NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 9 Domestic Violence


This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of domestic violence, details numerous research studies and findings from state and local domestic violence programs, and reviews case experiences of advocates who work with victims and batterers. Protocols and policies for criminal justice system, legal, and coordinated community-based interventions are also examined, along with summaries of federal and state laws relevant to domestic violence prevention and interventions. Aspects of the physical, psychological, and financial impact of domestic violence on its victims, and on children who witness violence, are addressed.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

Statistical Overview

Prevalence Estimates: Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence

(The following section was developed by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, April 1999.)

Recently, violence among intimates has received increased attention in this and other countries, and the medical need to identify victims of domestic violence is particularly well established. Domestic violence is found across ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic classes (Hotaling and Sugarman 1990). Approximately 20 to 30 percent of marriages in this country have been characterized at one point by overt interpersonal aggression (Straus and Gelles 1990; Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz 1980), and about 1,800,000 to 4,000,000 women in the United States women are physically abused by their partners annually (Straus and Gelles 1986). In a wide scale study of couples, Straus and Gelles (1990) found that almost 13 percent of men had physically aggressed against their partners in the past year. Over 33 percent of these aggressive acts were classified as severe (i.e., punching, beating up, threatening with a knife or gun). Women are up to six times as likely to suffer violence at the hands of a partner or ex-partner than from a stranger (Bachman and Saltzman 1995), and are more likely to suffer injury when their assailant is an intimate (Bachman and Saltzman 1995).

Physicians are frequently in direct contact with recent victims of domestic violence. Twenty-two to 35 percent of emergency room visits by women are in response to partner violence (Abbot et al. 1995; McLeer and Anwar 1989; Randall 1990), and approximately 53 percent of domestic violence victims present to physicians repeatedly (i.e., six or more times) with trauma-related injuries (Stark, Flitcraft, and Frazier 1979). Female victims of domestic violence are up to thirteen times more likely to suffer injury to their breasts, chests, or abdomens than accident victims (AMA 1992a). Thus, clinicians observing these injuries should be aware of the increased potential for past and future victimization. Sexual assault is also widely prevalent in domestic settings. Thirty-three to 50 percent of women who are physically assaulted by their partners also suffer sexual assault at their hands (Frieze and Browne 1989). Indeed, in their large-sample survey, Kilpatrick, Edmunds, and Seymour (1992) found that only 22 percent of rapes were perpetrated by strangers, whereas husbands and boyfriends were responsible for 19 percent, and other relatives accounted for 38 percent (the remaining rapes were perpetrated by nonrelatives and acquaintances).

Violence also seems to be widespread within the context of dating relationships. Approximately one-third of college students report experiencing relationship aggression (Arias, Samios, and O'Leary 1987; Bernard and Bernard 1983; Breslin et al. 1990; Rouse, Breen, and Howell 1988; White and Koss 1991). Some studies have revealed even higher prevalence rates of physical aggression among nonmarried relative to married couples (Stets and Straus 1989; Yilo and Straus 1981). Propensity for domestic violence is inversely related to the male partner's income and age, and positively associated with his number of alcohol-related problems (Barnett and Fagan 1993; Hotaling and Sugarman 1990; Pan, Neidig, and O'Leary 1994). As might be expected, a higher level of marital discord has also been associated with increased risk of physical assault (Hotaling and Sugarman 1990; Pan, Neidig, and O'Leary 1994).

As noted, women are at greatest risk of injury, sexual assault, and homicide by their partners. Disappointingly, Warshaw (1989) noted that 92 percent of domestic violence cases presenting to an emergency department received no referral or follow-up information, and Kurz (1987) reported that no physician response to abuse was observed in 40 percent of positively identified domestic violence victims. This is unfortunate when considering that partner violence is typically ongoing, and failure to identify and intervene, either directly or indirectly in the form of information and referral, maximizes the potential that one's patient will eventually experience severe physical and emotional injury or even death.

Defining Domestic Violence

Various definitions of domestic violence are utilized nationwide, reflecting both legal definitions and descriptions relevant to specific disciplines of caregivers, including victim advocates, medical professionals, and criminal justice practitioners. While it is necessary for victim service providers to determine the legal definition of domestic violence in both civil and criminal law in their respective states, it is useful to start with a generic definition of domestic violence:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior designed to exert power and control over a person in an intimate relationship through the use of intimidating, threatening, harmful, or harassing behavior.

The following isolates elements of domestic violence: what it is, who commits it, and when, where, and why it typically occurs.


Domestic violence is coercive behavior through the use of intimidating, threatening, harmful, or harassing behavior. This definition validates that domestic violence includes multiple forms of abuse--physical, sexual, and emotional or psychological. Here are specific examples of these types of behavior:

Physical abuse. Physical abuse is usually recurrent and usually escalates both in frequency and severity. It may include the following:

Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse in violent relationships is often the most difficult aspect of abuse for women to discuss. It may include any form of forced sex or sexual degradation:

  • Trying to make or making the victim perform sexual acts against her will.

Emotional or psychological abuse. Emotional or psychological abuse may precede or accompany physical violence as a means of controlling through fear and degradation. It may include the following:

  • Threats of harm.
  • Physical and social isolation.
  • Extreme jealousy and possessiveness.
  • Deprivation of resources to meet basic needs.
  • Intimidation, degradation, and humiliation.
  • Name calling and constant criticizing, insulting, and belittling the victim.
  • False accusations, blaming the victim for everything.
  • Ignoring, dismissing, or ridiculing the victim's needs.
  • Lying, breaking promises, and destroying the victim's trust.
  • Driving fast and recklessly to frighten and intimidate the victim.
  • Leaving the victim in a dangerous place.
  • Refusing to help when the victim is sick or injured.
  • Threats or acts of violence/injury upon pets or animals.


Domestic violence is primarily perpetrated by men against women. Numerous studies repeatedly illustrate this finding, as shown in the statistics cited earlier. Yet, in recent years, some studies suggest women use violence in intimate relationships as frequently as men do. These studies are refuted by credible members of the domestic violence discipline, particularly batterers' treatment providers, who are concerned about flaws in such studies:

1. Motivation for the use of violence. Most of the recent studies suggesting women and men equally engage in domestic violence fail to ask the survey respondent what motivated the use of violence in the intimate relationship. In studies that ask this question, the answer is consistent: Men use violence to establish or maintain power and control, and women use violence either in self-defense, in anticipation of violence, or in retaliation for violence perpetrated against them. In other words, if a woman is able to free herself from the abuser, she is very unlikely to continue to use violence. By contrast, most men engage in serial domestic violence: If he leaves or is left by one victim, he quickly becomes involved with another woman against whom he engages in domestic violence. If this question is factored into these studies, it becomes clear that women's use of violence is largely in response to the violence perpetrated against her.

2. Impact of violence on the intimate other--the fear factor. Recent studies suggesting women and men equally engage in domestic violence generally fail to ask what the impact of the domestic violence is on the victim. When this question is asked, women report greater numbers of injuries, greater severity of injuries, and greater risk of harm. Men report few or no injuries, unless the woman uses a weapon, in particular a gun. The issue most of these studies fail to examine is "who is afraid of whom?" Women report tremendous fear of violence--and injury--by the intimate other. Men largely report they are unafraid of the woman's use of violence, often finding it annoying or even amusing, unless the woman uses a weapon. Women generally only use a weapon in an effort to make him stop being violent.

3. Credibility of response. Recent studies that suggest women and men equally engage in domestic violence fail to factor in the credibility of the survey respondent. There are several issues to consider:

- First, those who work with batterers know that men who batter deny, minimize, and blame their use of violence on others. Thus, if these men are asked if they use violence in a relationship, there is a high probability they will say they do not. By comparison, a female victim of abuse is likely to feel responsible for the abuse and thus say she does use violence, even when in self-defense, in anticipation of violence or in retaliation for abuse against her.

- Second, it is crucial to know just how a study defines "abuse" and what questions the survey respondents were asked before accepting their findings. National studies show that men do not define many forms of violence as abuse. For example, if a couple in which domestic violence is perpetrated by the man against the woman is asked whether they have ever used violence, there is high probability the man will say he has not done so, because he does not define his behavior (including shoving, kicking, striking, hitting, punching, etc.) as abusive. Rather, he justifies his behavior as being provoked, triggered, and/or in response to something she did or did not do; and therefore, in his belief system, his behavior is not abusive because she is responsible for his actions. The woman, by contrast, will admit she has struck back or even initiated violence in response to his violence.

- Finally, if the study asks an open-ended question about abuse, rather than asking whether the person has engaged in specific forms of abuse, women are far more likely to include in their definition of abuse such behavior as shoving, pushing, slapping, or restraining the other person in addition to other more overt forms of violence. Men often do not include what they perceive to be "minor" forms of abuse in their definitions.

- The bottom line: Unless the survey asks questions about specific types of behavior, there is no way to assess what the survey respondent meant when she or he did or did not acknowledge the use of violence against his or her intimate other.

Although domestic violence is perpetrated by both genders, it is crucial to note and understand the above-described gender differences in the use of violence by men and women. This chapter refers to victims of domestic violence generally as females--this is not to exclude the genuine existence of male victims of domestic violence, but rather to acknowledge the reality that the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women.


Domestic violence occurs as a pattern of abuse, not as a single isolated incident. When dealing with victims of domestic abuse, it is important to ask whether the types of behavior described above or described in the power and control wheel (see Appendix A) are occurring or have occurred at any time in the past. Domestic violence can be distinguished from one-time situational violence, which can and does occur in many intimate relationships, such as the individual who shoves or slaps his spouse when learning she is having an affair or filing for a divorce. While this means of conflict resolution is not acceptable--and may result in an arrest and prosecution--it is not domestic violence because it is not a pattern of abuse. The role of the victim advocate is to ask questions to ascertain whether a pattern of physical, sexual, and/or emotional and psychological abuse is or has occurred.


