documented problem is the issue of victim “disempowerment.” Studies have shown that women who were forced to prosecute, even though they felt that it would be dangerous, were more likely to be revictimized than those who were not forced to prosecute (Buzawa et al. 1999).

C. Protective Orders

Changes to protective orders are a major innovation in the criminal justice system's handling of domestic violence cases. Prior to the 1970s women typically had to be divorcing their husband if they hoped to get a restraining order (Chaudhuri and Daly 1992), and judges used restraining orders sparingly. The situation has changed drastically, however; restraining orders are now much easier to get and are probably the instruments most used to combat domestic violence. Battered women's (p. 128) advocates were largely behind this movement to make restraining orders easier to obtain in an effort to circumvent the perceived reluctance of police, prosecutors, and judges to deal with domestic violence. Moreover, under the federal Violence Against Women Act, protection orders must be fully enforced nationwide, no matter what the original jurisdiction; they must be accessible and affordable; and penalties were established for individuals who cross state lines to continue abusive behavior (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003).

Although thousands of women and many men apply for protective orders every year, only about half of female applicants receive them, primarily because they do not follow through with the process (Malecha et al. 2003). One difference between women who complete the process and those who do not is that women who drop the process are more likely currently to be in a relationship and living with their batterer three months after their initial application for the order. These are the women most likely to continue being abused (Malecha et al. 2003).

The use of protective orders has several advantages. First, they are flexible in the provisions that can be imposed, and judges have discretion to impose provisions they feel are necessary for each individual case. Second, because they are designed to operate prospectively they can prevent future violence, particularly in relationships where violence is in the early stages. Third, they provide police with tangible means to arrest an offender: violations of protective orders are subject to warrantless arrests in most states, and, in some, repeated violations are considered a felony. Fourth, the police may be motivated to take action in domestic violence cases involving restraining orders, even if only because they cannot then be accused of not following procedures that ultimately led to victim injury. With a restraining order in hand, police know that they can and must arrest. Fifth, obtaining a restraining order may empower the victim, who now has control over the home, possessions, and children, and the ability to call the authorities if the offender violates the restraining order. Sixth, protective orders cost less than other means of dealing with domestic violence. For the victim, they may prevent future abuse without the necessity of going through a lengthy trial or having the batterer incarcerated and thus unable to make child support payments. For the offender, a protective order does not jeopardize employment. For the courts, it takes less time and money to prevent future crime than to arrest and prosecute a crime that has already occurred. Seventh, relief from violence is quicker; in contrast to the prosecution process, which may take weeks or months, restraining orders can be obtained immediately, and the preliminary hearing can be scheduled within a day or two after the complaint is filed. Finally, violation of a protective order can be useful for the prosecutor in convicting an offender, especially if other physical evidence and victim cooperation are not forthcoming (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003).

Nonetheless, protective orders have several disadvantages. Some judges are reluctant to issue them because protective orders can impinge on the defendant's constitutional rights without due process of law. This is especially so with ex parte protective orders because the defendant is not present to defend himself (p. 129) or herself. A second problem is that restraining orders must be initiated and pursued by the victim, which in some states requires filing fees and may involve contact with unsupportive court personnel. When, in addition, batterers threaten the victim with retaliation, obtaining a restraining order is a large obstacle for the victim (Buzawa and Buzawa 2003).

Several studies show that restraining orders give victims a sense of empowerment, but that this empowerment may be illusory because restraining orders do not seem to protect victims from repeat abuse (e.g., Klein 1996; Grau, Fagan, and Wexler 1985; Harrell, Smith, and Newmark 1993; Harrell and Smith 1996; Keilitz, Hannaford, and Efkemann 1997; Mears et al. 2001). These studies also show that men who are served with restraining orders tend to be the most seriously violent offenders and have criminal histories. These are also the men who most likely violate a restraining order. Thus restraining orders, like mandatory arrest policies, do not seem to work well for the most serious offenders.

D. Batterer Intervention Programs

One of the main diversionary programs mandated by judges for male batterers is completion of a batterer intervention program. These have several goals, including helping the batterer take responsibility for his behavior, changing the batterer's attitudes toward violence, eliminating violent behavior toward his partner, and protecting the victim. Most states have developed a number of mandates for these programs, the most controversial of which include (a) provision of group intervention and avoidance of both individual and couples' interventions, and (b) inclusion of issues of power and control in program content (Hamby 1998). These provisions are controversial because there is little evidence that group intervention is better than individual or couples' therapy, and there is very little evidence that using power and control issues as the focus of program content is an effective way to reach the goals of such programs. In fact, current evidence suggests that these programs do not work (e.g., Davis, Taylor, and Maxwell 1998; Feder and Forde 2000).

