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

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 1 — What is their gender?

Although some sociological research [202] based on self-reporting finds equal rates of male and female partner conflict (including mostly minor physical assaults), behavior that is likely to violate most state and federal criminal and civil (protective order) statutes is typically perpetrated by males. [153]

Perpetrators that come to the attention of the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly male. For example, 86 percent of abusers brought to court for restraining orders in Massachusetts were male, [2] as were those arrested for domestic violence in California [228] and Charlotte, N.C. (as much as 97.4 percent for the most serious cases). [68] In Rhode Island, 92 percent of abusers placed on probation for domestic violence were male. [68, 141] A Cincinnati court study found 86.5 percent of 2,670 misdemeanor domestic violence court defendants to be male. [11] The overwhelming majority of their victims were women: 84 percent in both Charlotte, N.C., [68] and Berkeley, Calif. [228] The 2000 NIBRS multistate study found that 81 percent of the suspects were male and their victims were female. [117]

Jurisdictions with higher numbers of female suspects and male victims usually include higher numbers of non-intimate family violence cases. [139, 196] The latter typically involve older victims and their adult children perpetrators. A study of elder abuse across the state of Rhode Island, for example, found that two-thirds of elder female victims were abused by family members as opposed to intimate partners, including 46.2 percent by adult sons and 26.9 percent by adult daughters, 8.6 percent by grandsons and 1.6 percent by granddaughters. [139]

Implications for Law Enforcement

If the ratio of male to female suspects and victims differs substantially from those found above, departments should be alert to potential gender bias in their response to domestic violence. Ongoing training and supervision can address overrepresentation of female versus male arrests. (Research basis: Multiple studies of abusers and their victims brought to the attention of the criminal justice system [including civil protective orders] confirm the gender ratio as opposed to studies focusing on non-intimate and family conflict.)

Implications for Prosecutors

Prosecutors should be alert to gender bias in the response of local law enforcement agencies and re-screen cases if the percentage of female suspects accused of abusing male victims exceeds that commonly found across the nation. (Research basis: Multiple studies of abusers and their victims brought to the attention of the criminal justice system [including civil protective orders] confirm the gender ratio as opposed to studies focusing on non-intimate and family conflict.)

Implications for Judges

If, upon reviewing domestic violence dockets, judges find much higher rates of female-on-male abuse cases than those typically found across the country as a whole, they should be alert to potential gender bias on the part of police and/or prosecutors and ensure that they are presented with sufficient evidence to confirm the correct designation of victims and their abusers. (Research basis: Multiple studies of abusers and their victims brought to the attention of the criminal justice system [including civil protective orders] confirm the gender ratio as opposed to studies focusing on non-intimate and family conflict.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009