Domestic violence occurs in intimate relationships. These relationships include current or former spouses, partners, and significant others, including boyfriend/girlfriends, gays, lesbians, transgendered persons, inter-sex persons, and bisexuals; family members, both by blood or by familial ties, such as in-laws, step-family members and foster family members; those who currently or formerly reside together, such as roommates and household members; those who have or share a child in common, or created a child in common; and those who provide services to a dependent person, such as attendants or caregivers for an elderly person or for a physically, cognitively, or mentally disabled person.


A person engages in domestic violence because he or she wishes to gain and/or maintain power and control over an intimate other, and believes he or she is entitled to do so.

Power and control wheels. The power and control wheel demonstrates the pattern of coercive behavior in a domestic violence relationship (see a sample in Appendix A following this chapter). At the heart of the wheel is power and control. This is the motivation behind the abuse--the answer to the question: Why does a person engage in domestic violence? The abuser has a need to ensure that he gains/maintains control of how the partner thinks, feels, and behaves. The outside of the wheel contains the cement of the abusive relationship: the threat of or actual use of physical and sexual violence. Physical and sexual abuse is the behavior most people think of as "the problem." It is the abuse most easily recognized or identified and often the only behavior that is illegal. However, the abuser may not need to use physical forms of abuse against the victim to maintain control because the victim attempts to do all she can to avoid the physical and sexual attacks. A victim need only be threatened or harmed once to know the abuser is willing and able to use physical and/or sexual abuse against her.

Inside the wheel are a variety of behaviors, known as tactics, which the abuser uses to gain and maintain control. Not all of these tactics are used in every relationship, and the tactics may be changed as the victim's response changes. The abuser will switch tactics when the victim learns to respond to one type of tactic or attack. When the struggle to challenge the abuser becomes too exhausting or too dangerous, the victim begins to modify her behavior--slowly giving up control of pieces of her life in order to avoid further abuse or to survive.

A victim advocate needs to be aware of three issues when dealing with a victim of domestic violence. First, most victims report they experience far greater shame and lasting effects as the result of psychological and emotional abuse than as the result of physical abuse. Victims report they feel less able to explain "crazy-making behavior" to others; they are more often disbelieved when they report forms of psychological and emotional abuse; and they do not have any visible injury to substantiate their allegations. Victims often report that the physical injuries heal and are forgotten--the psychological and emotional injuries repeatedly haunt their minds.

Second, while all abusive tactics are harmful to victims, the use of isolation may have the most severe impact on victims of domestic abuse. Once the abuser has succeeded in isolating the victim, she has no one with whom to reality check, making it more likely she will believe the abuser's perceptions of reality--including the abuser telling her she is responsible for the abuse. This means she has no one to whom she can describe the psychological and emotional abuse, which leads her to feeling more desperate and alone. Continued isolation also means she has fewer options and resources. This means women in isolated communities, such as rural farms or suburban homes with large lawns, are already physically isolated, possibly putting them at higher risk of injury and nonreporting.

A third issue to consider when dealing with victims of domestic violence is that the use of power and control tactics varies according to the abuser and the victim. The original Power and Control Wheel, developed by the Domestic Violence Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota, reflects the experience of those first victims who sought services from a domestic violence program or shelter: relatively young, able-bodied, white women. Because it is now known that domestic violence is perpetrated against women in all cultures, of all conditions, and all ages, additional power and control wheels have been created to reflect the tactics reported as experienced by these victims. It is useful for victim advocates to share with victims the power and control wheel(s) most appropriate to their situation. For example, domestic violence against the elderly has often been ignored, misunderstood, or misnamed as caregiver stress. A power and control wheel depicting domestic violence in later life illustrates power and control tactics that may not be used against a younger victim. At the other end of the life cycle, statistics indicate teen violence is the most rapidly growing form of domestic violence in the country. Again, the tactics used against a teen victim of domestic violence may be very different from those used against an older victim.

Victim advocates need to recognize that domestic violence can and does occur against all women, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, culture, race, etc. The sample Power and Control Wheel in Appendix A illustrates some of the tactics used by batterers. The Equality Wheel, also in Appendix A, depicts male/female interactions in a healthy relationship.

The Dynamics of Domestic Violence

The underlying reason for the abuser's behavior and the victim's response to his behavior are known as the dynamics of domestic violence. To understand why an abuser behaves as he does and why the victim responds to his behavior as she does, the victim advocate needs to be familiar with the abuser's and the victim's thinking patterns.

The best indicator of whether a man will abuse his spouse/intimate other is whether he has experienced or witnessed violence in his family of origin. Yet, not all men from violent homes abuse their spouse/intimate other. What makes the difference? The answer is simple--his thinking pattern.

A thinking pattern can be described as the thoughts one has that lead to behavior, all underscored by one's belief system. The specific steps in a thinking pattern follow:

  • First. A person is presented with a stimulus (a situation, a conversation, an interaction).
  • Second. The person has an intellectual reaction to the stimulus, known as a thought.
  • Third. The person has an emotional reaction to the thought, known as a feeling.
  • Fourth. The person engages in behavior as a result of the feelings the person is experiencing.
  • Fifth. The person experiences consequences--negative and/or positive--as a result of the person's behavior.
  • Underlying this process is a belief system that makes it possible for the person to choose his/her thoughts and engage in certain behavior.
  • In summary: A person's thoughts create a feeling, upon which the person acts, that results in a particular outcome all based on the person's belief system.

A typical scenario involving a thinking pattern in terms of the dynamics between an abuser and the victim is as follows:

  • First, a stimulus. The abuser sees his wife talking to another man at a party.
  • Second, a thought. The abuser thinks any or all of these thoughts to himself: "She is interested in that man. Look at how she is flirting with him. She is coming on to him. They are probably making plans to go off and sleep together. She is planning to leave me."
  • Third, a feeling. Angry; upset; scared of being left by the victim for another man.
  • Fourth, a behavior. The abuser will do something to exert power and control over the victim. This could include any/all of these, or other actions: He will give her "the look," signaling his displeasure with her for talking to another man. He will remove her from the situation either forcibly or by intervening in the conversation. He will yell at her for not paying attention to him and for paying attention to someone else. Dependent on how severe his thoughts are--and thus how upset he has made himself--his tactics will escalate to the use of physical and sexual violence. In addition, if he does not get the reaction he wants from the victim, he will change his tactics and escalate in his reactions.
  • Fifth, consequences. A positive consequence, from the abuser's perspective, is that his wife will discontinue her behavior and quit talking to the other man. Another positive consequence may be that she will apologize for her behavior, which allows the man to believe she is doing something wrong and his fears are founded. Another positive consequence may be that he bolsters his sense of self-esteem by letting those around him know he has control over his wife--he is the "man in charge." An additional positive consequence may be that he makes her cry, which means she is not enjoying herself or appearing attractive to other men at this party.

The negative consequence may be that he is now in a bad mood. Another negative consequence may be that he no longer enjoys the party. An additional negative consequence may be that his wife begins to distance herself from him and he does not feel connected to her. If he engages in violent behavior, a final negative consequence may be an arrest, charge, and criminal justice intervention.

  • Finally, the belief system. Underlying this thought pattern is his belief system. Any or all of these beliefs are likely: "She doesn't really love me." "If I don't treat her like a man and keep her in her place, she will go off with some other guy." "If she really knew me, she wouldn't like me, so I better not let her get away from me." "Women will sleep around if you give them the chance." "She is responsible for taking care of all my needs." "I have a right to expect her to act like my woman."

Now let's examine the other half of the dynamics--the victim's response to this scenario:

  • First, a stimulus. The wife sees her husband watching her as she talks to another man at a party.
  • Second, a thought. The wife thinks any or all of these thoughts: "Uh oh. My husband is looking unhappy that I am talking to some other guy. I don't want to upset him so I think I will go over and stand by him." "Sometimes this gets so tiring--being watched all the time. But I know he will become angry if I keep talking to this guy, so I'd better keep the peace and go stand by my husband." "I am really enjoying this conversation--it's been a long time since someone just talked to me. But I know my husband. If I am having a good time, he thinks it means I am interested in the person I'm talking with. I better not break the rules or I will pay a price." "I can't understand why my husband thinks I would want to be with this guy--he's no match for my husband! I can sense he is getting agitated. I need to reassure him I love him."
  • Third, a feeling. Scared; apprehensive; uneasy; wary; guilty; contrite; resentful; angry.
  • Fourth, a behavior. The victim's behavior is in response to the abuser's action(s). She will take her cues from her husband as to her behavior choices. If the abuser gives her a look, she will walk away from the other man at the party and come and stand by the abuser. Knowing that he is having an emotional response to her conversation with another man, she may take any of a variety of actions. She may simply try to talk to her husband. She may try to appease him by doing things like asking if he needs anything, criticizing the man with whom she just had a conversation, or assuring him that there is nothing going on between her and the other guy. Most victims will try at this juncture to smooth the situation over to avoid more of an emotional response from him. However, a victim is all too human and may not always make choices to best protect herself from escalation of his tactics: she may be tired, a little or very intoxicated, or so excited about getting positive attention from someone else that she is moody with her husband or rebuffs him when he begins to accuse her. This will likely result in his escalating the use of tactics to include such behavior as the silent treatment, leaving the party, accusing her of wrongdoing, threats, and the use of violence. In response to his escalated tactics, the victim will continue to assess whether she wishes to appease him or try to reason with him. Regardless of her efforts to appease him (using such behaviors as trying to explain herself, assuring him of her fidelity, or admitting to wrongdoing by talking to the other man), if the abuser has engaged in a lot of negative thinking, he will likely hear all of her words as an admission of fault and excuses for her unacceptable behavior. He will escalate his tactics dependent on the level of his negative thinking and her response to him. In most situations, the victim will try to keep him calm. However, there is never a guarantee that her behavior will result in his being rational because she has no control over his choice of thoughts.
  • Fifth, consequences. A positive consequence, from the wife's perspective, is that her husband is once again calmed down, and the peace is restored. Another positive consequence may be that she feels flattered because he is expressing his fear of losing her. An additional positive consequence may be that she is pleased with herself for not incurring punishment from him even though she believes she "broke the rules"--rules he imposed upon her. From her viewpoint, a positive consequence may be that she perceives others as viewing her husband as a real macho man.