State-mandated program models are organized around the feminist notion that battering is a social problem stemming from the patriarchal organization of society. The male batterer is seen as intentionally committing violence to maintain a patriarchal structure in which he is superior and the woman is inferior within the relationship (Hamby 1998). Most programs that focus on power and control issues use the Duluth Model, developed in Duluth, Minnesota, by a small group of battered women's activists (Pence and Paymar 1983). The model is based on Pence and Paymar's experience with four male batterers and five female victims who completed the Duluth program. The model assumes that the sole cause for all battering is the batterers' need to control and dominate their partners. This issue of power and control is seen as an exclusively male phenomenon, and all female violence is viewed as self-defensive. Changing this dynamic is the key to changing batterers' behavior. The facilitator of the program is encouraged to use slavery as (p. 130) an analogy for how male batterers maintain control over their female partners, and all other risk factors for domestic violence (e.g., alcohol abuse, personality disorders, anger control issues, impulsivity, communication skills deficits, couple interaction styles, stress) are viewed as excuses. Program developers consider any psychological diagnosis of the male batterer to involve a rationalization for his behavior and thus inaccurate (Pence and Paymar 1983).

Studies of the effectiveness of Duluth-type batterer intervention programs show that they do not work. There are no differences in recidivism rates or attitudes toward women and domestic violence between male batterers who attend these programs and those who do not (e.g., Davis, Taylor, and Maxwell 1998; Feder and Forde 2000). Moreover, attrition rates of men who attend an initial batterer intervention program session have been shown to be between 40 and 60 percent, even when attendance is mandated as a condition of probation and failure to attend can result in incarceration (Buttell and Carney 2002).

Dutton and Corvo (2006) argue that by taking an adversarial and judgmental stance against batterers (and by disbelieving or dismissing batterers' often valid claims of alcoholism, mental illness, and mutuality of abuse), Duluth treatment providers preclude any opportunity to form a therapeutic bond with the batterers, which is the strongest predictor of successful treatment outcome. Thus it is not surprising that Duluth Model treatment does not work and leads to high attrition rates.

Programs that focus on psychological issues, anger problems, communication problems, impulse control issues, and couple interaction problems are often shunned by domestic violence advocates and prohibited by state laws. However, there is evidence that such intervention programs work for male batterers and their female partners. For example, couples' therapy that addresses underlying negative interactions that precede violence has shown positive results (OʼLeary, Heyman, and Neidig 1999; Stith, Rosen, and McCollum 2003). Treatments based on psychological and family systems models have also been shown to be more effective than the Duluth Model (e.g., Babcock, Green, and Robie 2004). Even programs that focus on the treatment of alcoholism (without addressing issues of battering) have shown substantially greater reductions in domestic violence among alcoholic batterers than do Duluth Model programs (e.g., OʼFarrell et al. 2003).

Despite such evidence, batterer intervention programs that focus on power and control are still mandated by state laws as programs of choice for batterers, whereas programs that are effective are shunned or, worse, specifically prohibited. For example, Georgia law prohibits any batterer intervention program that links “causes of violence to past experiences,” includes “communication enhancement or anger management,” addresses addiction, or has a systems theory focus (State of Georgia 2002). The rationale for such state prohibitions is that the Duluth Model guarantees a victim's safety. However, it makes no sense to assume that a program that does not work is better at protecting victims' safety than are programs that do work (Dutton and Corvo 2006).

(p. 131) IV. Female Perpetrators

The ideology that guides criminal justice policies and procedures for domestic violence has made the issue of female perpetrators a thorny one. According to the Duluth Model, female perpetrators do not and cannot exist because domestic violence is an issue of power and control of which only men are capable. Therefore, when women have been arrested for domestic violence the police have been faulted for instituting a “backlash” against mandated policies (Mills 2003), and if women are prosecuted there is no place for them to receive treatment because current batterer intervention programs assume they do not exist. This is significant because about 15 percent of people arrested for domestic violence are women (Mills 2003).

Despite the Duluth Model's insistence that female perpetrators do not exist, there is much evidence that they do and that most of their violence is not self-defensive. There is also an abundance of evidence that women can be the sole perpetrators of domestic violence and that much domestic violence is mutual (Hines and Malley-Morrison 2001), that the strongest predictor of one partner's violence is the other partner's violence, and that there is assortative mating for violent behavior (Capaldi, Kim, and Shortt 2004; Moffitt et al. 2001; Serbin et al. 2004). Thus there is an apparent discrepancy between research and policy on female perpetrators of domestic violence.

Some researchers have tried to resolve this discrepancy by arguing that women tend to engage in low-level violence that is often mutual with their partner, but that severe violence and control that can be labeled “intimate terrorism” is the domain of male batterers (e.g., Johnson 1995). However, several recent comprehensive population-based studies have cast serious doubt on this argument. These studies show that at least a substantial minority of all “intimate terrorists” are women (Ehrensaft, Moffitt, and Caspi 2004; Laroche 2005), who strike just as much fear in their male partner as male intimate terrorists do in their female partner (Laroche 2005). Moreover, there is evidence that a strong predictor of women's use of violence is a history of antisocial behavior from adolescence on (e.g., Ehrensaft, Cohen, and Johnson 2006; Moffitt et al. 2001; Capaldi, Kim, and Shortt 2004).

