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Section 19
Police Reported Allegations of Intimate Partner Violence

Question 19 | Test | Table of Contents

The issue of whether or not to arrest a batterer is a topic of much debate among women’s groups and the police. This is a complicated matter which does not lend itself to a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

Police Critcism
The police have been criticized by many women’s groups for being too lax when it comes to arresting the batterer. Pro-arrest forces argue that assault is against the law; men who beat their wives are lawbreakers and should be held accountable in a court of law. However, those on the other side of this issue question the productivity of arresting an abuser. Both the police and women’s groups acknowledge that a batterer who is arrested may be so infuriated that immediately on release he will lash out against his wife with beatings even more brutal than those which had taken place previously.

Morton Bard (a psychologist specializing in police family crisis intervention) is skeptical about the efficacy of arresting batterers. Rather than resorting to arrest, he recommends that the police be trained in skillful handling of domestic conflicts. The essence of Bard’s beliefs on this issue is contained in the following statements:

“It is my impression that in most instances disputing parties do not wish to have a criminal sanction applied, such as arrest; rather, the disputants want the police to “do something,” however ill-defined that something may be.

While a serious dispute may itself constitute a crisis, often it is an expression of a deeper crisis in the life of a family. If police officers are prepared to deal with family conflicts swiftly and skillfully, then they are in an excellent position to make discriminations that can ultimately lead to a constructive outcome. In general, traditional police practice in relation to family disputes tends to be ineffective for two reasons: (1) it rarely prevents future violence; (2) it fails to realize the constructive potential inherent in skillful management of family disputes.

More often than not [arrests] initiate a judicial process which, experience tells us, has little chance of a productive outcome. When a family dispute is referred to court, it may be days or weeks before any action is taken—ample time for fights either to escalate or to be forgotten. Moreover, orders of protection, peace bonds, and other criminal sanctions offer little real protection, and offer even less in meeting the needs of spouses in conflict. (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1978, pp. 50-51)”

Advocates of Arrest
In contrast to the views expressed by Bard, a number of prominent advocates for the rights of women strongly believe that batterers should be arrested. Fleming (1979) and Fields and Lehman (1977) advocate arresting the batterer, but they also caution women of the dangers inherent in pressing charges against batterers. Fleming advises those who decide to prosecute that “it is unlikely that [the] assailant will receive any kind of penalty”. Women deciding whether to prosecute should consider what effect the entire process is likely to have on the batterer. If the prosecution process itself would be intimidating to the abuser, then his fear of the criminal justice system may result in a reduction of the abuse. However, any possible benefits of using the prosecution process as a deterrent to further abuse are lost if a man realized just how ineffective the judicial system is when it comes to punishing wife abusers. Even if a batterer is convicted, he will most likely receive just a short term of non-reporting probation.

Another advocate of arrest is Loving who recently prepared a monograph for the Police Executive Research Forum. Loving (1980) states that wife abusers need to recognize that violence is not condoned by our society and that those who break the law will be punished. Her reasoning is as follows:

“The use of arrest in spousal violence cases involving serious injury, use of a deadly weapon, and/or violation of a restraining order is entirely proper and should be required. This is true for many reasons, but primarily because the elements of a serious criminal offense exist, and because community standards have shifted sufficiently to support police intervention in these cases. Moreover, not to arrest in these cases may suggest to the assailant that violent behavior is not serious and will not be punished. Theoretically, the threat of arrest, conviction, and punishment is used as a deterrent force in the community, notifying both offenders and citizens that incidents of spousal violence are, serious and will result in prosecution. This is not to suggest that the threat of the criminal sanction will deter all potential offenders, but rather that it may deter some of them.”

Benefits of Arrest
An added benefit of arrest is that it can facilitate batterers taking responsibility for their actions through participation in court­mandated treatment programs (if such programs exist in their community). Not every domestic violence case necessitates an arrest. Loving cites the following as examples of situations in which an arrest should probably not be made: cases in which the victim refuses to press charges, and cases which are victim-precipitated.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has advocated expanding the authority of the police in domestic violence cases so that they can make warrantless arrests for misdemeanor cases. Twenty-two states have passed such warrantless arrest laws accordance with IACP recommendations. Most of the new laws permit arrest without a warrant only after an act of domestic physical abuse has taken place. However, some of the laws contain an additional provision allowing a warrantless arrest in cases where “there is a substantial likelihood or immediate danger of that [adult family] member being abused” (Center for Women Policy Studies, 1980, pp 1-2).

Even when new laws are passed, however, there is often a time gap between enactment of the legislation and police enforcement, because many police officers are reluctant to arrest women batterers. New laws, in and of themselves, are not necessarily sufficient change-ingrained practices. This is what led to the landmark Bruno v. Codd case in New York. A group of battered women filed a class-action suit against the New York City Police Department, charging that the police had not been enforcing the recently passed domestic violence laws. The resulting consent decree made the following stipulations:

“[It] required the police to respond as soon as possible to every request for assistance or protection in a domestic dispute. The decree ordered the police not to refrain from arresting a person simply because there was a relationship between the victim and the abuser. Further, the decree required that the police make an arrest if there were reasonable cause to believe that a felony had been committed against the wife, or an order of protection had been violated.” (Pirro, 1982, p355)

In other words, the Bruno case demonstrated that family violence victims “were entitled to the enforcement of the new legislation and could not be denied their rights as crime victims” (Pirro, 1982, p355). This court decision has resulted in increased police responsiveness toward battered women in New York City.

Because the vast majority of abused women choose to continue living with their partner, programs which help the man to learn non-violent methods of coping with anger and stress are vitally important. A growing number of legal remedies provide for court-mandated treatment for batterers.

These new arrest laws and accompanying requirements for batterers to receive counseling are indicative of a growing responsiveness on the part of the women’s rights advocates, legislators, and police administrators to the needs of domestic violence victims. Unfortunately, woman battering is still not viewed as a crime in every state, and police in certain jurisdictions are still likely to ignore family violence calls.

- Roberts, A. R., PhD. (1998). Battered Women and Their Families. Springer Publishing Company: New York.

Exploring the Perspectives of Professionals
on Providing Intimate Partner Violence Services
to Women With Disabilities

- Namatovu, F., Ineland, J., & Lövgren, V. (2022). Exploring the Perspectives of Professionals on Providing Intimate Partner Violence Services to Women With Disabilities. Violence against women, 10778012221137916.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Matlasz, T. M., Frick, P. J., Robertson, E. L., Ray, J. V., Thornton, L. C., Wall Myers, T. D., Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (2020). Does self-report of aggression after first arrest predict future offending and do the forms and functions of aggression matter? Psychological Assessment, 32(3), 265–276.

Sleath, E., & Smith, L. L. (2017). Understanding the factors that predict victim retraction in police reported allegations of intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence, 7(1), 140–149.

VanMeter, F., Nivison, M. D., Englund, M. M., Carlson, E. A., & Roisman, G. I. (2021). Childhood abuse and neglect and self-reported symptoms of psychopathology through midlife. Developmental Psychology, 57(5), 824–836.

Zarling, A., Bannon, S., Berta, M., & Russell, D. (2020). Acceptance and commitment therapy for individuals convicted of domestic violence: 5-year follow-up and time to reoffense. Psychology of Violence, 10(6), 667–675.

What has been the result of the Bruno case? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 20
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