The negative consequence may be that she is now in an apprehensive mood, and she may no longer enjoy the party. Another negative consequence may be that she feels wary so she begins to distance herself from him and she does not feel connected to him. If he engages in violent behavior, she will view arrest, charge, and criminal justice intervention as a negative consequence because she feels responsible for making him mad, and she believes she has broken the rules he told her to follow. Further, she believes and/or knows he will subject her to higher levels of abuse if he is arrested, charged, or prosecuted. She believes his involvement in the criminal justice system is due to her failure to act like a good wife.

  • Finally, the belief system. Underlying this thought pattern is her belief system. Any or all of these beliefs are likely: "My role as a wife is to make this marriage work." "If I didn't break the rules, he wouldn't get upset. I must be a bad person because I keep breaking the rules." "I know he really loves me or he wouldn't act so jealous. That's just how men express their love." "He will go back to being the wonderful man I fell in love with once I quit upsetting him." "I don't know what I would do without him. He's the only man who'd ever want me."


Most victims describe the beginning of their relationship as being wonderful and intense. He pays a lot of attention to her; he wants to be with her all the time; he wants to be with her when she is with her friends and family members; he takes an active interest in where she goes, what she does, and how she spends her time; he suggests they spend most of their time doing things they both enjoy doing, rather than doing things on their own, so they can be together; he begins to make decisions for her, explaining he is happy to help her out; he is extremely attentive in public places, huddling over her, monitoring who she interacts with and letting other guys know she is with him. Simultaneously, he flatters her, confides in her, and reveals that he really wants to make a life with her. Sometimes he admits he does not know how to live without her. Then he begins to pout or express concerns about her interest in him if she does things independently of him. He may also explain how glad he is that she is not like his former spouse/partner, who was really difficult and even forced him to leave or doesn't let him see his kids. He explains his former spouse/partner did not understand him and turned everyone against him.

For many victims, they mistake these behaviors as devotion to a relationship--rather than recognizing these behaviors as red flags that indicate an abusive personality. These red flags include his insistence on obtaining information about her whereabouts at all times. Other red flags include the rapidness with which he establishes himself in her life, including making decisions for her, stating his inability to live without her, and insisting on a commitment to a relationship. His discussion about his former spouse/partner is a red flag as he does not take responsibility for the problems he experienced with that person. Big red flags include saying things like "she had him arrested" or she slapped a restraining order on him. He is already displaying abuser characteristics: signs of obsessive and controlling behavior. He is acting on his belief system which says he is to be in charge, make the rules, and can expect her to follow him and attend to his needs.

As the relationship continues, she is drawn to the positive side of his actions: his attentiveness and his interest in her activities and the people in her life. She may enjoy feeling doted upon and may be flattered by his initial bouts of jealousy. She makes a commitment to him--usually under pressure from him very early in their relationship--and is happy to be with someone who cares so much about her life. As time passes, she becomes aware of feeling discomfort around some of his behavior, such as his reactions when she discusses doing things with others, but dismisses these feelings due to her desire to make the relationship work. Like any person in a new relationship, she figures it will take time for them to develop a trusting relationship.

Domestic violence generally begins with forms of control through psychological and emotional abuse. He begins to suggest she ought not to do certain things or ought to do things a certain way if she loves him. He begins to subtly suggest she may wish to wear or not wear certain items of clothing. He tells her she may wish to change her hairstyle to look a certain way. He tells her he would prefer her to act or not act in certain ways, such as how she talks, walks, or smiles. Generally these statements begin in a subtle manner by suggesting the changes he would like her to make, but the implication is that her appearance or behavior is not good enough. She also begins to experience his anger if she does something he does not like. He begins to demand that she never do that again, or if she does not make the suggested changes, he asks her if she does not love him or thinks she is too good for him. He believes any action she takes that draws positive attention from others, especially attention from other men, is a threat to him. Again, just as any person in a new relationship is apt to do, she tends to attribute his reactions to their not yet knowing each other very well. She believes she will earn his trust.

When confronted with the first incident of physical abuse, the victim will typically view the response as an aberration--a behavior that is not typical of this person and will not occur again. It is normal, then, for the victim to excuse or explain the behavior--to "forgive" the behavior. This is a normal response for anyone in a new relationship experiencing a new situation. The abuser's telling her that he is sorry and it will never happen again reinforces this response. She has no reason to think it will ever happen again, so she will, understandably, accept his apologies and/or explanation. Further, she is likely to question what caused this behavior and wonder what she did to prompt this behavior, since he has never acted in this manner before.

If an unacceptable form of psychological or physical abuse occurs again, the victim will respond as most persons do: They will likely ask why the person is repeating such behavior. In an abusive relationship, the abuser will quickly shift the focus from his behavior to her behavior--stating that his actions are "provoked," "triggered," and/or "caused" by something she did or did not do. This form of blaming can be quite subtle or very overt. He makes it clear that she is responsible "for setting him off" and it won't happen again if she just changes her behavior. She wants their relationship to return to the way things used to be, so she is likely to accept his statements, thinking she can easily change whatever behavior he now claims caused him to act as he did. This process, repeated over and over again, begins to erode her sense of confidence and self-esteem. In addition, she begins to internalize the blame.

Simultaneously, he is beginning the isolation process. He questions whom she spends time with, suggests family and friends are interfering with their relationship, and either asks or forbids her from seeing them again. Even if he does not prevent her from such contacts, he makes it very difficult either before or after (or both) she spends time with others by engaging in such behavior as questioning exactly what they did, where they went, and what they talked about. He acts in a suspicious manner and becomes uncomfortable if she describes doing anything that suggests she had a good time without him. After awhile, it is easier for her to simply quit seeing the people of whom he disapproves rather than face the consequences. She tries to figure out what will set him off so she can avoid those situations. It takes her a long time to realize nothing she does can please him or stop his constant barrage of criticism. As she becomes more isolated, she has fewer people with whom to reality check.

Additionally, she experiences a lot of emotional conflict. She is confused about what is happening to her, but she also feels responsible, resulting in feelings of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. She does not want to believe she could be "one of those women" so she works to justify why he behaved in an abusive fashion, further reinforcing her sense of blame. She is grieving the loss of the person she has come to love and the life they intended to create, so she keeps struggling to change her behavior so he has no reason to become upset and act badly. She keeps trying to control him by changing her behavior to conform to his ever-growing list of complaints. All the while, he is engaged in the thinking pattern of denying he is doing anything unreasonable in making such demands, blaming his actions on her and believing she is responsible for the conflicts they experience. They become enmeshed in a pattern that stops only when she learns she is not responsible for his behavior and when he is held accountable for his behavior.

Adding to the complexity of this pattern is his increasing use of threats and force. This creates a new reaction--fear--which often keeps the woman trapped in the relationship. If she confronts him, he escalates his use of threats and force. If she states her intention to leave if he does not change his behavior, he engages in more severe forms of abuse, telling her that he will kill her if she tries to leave the relationship. She may find it takes less energy to stay and appease him than to try to leave. She may also come to realize it is safer to stay in the relationship than to leave.


The victim of abuse fears that when she tries to leave, she cannot make it on her own, for a variety of reasons such as lack of finances, lack of resources (i.e., housing), inability to care for the children without assistance, fear of what he will do when he finds the children and her, his pleas and promises that he will change if she just gives him one more chance, her desire to have a lasting marriage/relationship and father for her children, and her all-too-human desire to be with someone who loves her. Interspersed with his abusive behavior are his pronouncements of his love for her, his promise that he will change, and his statements that only she can help him change.

The reality is that most people in nonabusive relationships do not immediately leave even when they believe there is a problem with the relationship. Most people leave more than once before they finally sever the relationship. Victims of domestic violence act just like everyone else: they waiver; they return; and they give it another chance. Rather than saying victims of domestic violence do not leave, it is more accurate to describe their pattern as coming and going from the relationship. Most victims of domestic violence repeatedly attempt to leave the relationship, but return when they cannot overcome the obstacles of getting away from the abuser. They will make a final separation if they are able to find a combination of resources to attend to the needs of their children and themselves, and to do so safely.

The question is not: "Why does a victim stay?" But rather, "What are the obstacles that prevent a victim from leaving?" A victim may face any/or all of these, or other obstacles:

1. Economic dependence on the abuser.

2. Fear for her safety and the safety of her children and/or other family members.

3. Isolation. She has no support system or others with whom to reality check.

4. Low self-esteem, especially after years of being told by the abuser how worthless she is and how she is to blame for all the violence that occurs.

5. Beliefs about family. She may believe that a family is not to air its dirty laundry and that all families encounter hard times. These beliefs are often reinforced by family, church members, and the legal system.

6. Beliefs about marriage. She may believe she must stay married forever, that it is "God's will."

7. Belief that she is the only person who can stop the abuser which is reinforced by the abuser who says that she is the only one who ever understood him.