Why aren't arrest rates reflected in the research findings? The principal reason seems to be that the Duluth-type ideology has permeated police departments, with the result that men are disproportionately arrested for domestic violence, even when their violence is equivalent to that of women (Brown 2004). Another factor seems to be the institution of “primary aggressor” policies. These policies grew out of the mandatory arrest movement, when it was found that mandatory arrest resulted in an increased likelihood of dual arrest, principally because officers did not know who was at fault for the violence. Given that most violence is mutual, the officers were probably correct in arresting both partners, but “primary aggressor” policies were instituted to provide police with guidelines in determining which party was at fault. Backers of these policies wanted to reduce the number of women (p. 132) arrested for domestic violence; they felt that battered women were being arrested for defending themselves (Goldberg 1999, Nov. 23).

To learn how to identify the primary aggressor, officers typically undergo training that encourages them to consider these factors: relative age, height, and weight of the parties; criminal history of the parties; whether one of the parties is on probation for domestic violence; evidence of fear in one of the parties; whether injuries appear offensive or defensive; the relative seriousness of injuries; whether either party has a motive to lie; the relative strength and skill of the parties; whether one of the parties used alcohol or drugs; who called 911; who in the relationship poses the most danger; whether one party is more at risk for future harm; the demeanor of each party; whether there exists a protective order against one of the parties; and how detailed each parties' statement is (Strack n.d.). Many of these criteria would apply to the male party, regardless of whether he is the primary aggressor. In addition, guidelines sometimes encourage police to ask, “Have you ever called a battered women's hot line?” and “Has he hit you before?” (Goldberg 1999, Nov. 23). The mind-set behind such questions is that women are victims and men are perpetrators.

In addition, men face several internal and external barriers to seeking help from the criminal justice system. For example, men are not likely to seek help for issues that society deems non-normative or for which society deems they should be able to handle themselves (Addis and Mihalik 2003). Even when men who sustain domestic violence do overcome these internal barriers and call the police, they may experience significant external barriers. For example, some report that they, not their violent female partner, are arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced for being a batterer. Sometimes a male victim is required to enter a batterer intervention program, even if there is no evidence that he hit his female partner but substantial evidence that he had been injured by her (Hines, Brown, and Dunning 2007). Moreover, policies in some jurisdictions discourage the arrest of women as domestic violence offenders. For example, in Boulder, Colorado, male victims were three times as likely to be arrested during a dual arrest as were female victims (Jones and Belknap 1999). In Massachusetts, when the man was the victim an arrest was five times less likely than when a woman was a victim in a similar situation. In addition, sometimes officers made no arrest or arrested the man (Buzawa and Hotaling 2000).

V. Policy Implications

Current policies do not work well, principally because they are built on the faulty notion that all domestic violence is perpetrated by men who instrumentally and consciously choose to exhibit violently their power and control over their female (p. 133) partner. There are certainly plenty of domestic violence cases in which this happens; however, these cases are a small minority. Thus a one-size-fits-all policy for how we should deal with domestic violence is doomed to fail. Not all battering relationships and motives are the same, and if our policies do not recognize this, then the policies designed to help those involved in domestic violence may make the problem worse for some, as has been shown already with arrest policies (Sherman et al. 1992).

Policy makers in the criminal justice system need to pay attention to what research shows is driving domestic violence and what works in domestic violence prevention and intervention. In no other field is there such a schism between evidence and practice. As Dutton and Corvo (2006, p. 478) write:

Against a national movement toward evidence-based practice and best-practice criteria for assessing program continuance, interventions with perpetrators of domestic violence remain immune to those evaluative criteria. The stranglehold on theory and policy development that the Duluth Model exerts confounds efforts to improve treatment. There is no rational reason for domestic violence to be viewed outside of the broad theoretical and professional frameworks used to analyze and respond to most contemporary behavioral and psychological problems.… No other area of established social welfare, criminal justice, public health, or behavioral intervention has such weak evidence in support of mandated practice.

Current laws and policies often make it impossible to deliver interventions or prevention models not consistent with the Duluth ideology. Even though current interventions are not effective, state policies prohibit the execution of effective practices. We need to change these policies so that we can move away from this unicausal model of domestic violence to one that considers the complex dynamics of the relationships in which domestic violence exists, the complex psychology of those who are violent, and the complex social systems in which domestic violence is embedded. Policy makers should embrace the multilevel ecological model and tailor their policies to the level that they are targeting for intervention or prevention.

It is also time to move away from the notion that there are distinct perpetrators and victims in domestic violence and accept that women can and do use aggression in their intimate relationships. Police are often forced to identify the victim and the perpetrator; however, the best designed studies show that, in at least half of domestic violence cases, both parties are violent. Thus it is time to realize that the roles of victim and perpetrator may be constantly shifting and that even in the context of a single argument these roles can shift.

The proponents of the Duluth Model that underlies all current policies should be congratulated for their initial movement to bring domestic violence into public awareness. However, it is time that they abandon their faulty ideology and stronghold on domestic violence policies and let effective prevention and intervention programs be put in place.


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