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

Published June 2009

Chapter 4. Victim Characteristics 

Section 1 — Are victim characteristics and actions important factors in assessing the likelihood of abuse?

Victims come in all shapes, sizes, ages and relationships, but these differences are largely irrelevant in terms of their victimization. Victim characteristics — other than gender and age — have generally not been found to be associated with the likelihood of abuse. [23] For example, although many studies have associated pregnancy with increased risk for domestic violence, research suggests that the increased risk is related to the youth of women, not their pregnancy. [219]

Those victims who leave their abusers have been found to be as likely to be reabused as those who remain with them. [141] Those victims who maintain civil restraining orders or criminal no-contact orders against their abusers are as likely to be reabused as those who drop the orders. Only one study [120], comparing women with orders and those without, found that women with permanent as opposed to temporary orders were less likely to have new police-reported domestic violence. However, the researchers in this study excluded violations of the orders themselves, including violations of no-contact or stay-away orders.

Implications for Law Enforcement

Victims face a dilemma — staying or leaving, and securing, maintaining or dropping a protective order may all result in reabuse. Law enforcement officers should assist victims in safeguarding themselves and their children while recognizing their limitations in controlling their abusers. (Research basis: Multiple protective order studies in different jurisdictions over different time periods.)

Performance Measure: A little more than a quarter of both small and large law enforcement agencies require officers to review safety plans with victims, and almost three-quarters of agencies arrange transport of victims to shelters or medical facilities, when needed.

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Victims face a dilemma — staying or leaving, and securing, maintaining or dropping a protective order may all result in reabuse. Prosecutors and judges should assist victims in recognizing their limitations in controlling their abusers and safeguarding themselves and their children. Prosecutors must establish effective collaboration with victim advocacy and service agencies in order to refer victims as needed. In addition, prosecutors should advise victims that prosecution, along with civil protective orders, may further victim protection. (Research basis: Findings that protective orders reduce reabuse don't include the order violations themselves, undervaluing the detrimental impact of order violations on victims who have secured them. The research on prosecution efficacy can be found under the question, "Does prosecuting domestic violence offenders deter reabuse?" in the Prosecution Responses section.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009