8. Belief that he will find her no matter what she does to try to leave. This belief is based in reality if the abuser has hurt the victim when she attempted to leave.

9. Lack of options and resources. She does not have the money or the resources to support herself and her children.

10. Fear of being seriously hurt or killed if she attempts to leave. This fear is reinforced by the abuser who tells her that he will kill her if she ever tries to leave. Victims know these are not idle threats as they have feared for their lives before.

11. Threats against others if the victim leaves. The abuser frequently threatens to hurt all those whom the victim knows and loves--including children, family members, friends, and co-workers.

12. Health concerns. A victim of family violence may experience her own health issues in later life that make it difficult for her to leave, or she may feel that she must stay to take care of the abusive partner because of his health issues.

13. Society's ageist responses to elder victims. When elder victims of domestic violence report abuse, those to whom the abuse is reported often presume the abuse is the result of the victim's age, not the result of abuse. For example, people may blame the bruises on the victim's frail condition rather than on abuse. People may interpret the victim's silence around financial and other issues as senility and lack of ability rather than fear to speak up in the presence of the abusive person.


Those who work with victims of domestic violence often put their emphasis on pushing the victim to leave the relationship. This approach may, in fact, put her at higher risk of danger. An appropriate response is to help her determine what her risks are and help her to problem-solve how to minimize those risks. In some cases, staying within the relationship may be the safest response.

  • Statistics indicate that women are at a greater risk of becoming victims of domestic homicide when they attempt to leave the relationship. In fact, women who leave their batterers are at a 75 percent greater risk of being killed by their batterer than those who stay (Wilson and Daly 1993).
  • Victims who attempt to leave are often hunted down--stalked, harassed, threatened, and pursued across county and state lines. Because abusers believe they are entitled to control the behavior of their partners, they may continue this behavior even after the petition for divorce is filed or granted. This is so common it is known as "separation violence."
  • The rate of attack against women separated from their husbands is about three times higher than that of divorced women and 25 times higher than that of married women.


Once victim service providers working within the legal system understand the dynamics of domestic violence, they know to expect and prepare for these types of victim behavior:

  • Repeated filing and dropping of a case.
  • Changing her story once the seriousness of abuse is disclosed.
  • Minimizing the abuse once it is discovered.
  • Changing her mind about what is wanted in the settlement or a willingness to give up important legal rights.
  • Denying anything ever happened or explaining away all the documented abuse.
  • Taking responsibility for the abuse by either saying she provoked or deserved it or by explaining its occurrence by saying she fell down or ran into a wall.

It is crucial for members of the legal system to view these behaviors as the victim's effort to be safe and stay alive.

  • The victim will do whatever it takes to feel safe. If it feels safe to start an action, she will do so. If she assesses she is in more danger by continuing her involvement with the criminal justice system, she will back away.
  • A victim is at great risk once she takes steps or indicates her intent to leave. The abuser will likely increase the tactics used to control her. The victim will now either receive a lot of positive or negative attention from the abuser, which may result in her not wanting to continue with the action such as the protective order, divorce, or prosecution.
  • Working with victims can be a frustrating experience. The victim service provider, including the attorney, wants the best legal outcome. The victim's goal is to stay alive or get out of the relationship safely. These goals may conflict.
  • Each person has a separate role in the system. The prosecutor's role is to hold the batterer accountable for his behavior. The advocate's role is to help the victim understand the system, to provide accurate and complete information about her options and resources and to support the choices she makes. The victim's role is to stay safe. All members of the system need to support her efforts to stay safe and alive.

When a prosecutor is involved in a case with a reluctant witness (which is likely to be most cases, because the dynamics of domestic abuse teach us that the victim will not testify if she believes it will subject her or her children to further violence), the prosecutor needs to educate the jury as to her behavior. If the prosecutor uses an expert witness, the witness is being asked to describe the "battered woman's syndrome." The battered woman's syndrome explains her behavior via the cycle of violence and the theory of learned helplessness. What follows is an examination of these concepts and their drawbacks. Nationally, prosecutors report they are more successful in cases with reluctant witnesses when they provide this explanation, rather than rely on an expert.

The Cycle of Violence. In 1979, Dr. Lenore Walker--in the landmark book The Battered Woman--identified three distinct phases that comprise the "cycle of violence." Dr. Walker determined that the phases vary in duration and intensity; as such, it is difficult to predict how long a batterer and victim will remain in any one phase or in the length of individual cycles.

Phase One is described as the tension building phase in which the abuser becomes more and more prone to react to any stimulus negatively. The victim responds to the escalation in tension by trying to nurture or appease him--or to stay out of his way. In this phase, the abuser becomes fearful that the victim may leave him, which is reinforced as she avoids him in the hope of not triggering the impending explosion. He becomes more oppressive, jealous, threatening, and possessive. Victims often describe this phase as "walking on eggshells."

Phase Two is the battering incident. Phase two is the shortest phase, usually lasting from minutes to a few hours. When the acute attack is over, it is usually followed by initial shock, denial, and disbelief that it really happened. Both the batterer and the victim find ways of rationalizing the seriousness of such attacks. Many victims report reactions similar to those of disaster victims. Victims of catastrophe usually suffer emotional collapse twenty-four to forty-eight hours after the disaster. Symptoms include listlessness, depression, and feelings of helplessness. Similarly, battered women often do not experience the full emotional impact of an attack until twenty-four to forty-eight hours after it has occurred.

Phase Three is described as the "honeymoon phase." Just as phase two is characterized by brutality, phase three is characterized by the extremely kind, loving, and contrite behavior of the abuser. He knows he has gone too far and tries to make it up to his victim. It is a phase welcomed by both parties, but ironically it is the phase during which the woman's victimization becomes complete. In this phase, the batterer constantly behaves in a charming and loving manner. He is usually sorry for his actions in the previous phase. He conveys his remorse to the victim, promises that he will never do it again, and begs her forgiveness. He is like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The batterer truly believes that he will never again hurt the woman he loves, and that he will be able to control himself from now on. He also believes that he has taught his partner such a lesson that she will never again behave in a way that tempts him to physically assault her. He is quite sincere and can easily convince anyone involved that his behavior will change.

The batterer frequently begins an intense campaign to win forgiveness and to prevent his victim from separating herself from him permanently. It is common for an abuser in phase three to shower his victim with elaborate gifts and to attempt to "romance" her into forgiveness. He may enlist the aid of significant others--family, friends, clergy, even counselors--to persuade her that breaking up the relationship is a bad decision. Often everyone involved believes the rationalizations--that he is sorry and will change, that his workload or his drinking is to blame, that the children need a father, that the abuser needs the help of the victim--and somehow the victim begins to assume responsibility for his behavior. She sees herself as the one who must stand by her man while he gets the help he so desperately needs. In reality, it is very unlikely that the abuser will ever seriously seek professional help to change his violent behavior as long as the victim stays with him. Most often, the abuser will seek help only after his victim has left him and if he thinks seeking counseling will convince her to return. The battered woman chooses to believe that the behavior she sees during phase three is what her spouse/partner is really like. She chooses to believe that the contrite behavior is more indicative of the real person than the battering behavior.

Victims and advocates for domestic violence victims identify several drawbacks to the use of the cycle of violence. First, not all victims experience these stages. Some abusers simply batter without any indication they are about to do so--there is no tension building phase. Many victims report they never experience a honeymoon phase--he shows no remorse or contrition in spite of the severity of abuse. Most victims report if they ever experienced a honeymoon phase, it disappears over time. Victims report their experience of violence is not a cycle: they may experience none of these phases or they may experience the phases in random order.

A second problem with the use of the cycle of violence is the tendency of the legal system to use it to try to "explain" why violence occurs. In fact, it does not answer the key question the legal system needs to address: Why does the batterer engage in violence? The power and control wheel is the current tool used to explain both the why (to exert power and control) and the how (tactics used to exert power and control) of domestic violence.

Another problem with the cycle of violence is its description of the third phase, in which the abuser is said to show remorse in an attempt to prevent her from leaving. In reality, since there have been concerted efforts to arrest abusers and hold them accountable through the criminal justice system, many victims report abusers as likely to use negative efforts to keep her in the relationship or to encourage her to drop the charges. For example, after an arrest he may act in a loving, begging, contrite manner or he may become more agitated and threatening, blaming her for the consequences of his behavior. He is just as likely to threaten harm to her if she attempts to leave as he is to beg her to stay. The honeymoon phase might more accurately be described as a coercion phase, the coercion may be through the use of positive and/or negative tactics.

Finally, the cycle of violence fails to address the thinking patterns of the abuser and the victim. Rather, it tends to be explained in terms of their pathology--his sense of desperation and her response based on her low self-esteem. While this may be true, it also shifts the focus from the abuser's violence and makes the issue a "couple's problem," rather than focusing on his choice to use violence and other controlling behaviors to accomplish his goal of control.

In spite of its limitations, the cycle of violence is commonly referred to in the criminal justice system because it is a component of what is known as the battered woman's syndrome. An attorney may use the battered woman's syndrome to explain why the victim's behavior in the incident under scrutiny is reasonable in light of this woman's circumstances. For example, a prosecutor might introduce the battered woman's syndrome to explain why the victim recants, while a defense attorney might use it to explain the victim's belief that she had to use the amount of force or violence she did that resulted in her abuser's death. The battered woman's syndrome, however, does not consider the thinking patterns of the abuser and the victim.

The battered woman's syndrome requires the attorney to explain both the cycle of violence and the theory of learned helplessness and show how they apply to the victim in the legal case. The theory of learned helplessness can be even more troubling than the cycle of violence for victims of domestic violence.

