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

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 7 — How many abusers are likely to do it again?

Depending on how reabuse is measured, over what period of time, and what countermeasures either the victim (e.g., getting a protective order or going into hiding) or the criminal justice system takes (arresting or locking up the abuser), a hard core of approximately one-third of abusers will reabuse in the short run, and more will reabuse in the long run.

In Rhode Island, 38.4 percent of abusers were arrested for a new domestic violence offense within two years of being placed on probation supervision for a misdemeanor domestic violence offense. [141] A half-dozen batterer program studies published between 1988 and 2001 and conducted across the United States documented reabuse, as reported by victims, ranging from 26 to 41 percent within five to 30 months. [4, 48, 54, 84, 85, 88, 89, 98] Five studies published between 1985 and 1999 of court-restrained abusers in multiple states found reabuse rates, as measured by arrest and victim reports for the period of four months to two years after their last abuse offense, to range from 24 to 60 percent. [4, 26, 105, 133, 134]

Where studies have found substantially lower rearrest rates for abuse, it appears the lower rate is a result of police behavior, not abuser behavior. In these jurisdictions, victims report equivalent reabuse, notwithstanding low rearrest rates. For example, studies of more than 1,000 female victims in Florida, New York City and Los Angeles found that, whereas only 4 to 6 percent of their abusers were arrested for reabuse within one year, 31 percent of the victims reported being physically abused during the following year (one-half of those reporting being burned, strangled, beaten up or seriously injured) and 16 percent reported being stalked or threatened. [61, 190] Similarly, in a Bronx domestic court study, whereas only 14 to 15 percent of defendants convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or violations were rearrested after one year, victims reported reabuse rates of 48 percent during that year. [185]

Reabuse has found to be substantially higher in longer term studies. A Massachusetts study tracked 350 male abusers arrested for abusing their female intimate partners over a decade, 1995 to 2005. The study found that 60 percent were rearrested for a new domestic assault or had a protective order taken out against them, even though some went three to four years between arrests. [138, 224] An equivalently high rearrest rate for domestic violence was also documented in Colorado between 1994 and 2005. During that time, of 84,431 defendants arrested for domestic violence, according to the state bureau of investigation, more than 50,000 (nearly 60 percent) were arrested for domestic violence charges more than once. In other words, the domestic violence rearrest rate was almost 60 percent for arrested abusers over an average of five years. [125]

Implications for Law Enforcement

It is safe to assume that, more often than not, the typical abuser who comes to the attention of law enforcement has a high likelihood of continuing to abuse the same or a different victim, both in the short term and over the subsequent decade at least. (Research basis: Although observational studies vary on reports of reabuse [depending on how it is measured], there is widespread consensus that reported reabuse is substantially less than actual reabuse experienced by victims, which is typically found to be more than 50 percent. The few longitudinal studies of more than a year or two suggest that many abusers continue to abuse, notwithstanding gaps of several years between initial and subsequent reported incidents.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

It is safe to assume that, more often than not, the typical abuser who makes it to the prosecutor's office has a high likelihood of continuing to abuse the same or a different victim, both in the short term and over the subsequent decade at least. While prosecuting specific, discrete incidents, prosecutors should recommend sentences that address long-term patterns of criminal behavior and are based on abuser risk for reabuse. Judges should fashion civil or criminal remedies/sanctions that maximize protection of current and/or future victims from the abuser. It is inappropriate to consider a repeat abuser as a "first" offender just because several years may have passed between abuse offenses. (Research basis: Although observational studies vary on reports of reabuse [depending on how it is measured], there is widespread consensus that reported reabuse is substantially less than actual reabuse experienced by victims, which is typically found to be more than 50 percent. The few longitudinal studies of more than a year or two suggest that many abusers continue to abuse, notwithstanding gaps of several years between initial and subsequent reported incidents.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009