Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 2. Reporting and Arrests

Section 2 — At what point do victims report domestic violence?

Victims do not generally report their initial intimate partner victimization but typically suffer multiple assaults or related victimizations before they contact authorities or apply for protective orders. [63, 105, 133] A Texas protective order study, like others conducted across the country, found that 68 percent of the victims taking out orders had been physically abused by their partners in the two years before they took out orders. [26] A Massachusetts arrest study found that a majority (55 percent) of sampled intimate partner victims who called police reported that either the frequency or the severity of ongoing abuse was increasing in the period before the call. Another 11 percent reported no increases in either frequency or severity but increased controlling behaviors such as restrictions on freedom of movement, access to money, medical or counseling services, or social support. [23] The NCVS found that victims were more likely to report reassaults than initial assaults. [63]

Implications for Law Enforcement

In questioning victims, law enforcement officers should always inquire about unreported prior assaults for evidence of crimes that may be charged, depending on the jurisdiction's statute of limitations. These inquiries are also necessary to develop an accurate offender history to determine offender risk and to advise the victim. Prior abuse history may also be helpful in determining the primary or predominant aggressor. (Research basis: Both national studies and multiple, disparate individual-jurisdiction studies agree that battering that is likely to come to the attention of law enforcement constitutes repeated activity, much of it not reported to law enforcement initially.)

Implications for Prosecutors

In questioning victims, prosecutors should always inquire about prior unreported domestic violence for evidence of crimes that may be charged, depending on the jurisdiction's statute of limitations, and/or are necessary to develop an accurate offender history to determine appropriate prosecution and sentencing recommendations. (Research basis: Both national studies and multiple, disparate individual-jurisdiction studies agree that battering that is likely to come to the attention of law enforcement constitutes repeated activity, much of it not reported to law enforcement initially.)

Implications for Judges

Judges should not assume that the civil petition or criminal case before them represents isolated, unique behaviors on the part of the involved parties, particularly the abuser. Although this assumption may not be relevant until after the specific petition or case has been decided, it must be considered in terms of fashioning remedies and sanctions. (Research basis: Both national and multiple, disparate individual-jurisdiction studies agree that battering that is likely to come to the attention of the criminal justice system represents repeated activity.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009