The Psychosocial Theory of Learned Helplessness. As detailed in Domestic Violence: A Guide for Health Care Providers, published by the Colorado Domestic Violence Coalition and Colorado Department of Health in 1994, "learned helplessness" is a psychological theory that describes what happens when a person loses the ability to predict what actions will produce a particular outcome. Because the battered woman tries to protect herself and her family as best she can, those with learned helplessness choose only those actions that have a high probability of being successful.

As the battering and isolation increase, a shift in the survivor's comprehension of the situation occurs. She increasingly perceives escape as impossible. While she may continue to work at her paid job, eat, clean house, take care of the children, laugh with coworkers and appear self-confident and independent, surviving the battering relationship becomes the focus of her life.

In the survivor's eyes, the batterer becomes more and more powerful. She sees police and other agencies as less and less able to help (Walker 1979). She feels trapped and alone. She will likely develop a variety of coping mechanisms that may include withdrawal, asking permission to do even trivial things, manipulation, substance abuse, and asking that criminal charges be dropped.

The problem with the use of the theory of learned helplessness is it suggests/implies/requires a passive victim. In reality, victims often do shift their survival mechanisms from very assertive and community-based options to simply trying to keep the abuse and its impact quiet. This may not be a sign of passivity, as the theory of learned helplessness suggests, but rather a sign of her recognition that a more quiet response to his violence will provide the best safety for her and her children. A jury has a hard time buying into the theory of learned helplessness when presented with a victim who has used violence to kill her abuser.

Recent studies on the battered woman's syndrome suggest the theory of learned helplessness has limited usefulness in the legal system. Rather, a jury can far better understand why a victim makes the choices she does when the jury is given an accurate and complete description of the batterers' abusive tactics. This information alone--without trying to fit her into a cycle of violence which may not apply to her experiences or to paint her as exhibiting learned helplessness--may be enough to allow the jury to understand she is acting in a reasonable manner in light of her experiences.

Prior to making a choice to use the battered woman's syndrome, a prosecutor needs to clearly understand the pros and cons of this decision. This information can be obtained from the National Clearinghouse on the Defense of Battered Women. The Clearinghouse has a number of treatises on this issue which examine under what conditions the battered woman's syndrome may be helpful but also outline the serious drawbacks to its use. The Clearinghouse also provides information as to how to explain to a jury the victim's actions by presenting her life to the jury through the use of witnesses and police testimony. The Clearinghouse can be reached at 800-903-0111, ext. 3.

Advocacy for Victims of Domestic Violence

There are thousands of staff and volunteers in communities across the country who assist, support, and serve victims of domestic violence. Often these professionals provide a lifeline to women and children who desperately need assistance and direction but are confused by the dynamics of their victimization, the thought of leaving a violent environment, and, in some cases, entering into the criminal justice system.

The following are goals of advocacy for victims of domestic violence:

  • Empower women with the ability to make significant changes and solve problems.
  • Increase a victim's ability to make a successful transition from a battering environment to independence.
  • Connect the victim--both in the short- and long-term--with community resources that provide support, encouragement, and assistance.
  • Provide information and support throughout the criminal justice system and beyond.

Multiple responsibilities are associated with assisting victims of domestic violence:

  • Responding to crisis calls from victims through twenty-four-hour hotlines.
  • Accompanying or following law enforcement officials who respond to domestic violence incidents.
  • Providing safety and shelter to battered women and their children.
  • Providing follow-on services to increase the number of victims who file charges or seek protection through the civil or criminal courts.
  • Advising victims about their legal rights throughout the criminal justice system. (see "Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System" later in this chapter).
  • Advising victims about information and resources relevant to protection and security, divorce, custody, and visitation.
  • Helping victims develop "safety plans."
  • Providing information and assistance to victims who leave battering environments, including temporary and long-term housing, employment training (or re-training) and placement, and child care.
  • Providing assistance in financial matters, including child support, restitution, victim compensation, and financial planning.
  • Upon request, acting as liaison between the victim and the criminal justice system.
  • Providing peer counseling.
  • Providing support groups.
  • Providing information and referrals to community resource agencies, including public assistance, child protective agencies, public and mental health agencies, social services, and schools.
  • Providing training to law enforcement, criminal justice, social service, mental health, and other allied professionals about the dynamics of domestic violence and the specific rights and needs of domestic violence victims.
  • Working to establish or strengthen a coordinated community response to domestic violence and its victims.
  • Generating greatly needed public awareness about domestic violence and its effects on victims, witnesses, communities, and society in general.
  • Working to affect changes in laws, agency policies, protocols, and programs that enhance rights and services for victims of domestic violence.


One of the most crucial skills a victim advocate must possess is the ability to validate the victim's feelings, experiences, and fears. Many domestic violence victims do not view themselves as victims, and fail to realize that domestic violence is a crime perpetrated against many other women.

Guidelines for validation of domestic violence victims include the following:

  • Learn and practice effective communication skills, including verbal and nonverbal techniques.
  • When interviewing the battered woman, do not ask for verification of her story from second parties.
  • Assess the complete history of violence, including the current battering incident as well as the first and worst incidents.
  • When conducting this assessment, ask the woman directly to describe the violent acts and how she felt when and after they occurred as well as how she feels now. Do not avoid speaking directly about the violence. Provide encouragement and support to the victim for sharing her feelings and experiences.
  • Empathize with the victim and validate her feelings, stressing the criminal nature of the violence, and the fact that the victim is not to blame.
  • Universalize the crime of domestic violence, pointing out the scope and prevalence of such crimes that cut across socioeconomic, racial, cultural, and geographic lines.
  • Provide information and referrals for continued support and assistance, including local, state, and national resources.
  • Develop a plan for follow-up contact, support, and assistance from you, your agency, or allied community service or criminal justice agencies.
  • Affirm the fact that the victim is not alone and that there are people and programs available to assist and support her.


In her book, Safety Planning with Battered Women--Complex Lives/Difficult Choices, Jill Davies encourages advocates to provide woman-centered advocacy, which for purposes of this discussion will be hereinafter referred to as victim-centered advocacy. Victim-centered advocacy involves engaging in a risk analysis with the client based on her perceptions. An advocate needs to find out what a client perceives as risks, and how the advocate can most effectively use this information to advance the woman's plans and priorities. The advocate and the woman may be working at cross-purposes, either deliberately, because they have different goals, or inadvertently, because the advocate does not know enough to ask about the client's concerns.

Victim-centered advocacy involves a three-step process: (1) help the client identify what she perceives as batterer-generated risks and what the effect of staying or leaving may be on those risks; (2) help the client identify life-generated risks and identify how the abuser may manipulate these risks to further his control; and (3) assess the client's past and current safety plans.

The first step involves identification of batterer-generated risks. These include risk of physical injury; risk of psychological harm (including concerns regarding her mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal ideation); child-related risks; financial risks; risks to family and friends, including the possible loss of relationship with them; and risks involving arrest and legal status. Gathering this information involves approaching each woman as a unique individual whose concerns may vary from those of other victims; listening effectively; and understanding that a woman's perspective will change as the process unfolds.

The second step in identification of batterer-generated risks is to listen effectively. This involves creating a safe place in which the woman can speak openly. Only then can an assessment of risk factors be made. This approach is quite different from the approach taken by an advocate who says "I only have twenty minutes to spend with the client so I make sure I spend the time describing what services are available to her." This approach to advocacy does not explore whether any of these services are relevant to the particular woman. In addition, this approach does little or nothing to establish trust with the client. Without a relationship of trust, the client is less likely to contact the advocate again. Establishing trust begins by listening to her story and hearing her concerns and questions.

Battered women analyze the risks to themselves and their children on an ongoing basis. What she fears as the biggest risk will likely change as his tactics change and as she receives information that allows her to reassess her previous concerns. Unfortunately, advocacy often stops at assessment of the physical risks, which is only one of her fears.

An advocate can also assist the client to identify life-generated risks. These include such issues as: finances; home location; physical and mental health; discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or other form of bias; and inadequate response from major social institutions including the legal and/or health system and workplace. Beyond identification of the concerns, real or perceived, the client expresses about such life-generated risks, the advocate also needs to assist the client in discussing the methods by which the batterer may manipulate these risks to reinforce his power and control.

Once the batterer-generated and life-generated risks are discovered, the advocate can begin the process of giving the client complete and accurate information to dispel any concerns or explain options to address the concern. The advocate can also begin the process of allowing the woman to engage in decision making and safety planning. As women weigh the risks and their options, the decision they face is more complex than simply whether to stay or to leave. Even if the woman does stay in the relationship, it does not mean she accepts the violence. It cannot be overemphasized that leaving the relationship provides neither a guarantee of her safety nor a guarantee that other risks will be reduced, despite social beliefs to that effect.

Studies show that women typically try many strategies to deal with the abuse. Researchers find the process of change is slow for most battered women, with an average of leaving five times before permanently leaving, and an average length of eight years to leave permanently. As noted earlier, studies also show women who left suffered more abuse than those who stayed.

After identifying the risks, the goal is to help the victim to create a safety plan that addresses the batterer-generated and life-generated risks. Such a plan includes protection strategies, staying strategies, and leaving strategies.


If and when a victim is able to leave her battering environment, it is essential that she has a "safety plan" to increase her opportunity for a successful departure. Advance planning is crucial. Start by assessing the battered-generated and life-generated risks with her. Based on this information, concerns and actions may need to include the following:

  • Does she have family and friends with whom she can stay?

Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System


Domestic violence calls should receive priority from law enforcement agencies. Dispatchers should be specially trained in how to handle such calls, including victim sensitivity and nonjudgmental attitudes in cases of repeat calls. Information dispatchers should obtain the information that is essential to police response:

  • Who is calling.
  • Address of complainant.
  • Telephone number (usually automatically provided by computer in 911 systems).
  • Location of caller if not at the scene of the crime.
  • Who is present (including children).
  • What is happening (is the victim and/or others in household safe?).
  • Whether weapons are present.
  • Whether there are any injuries to victim(s) and/or witnesses.
  • Status of the alleged assailant:

- Location of assailant.

- Prior history of abuse by assailant.

- Any court orders or protective conditions in effect.

  • Status of the offender within the criminal justice system (when applicable).
  • Lethality assessment: Is the assailant threatening the use of violence, the use of force, the use of weapons, or suicide or other lethality indicators (see the lethality assessment checklist in "Prosecutor Role in Lethality Assessment" later in this chapter).

Police dispatchers are encouraged to remain on the line to maintain contact with a victim in crisis and to be able to relay important information to the responding law enforcement officer(s). The 911 call is invaluable for later criminal justice intervention because it contains information as to who was doing what to whom and the impact of the violence on the victim and children.


Many law enforcement agencies have developed and implemented protocols and policies for responding to domestic violence. As crisis responders, both victim sensitivity and caution are vital to the safety and security of all involved. In addition, responding officers can provide a valuable service to victims of domestic violence by offering them information and referrals to assistance and support from victim service providers.

A law enforcement protocol for responding to domestic violence can include the following objectives:

  • Obtain as much information as possible from the dispatcher.
  • Approach the scene with caution, preferably with a partner.
  • When the alleged assailant is present, immediately separate him from the victim.
  • When the alleged assailant is not present, immediately attempt to ascertain his location.
  • Secure the scene and check for weapons. Make mental notes about the condition of the scene. Check for the presence of witnesses, especially children.
  • Immediately detect signs of injury to the victim(s) and seek emergency medical treatment, as needed.
  • Interview victim and any witnesses separate from the assailant/offender:

- Maintain sensitivity toward the victim(s).

- Be accurate and thorough, because the police report will be the basis for the case.

- Determine history of violence.

  • Collect the following evidence:

- Record "excited utterances" (excited statements made by victims or witnesses at the critical stage immediately following the arrival of law enforcement), which may be allowed into court as exceptions to the rule against hearsay.

- Record statements from victim(s), witness(es), and alleged assailant.

- Observe demeanor of victim and alleged assailant.

- Photograph victim and crime scene.

- Take notes and draw sketches that describe the crime scene.

- Obtain a copy of the emergency response or dispatcher audiotapes (911 call) and/or police videotape of scene.

- Include medical and emergency room records.

  • Determine "probable cause" for arrest.
  • Determine violation of any court order, injunction, or specific conditions of probation and parole.
  • Provide information about domestic violence to the victim. This information includes statements such as "You are not responsible for his violence." "You do not deserve to be abused." "I am concerned for your safety." "Your children are being affected by witnessing violence against you." "I just want you and your children to be safe, and I want him to get help for his use of violence." "His behavior will not stop without intervention."
  • Provide any information required by law outside the presence of the abuser. This includes information about a no-contact waiver or how to bail the abuser out of jail.
  • Provide an immediate referral to a shelter, domestic violence program, or victim services.
  • Follow-up with the victim after the initial contact to determine her current status and to take additional photos.


Because domestic violence cases are prosecuted largely without the assistance of the victim, it is crucial the officer recognize his/her role as the chief witness for the case. The officer will be the witness who provides both the eyes-at-the-scene report for the jury and an impartial--and thus, credible--description of what occurred. This person is the "make-it-or-break-it" witness. The officer's testimony, coupled with an explanation of why the victim acts as she does, is generally all that is needed for successful prosecution. The police report is the crux of the prosecution and must be thorough, accurate, and nonjudgmental. The following items are needed in the police report for successful prosecution with a reluctant witness:

1. Times (incident, arrival, statement).

2. What parties are present? If certain parties are not present, where are they? Document your effort to locate missing party(ies) and how they responded if located.

3. Record (describe) the emotional state of the victim and suspect. This information is needed to establish the foundation for testimony.

4. Determine injury to victim; injury to suspect. Self-defense? Strangulation? Attach a body map with victim/suspect injury (e.g., marks, bruises, swelling, or statement of the same).

5. Obtain nonconsent statement from victim, if appropriate, i.e., nonconsent to injury by the suspect. In some states nonconsent is an element of crime.

6. Describe the scene, especially where parties say the incident occurred. Does the injury match the story? Is anything disturbed? Are there any signs of force?

7. Determine relationship of victim/suspect: Where did they live in the past few years? Who are their relatives and friends?

8. State if children are present or not present and witnesses or involved. Also, describe the involvement of children.

9. Take pictures of the victim and suspect. Take pictures of the condition of the home and places of incident/injury. Repeat photos of injuries several times later.

10. Collect evidence. Telephone? Torn clothing? Weapons? Blood stains? Any items used to defend or injure?

11. Determine if medical attention was sought. Obtain a copy of the medical release.

12. Note when any of the following are present: temporary order or injunction; probation; alcohol or other drug for victim/suspect; suicide threats; and/or abused pets.

13. Include all statements/excited utterances from parties--make no editorial/speculative remarks.

14. Note how the parties interact. For example: the suspect's treatment of the victim; who answers questions; description of language and behavior directed at the victim by the suspect; victim's eye contact or continual "checking in" with the suspect.

15. Record witnesses' names, addresses, telephone numbers, workplaces, relationship, and the same information for family and friends.

16. Note how the responding officer can reach the victim during the next twenty-four hours: name, address, workplace, family contact name and telephone number, and the telephone number of a person who knows how to reach the victim.

17. Take notes for narrative: victim statement; suspect statement; witness and child's statement; probable cause for arrested party; description of injuries to both parties; possibility of self-defense; any history of abuse; presence of risk factors. Determine if statements of incident match the physical evidence and injuries. If not, how do they differ? Are there self defense wounds such as bite marks, scratches, marks on suspect's knuckles or hands?

18. Request to save the 911 tape and request a copy of the videotape, if either exists.


Many prosecutors have victim support programs within their agencies or rely upon services available from community-based victim service organizations. Services for victims of domestic violence may include the following:

  • Completing the intake process for a criminal case, which includes histories of the victim and any children; case history; court orders (when applicable); victim/defendant description; information about the current incident and the history of violence; defendant information; and referrals.
  • Assistance in securing protective measures.
  • Referral to appropriate victim and social service agencies.
  • Court preparation.
  • Court accompaniment.
  • Providing information about civil and criminal remedies.
  • Providing counseling and support groups.
  • Ongoing use of victim-centered advocacy.

The safety of the victim and any children must be paramount in any decisions made concerning pretrial release. Victim service providers should provide the prosecutor with the following information and advocate for these measures to help ensure victim security:

Information to convey to the prosecutor.

  • Wishes of the victim, including wishes for batterer to receive treatment including alcohol or other drug treatment. Victim-centered advocacy should be used to ascertain the victim's wishes.
  • Concrete steps that could be taken by members of the legal system to ensure victim safety and to hold the abuser accountable.
  • Whether the victim is reluctant to testify.
  • Information as to the victim's beliefs regarding lethality assessment (see checklist below).
  • Need for the abuser to know the decision to prosecute rests with the state--not with the victim. This can reduce the likelihood that the abuser will pressure the victim throughout the trial.

Safety measures to suggest to the prosecutor, dependent on the victim's situation:

  • Pretrial incarceration.
  • Higher bail/bond or denial of bail.
  • Victim notification of defendant's release.
  • No contact between the victim and the defendant as a condition of bond and/or condition of release. Generally, no contact should be ordered in all cases to avoid further abuse.
  • Protective or restraining orders and their enforcement.
  • Alternative safe housing for the victim and any children.

In some jurisdictions, postcharge diversion programs are used to suspend case processing while the abuser undergoes batterers' treatment. Victim service providers must be aware of these programs and able to explain them to victims, including program guidelines; treatment modalities; and whether or not the defendant will be prosecuted upon "successful" completion of the program as well as what could happen if he does not complete it.


When prosecuting domestic violence cases, all members of the criminal justice system need to proceed with two goals in mind at all times: provide safety for the victim and hold the abuser accountable for his behavior. The victim will make decisions about what she believes best protects her and her children. Her decisions may appear to conflict with the desires of one or more members of the criminal justice system. Victim advocates should anticipate this tension and be prepared to explain why it exists. They should not force or expect a victim to act against what she believes best provides for her safety; to do so puts her at high risk of abuse/death.

Prosecutors play a key role in holding domestic violence offenders accountable and in assisting victims and witnesses in such cases. In 1998, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges published two recommendations for prosecutors relevant to domestic violence:

  • Prosecutors should initiate, manage, and pursue prosecution in all family violence cases where a criminal case can be proved, including proceeding without the active involvement of the victim, if necessary.
  • Prosecutors should have specialized family violence personnel and written procedures for prompt screening and charging in family violence cases.

These recommendations serve to place responsibility for prosecuting batterers on the criminal justice system rather than on the victim; to provide specialized services for victims and witnesses; and to expedite criminal justice processes in domestic violence cases. They are a reminder of the separate roles of each member of the legal system.

Many prosecutors' offices today offer specialized units for domestic violence cases and victims, with personnel trained in the dynamics of domestic violence, legal issues specific to such cases, and victim sensitivity. Furthermore, vertical prosecution units include prosecutors whose caseloads contain solely domestic violence cases.

Prosecutors are encouraged to adopt some version of a "no drop" policy in which cases proceed whether or not the prosecutor is dealing with a reluctant victim. They should avoid referring to the victim as being "noncooperative;" she is cooperative: she is making choices to do what she believes best enhances her safety and the safety of her children.

Prosecutors should expect to deal with victims who do not wish to testify for a variety of factors, among them fear of retaliation. Cases can and are easily won with a reluctant witness by preparing the case from the beginning as if it is a homicide case. This is done as follows:

  • Use each step of the process to educate the jury. At voir dire, ask specific questions about what prospective jurors know and believe about domestic violence. Ask questions to find out if the jurors are capable of understanding that a victim may be reluctant to testify.
  • Always prepare a case as if the victim will be reluctant to testify. Even those victims who begin the process as a willing witness may become reluctant under pressure from the abuser.
  • Provide training to all line officers so they know what information prosecutors need from them in their police report to prosecute a domestic violence case with a reluctant witness. Training programs should include an explanation about why this information is necessary.
  • Provide training that emphasizes the need for excited utterances and their admissibility in court as an exception to hearsay rules. Prosecutors need to train police officers to be "partners" with the prosecution.
  • Begin a program of "cameras for cops." Every squad needs to be outfitted with cameras so the officer can provide a key component to a successful prosecution: pictures can document the severity of the abuse the victim is attempting to minimize, explain away, or deny.
  • Use the police officer who responded to the call as the chief witness. This person provides information regarding "excited utterances" from the crime scene (i.e., excited statements made by victims or witnesses at the critical stage immediately following the arrival of law enforcement). The officer will also provide other information (see "Police Report" earlier in this chapter).
  • Use testimony from family members or witnesses, including their statements of past abuse.
  • Use 911 audio tapes.
  • Use sworn statements of victims.
  • Use testimony from victim advocates.
  • Use videotapes of victims from initial interviews.
  • Use expert witnesses unless the prosecutor chooses to explain the victim's reluctance.
  • Subpoena the victim to appear at the trial. In most cases, the reluctant witness will appear for the trial, but may minimize or explain away the incident(s). The victim may even deny what occurred, although this is less likely to occur with the use of a 911 tape. In a few cases, the victim does not show up at all for the trial. The prosecutor who subpoenas the victim allows her to be clear about the role of the state in prosecuting this case; and it clearly tells the abuser that the victim is attending the trial because she has been ordered by the court to appear. Victims report they are in less danger from the abuser when they show up at court because of a court order (the subpoena).

In some cases, the victim does not show up even with the issuance of a subpoena. The prosecutor needs to decide how crucial the victim's testimony is to determine whether the prosecutor will send an officer out to bring the victim in for the trial. Generally, if the prosecutor has prepared the case well and has the testimony of a police officer regarding the incident, the case can go forward without the victim's presence. It is absolutely contrary to the goals of the criminal justice system to prosecute a victim for failure to respond to a subpoena. This action gives the victim the message that if she calls for help, she will be punished. It also gives the abuser another tool for manipulation by reminding the victim that the criminal justice system will not take her fears seriously if she calls for help. This defeats the purpose of prosecution in these cases and further endangers the victim's safety while contributing to the abuser's belief system that she is the problem.


Throughout the trial, the prosecutor needs to do a lethality assessment to make choices relevant to major decisions such as whether to subpoena the victim to appear; whether to set no contact conditions; and whether to provide enhanced safety measures. The prosecutor also needs to present this information to the judge and the jury so they understand the severity of the abuse and the likelihood of its continuation.

While all batterers are dangerous, some are more likely to kill than others are, and some are more likely to kill at specific times. Assessment is difficult and never foolproof. The following checklist (adapted from "Beyond the Duty to Warn," written by Barbara Hart) provides a list of issues to be explored with the victim to assess lethality. The presence of any of the following factors does not mean the batterer will kill; however, the greater number of these indicators demonstrated by the batterer or the greater the intensity of the indicators, the greater the likelihood of a life-threatening attack. When assessing lethality, it is important to gather information about these indicators from the batterer and the battered victim separately. Further, information obtained from the victim is significantly more reliable than that from the batterer. Finally, lethality is to be assessed for the victim, family members and those who assist the victim.

1. Threats of homicide or suicide. The batterer who has threatened to kill himself, his partner, the children and/or relatives must be considered extremely dangerous.

2. Fantasies of homicide or suicide. The more the batterer has developed a fantasy about who, how, when, and/or where to kill, the more dangerous the batterer may be. A batterer who has previously acted out part of a homicide or suicide fantasy may believe killing is a viable "solution" to his "problems." As with suicide assessment, the more detailed the plan and the more available the method, the greater the risk.

3. Weapons. When a batterer possesses weapons and has used them or threatened to use them in the past, access to weapons increases the potential for lethal assault. The use of guns is a strong indicator of homicide potential. If the batterer has a history of arson, fire should be considered a lethal weapon.

4. Depression. If a batterer is acutely depressed and sees little hope for moving beyond the depression, the batterer may be a candidate for suicide or homicide.

5. Alcohol or other drug consumption. Consumption of alcohol or other drugs when in a state of despair or fury can escalate violence.

6. Obsessiveness about partner or family member, also exhibited as "ownership" of the battered partner. A batterer who obsesses about his or her partner, indicating an unwillingness or inability to live without the partner, likely believes he or she is entitled to the partner no-matter-what. Statements such as "death before divorce," or "you belong to me and no one else can ever have you," are an indication that the batterer believes his or her partner has no right to a life separate from the batterer. A batterer who believes in entitlement to his partner, including the partner's services, loyalty, and obedience, is likely to be life threatening.

7. Centrality of the partner. A batterer who either idolizes or depends on his partner to organize and sustain his life, or who isolates himself from the community, may find the loss of his partner represents the loss of hope for the future. If the batterer's partner tries to leave or end the relationship, the batterer may retaliate against the partner, rationalizing that the partner's "betrayal" justifies a lethal reaction. The prosecutor should become familiar with what, if any, support system the batterer has created for himself aside from the victim.

8. Pet abuse. If a batterer assaults or mutilates pets, he is more likely to kill a partner.

9. Rigid beliefs about partner roles. A batterer who has rigid beliefs about the roles to be assumed by himself and his partner may be more likely to seriously harm or kill the partner. For example, a batterer whose religious beliefs say the man is to be in charge may feel sanctioned to engage in violence.

10. Repeated outreach to law enforcement. Partner homicide almost always occurs in the context of a history of violence. If law enforcement is called repeatedly, this pattern may indicate that the batterer is not internally motivated to change his or her behavior. Prior calls to law enforcement likely indicate an elevated risk of life-threatening conduct.

11. Separation violence. The most life-endangering rage usually occurs when the batterer believes his partner intends to leave, and the batterer does not desire a life alone.

12. Escalation of batterer personal risk. When a batterer begins to act without regard to the legal or social consequences that previously constrained his or her violence, chances of lethal assault increase. One example of this could be the closeted gay or lesbian batterer who is now risking exposure by engaging in severe, life-threatening attacks. Risking the loss of invisibility may be an indication that the batterer is very desperate.

13. Hostage-taking. A hostage-taker is at high risk of committing homicide. Between 75 to 90 percent of all hostage-takings in the United States are related to domestic violence situations.

14. Access to the partner or the partner's family members. If the batterer cannot find his partner, he cannot kill the partner. If the batterer does not have unsupervised access to the children, the batterer cannot use the children as a means to have contact with his partner. Careful safety planning and police assistance are required when there is to be contact between the batterer and the victim for such things as court appearances, custody/visitation exchanges, or family functions.



More and more courts today are giving priority to domestic violence cases. In some jurisdictions, all domestic violence cases are heard on the same day, with the same judge, prosecutor, and victim advocate present throughout all proceedings. This use of vertical prosecution units also expedites handling of domestic violence cases. To reduce the potential for further violence, domestic violence cases should be given priority on court dockets. The judge has the greatest, if not total, influence over the docketing calendar.


The judge has an enormous opportunity to contribute to victim safety and hold the batterer accountable by making appropriate decisions regarding whether to allow pretrial release, and if so, what conditions to place on the abuser. During the course of the trial, the judge sets the tone for questioning in the courtroom. At the time of sentencing, the judge has an excellent opportunity to provide victim safety and to hold the abuser accountable through the use of sentencing options.

These options begin with the judge requesting the following information from the prosecutor:

  • Has the prosecutor consulted with the victim to determine her wishes?
  • Has the prosecutor ascertained information from the victim outside the presence of the abuser? If not, how does the prosecutor know whether the wishes are coerced by the abuser?
  • Has the prosecutor explained to and explored the dynamics of abuse with the victim?
  • Has the prosecutor conducted a lethality assessment with the victim? If so, the judge can request the results of this assessment. If not, the judge can delay a decision and the proceedings until such an assessment is conducted.
  • What is the defendant's prior record? The judge is then able to determine what conditions are appropriate, including no contact based on an alcohol or other drug assessment, and lethality assessment.


In Spousal/Partner Assault: A Protocol for the Sentencing and Supervision of Offenders (1994), former Chief Probation Officer Andrew Klein of Quincy, Massachusetts, offers four key components of strict supervision conditions:

  • Punishment.

- Punitive conditions.

- Financial assessments.

- Apology to victim.

- Community service.

- Nonjail loss-of-liberty confinement (in cases not involving incarceration).

- Electronic monitoring.

- Intensive supervision.

  • Rehabilitation.

- Mandatory treatment that is "batterer-specific" provided by professionals who are specialists.

- Model regulations for abuser treatment that bar any approach that "blames or intimidates the victim or places the victim in a position of danger that is not appropriate."

- No couples counseling (keep victim separated from abuser).

- Mandatory alcohol and other drug treatment, with a mandate of abstinence.

  • Retribution/restoration.

- Restitution (including direct and indirect for replacement costs of damaged property, medical and counseling bills, and attorney costs).

- Ongoing child support.

- Mortgage or rent payments.

- All payments should be made through the court or correctional institution.

  • Protection. The offender should:

- Obey all outstanding civil protective or restraining orders.

- Forfeit weapons, particularly guns and rifles.

- Submit to warrantless searches of person or home.

- Be supervised at maximum intensity.

- Satisfy special protective obligations when children are involved such as custody, visitation, etc.

Batterers Intervention Programs. Generally, there are six basic principles upon which successful intervention and treatment programs for batterers are based:

  • The batterer is responsible for his behavior. The victim cannot cause the violence or eliminate it.
  • Provocation does not provide justification for violence.
  • Violence is a behavior of choice--a dysfunctional, destructive choice with negative consequences.
  • Nonviolent alternatives to violence exist as functional, appropriate choices.
  • Violence is a learned behavior. Just as the perpetrator learns to be violent, so he or she can learn to be nonviolent.
  • Violence affects all family members. Although this impact may be less obvious, children learn that violence is an acceptable method of problem solving.

Seven common mainstream procedures for batterers intervention programs were identified by the National Institute of Justice:

1. Intake. First contact with batterer referred by the criminal justice system.

2. Assessment. Client agrees with terms of the program and is assessed for dangerousness, extent of abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, illiteracy, or other obstacles to treatment.

3. Victim contact. Victims may be notified about the batterer's status in the program, of any imminent danger, and victim services.

4. Orientation. An initial phase of group intervention that may be more didactic than later meetings.

5. Group treatment. A setting for a specific educational curriculum or less structured discussions about relationships, anger-management skills, or group psychotherapy.

6. Leaving the program. Batterers may complete the program, be terminated for noncompliance, or be asked to repeat the program.

7. Followup. May consist of informal self-help groups of program graduates or less frequent group treatments (Healey, Smith, and O'Sullivan 1998).

There are a number of significant barriers to effective batterers treatment programs, most notably the overall lack of enough programs to meet the needs of convicted domestic violence perpetrators in the United States. Other factors that adversely affect the success of batterer treatment are as follows:

  • Offenders who are ordered or mandated by a court to attend a treatment program and may be resistant to change and therefore unwilling to participate.
  • Many batterers programs are short in duration (ten to twelve weeks), and may be inadequate to change a behavior learned and acted out over a lifetime.
  • Many convicted perpetrators drop out of court-ordered treatment programs prior to completion and sometimes without appropriate sanctions from the court.
  • Since most batterers treatment programs require the offenders to pay for the service, it is considered by some batterers to be cost-prohibitive.
  • If a batterer, who is also alcohol/drug dependent, receives treatment only for the violent behavior, then the correlating factor of substance abuse is not addressed.


Victims of domestic violence should have specific rights relevant to disposition, which include the following:

  • Consultation with the prosecutor prior to any plea agreement.
  • Notification of the disposition.
  • Opportunity to provide a victim impact statement to the court, and to have any children also submit impact statements in measures that are commensurate with their age and cognitive development.
  • Input into specific conditions of community supervision (in cases resulting in probation).
  • Opportunity to request specific measures of relief.


Orders of protection--also called "restraining orders"--are court orders that forbid the abuser from doing certain things to victims, having contact with victims, and/or compelling abusers to comply with certain requirements.

While orders of protection can be issued at any time, it is helpful for victims to seek restraining orders as soon as possible after a domestic violence crime has occurred.

Each jurisdiction has different policies and procedures for issuing and monitoring orders of protection. To best assist victims, service providers should be aware of the following considerations to maximize community response to domestic violence:

  • A definition of "domestic violence victim" that precedes the issuance of a protection order.
  • The entity which issues orders of protection--family court, municipal court, police department, or a combination depending on the circumstances.
  • Domestic violence complaints filed in conjunction with requests for protection are considered to be sworn testimony from the victim that can be utilized in court.
  • Whether the victim can receive a copy of either the complaint or the order of protection.

- No contact from defendant.

- Prohibition of future acts of violence, intimidation, or harassment by the defendant.

- The defendant physically leaving the home and paying child support, restitution, and/or rent or mortgage payments.

- Carrying insurance for the victim and any children to cover all medical expenses.

- Paying a fine to the state victim compensation fund.

- No possession of a weapon.

- Counseling.

- Refraining from using alcohol or other drugs.

- Visitation conditions (when applicable).

  • That consent orders (whereby both parties agree that domestic violence has occurred and agree to abide by all terms of a restraining order) are strictly voluntary on the part of the victim, and cannot be coerced.
  • That victims should receive information about what to do if any order of protection is violated.
  • That advocates should be familiar with and able to explain the full faith and credit law (see "The Federal Domestic Violence Laws and the Enforcement of Those Laws" later in this chapter).

The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

It is significant that seven out of ten persons who enter domestic violence shelters are children. In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control published a study that indicated violence against mothers by their intimate partners may also pose a concurrent risk of abuse to the victim's children. Conversely, mothers of abused children are at a higher risk of being abused than mothers of nonabused children. Concurrence of child abuse is defined as the proportion of families in the population or research sample in which women and their children are victims of abuse by an intimate. In the mother's case, the intimate is her partner; the child may be abused by either the mother's intimate or by the battered mother. A continuing controversy regarding the prevalence of this type of abuse exists, but most authorities describe the concurrence rate as approximately 50 percent (McKibben, DeVos and Newberger 1998; Ross 1996).

Children are often incorporated into patterns of abuse. Batterers may also do the following:

  • Physically or sexually abuse their children.
  • Neglect children emotionally or financially.

The effects on children who witness family violence or who, in some cases, are themselves victims, were summarized in Family Violence: An Overview published by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) (n.d.). The ramifications of family violence have almost no boundaries. In addition to the obvious physical injuries and deaths that result, family violence is often cited in research and clinical case studies as contributing to numerous other individual, family, and societal problems:

  • According to Pagelow (1984, 81), "Victims of all types of family violence share a common experience of denigration of self that results in diminished self-esteem. The shame and feeling of worthlessness so often expressed by battered women are shared by maltreated children, as well as maltreated elderly parents."
  • In their review of research on the effects of family violence on children, Crites and Coker (Spring 1988) report:

- Children learn from an important role model (the parent) that violence toward a loved one is acceptable.

- Children exhibit fear, emotional symptoms such as psychosomatic complaints (physical complaints created by psychological stress), school phobias, enuresis (bed wetting), and insomnia. Young children may try to stop the violence, thus putting themselves at risk for unintended harm or may respond with immobilized shocked staring, running away and hiding, or bed wetting and nightmares.

- After age five or six, children show strong indications of identifying with the aggressor and losing respect for the victim.

  • Many children suffer low self-esteem, sadness, depression, stress disorders, poor impulse control, and feelings of powerlessness, and they are at high risk for alcohol and drug use, sexual acting out, running away, isolation, loneliness, fear, and suicide (Jaffe, Wolfe, and Wilson 1990, 28-29).
  • Sons become aggressive, "act out, become disobedient and behave defiantly and destructively," whereas daughters become "withdrawn, clingy, dependent" (Ibid., 35).
  • Some adolescent boys assault their mothers and siblings. Older children, especially girls, take on the burden of protecting their younger siblings during the father's beatings. They feel constrained from leaving home (Ibid., 30-31).
  • Abusers who are extremely domineering and controlling frequently keep or destroy documentation (such as birth certificates and immunization records) as part of their control of the family, thus preventing or seriously delaying the family from receiving welfare benefits or housing assistance (Ibid., 28-29).

Developing a Coordinated Response to Domestic Violence

Victim advocates, criminal justice professionals, social service providers, and allied professionals cannot operate in a vacuum when it comes to providing quality services to victims of domestic violence. There are many professionals who have responsibilities to domestic violence victims. In a lecture to the American Probation and Parole Association's Annual Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1994, national domestic violence researcher and advocate Sarah Buel identified the following key components of a model domestic violence response by the community:

  • Develop and implement a coordinated response with strong advocates from criminal justice, victim services, children's services, and allied professions.
  • Establish a Family Violence Coordinating Council with monthly meetings to set an agenda and action plans for the community and to determine and clarify roles and responsibilities of individuals and entities.
  • Do not allow mediation between domestic violence victims and perpetrators because it creates a "power versus powerless" structure and poses danger for the victim. All interviews of victims and offenders should be conducted separately.

Many communities, counties, and states have formed Domestic Violence Coordinating Councils to address prevention, early interventions, victim assistance, and coordinated responses from the criminal justice system and community in responding to domestic violence. Such Councils serve a variety of purposes:

  • Determining how individuals and agencies in the public and private sectors respond to domestic violence and providing an ongoing forum to coordinate existing efforts and to plan for new initiatives.
  • Improving the coordination of justice agencies (including law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, probation, prisons, and parole) in domestic violence prevention and response as well as services for both victims and offenders.
  • Reviewing policies, protocols, and procedures relevant to domestic violence within justice agencies and making recommendations for improvement and for interagency policies that promote better coordination of services.
  • Collaboratively seeking support (including financial and human resources) from the community for domestic violence prevention and victim assistance services.
  • Developing and promoting public education and community awareness campaigns about domestic violence, which include publicizing available services and community-based resources for information and referral.

See Appendix B for a comprehensive community checklist (1996) detailing important steps to end violence against women, developed by the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women, established in 1995 by Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala.

The Federal Domestic Violence Laws and the

Enforcement of Those Laws

(The following section is excerpted from an article written by Margaret S. Groban, Violence Against Women Act Specialist, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, April 1999.)

In 1994, the Congress of the United States, as part of the Crime Bill, enacted legislation empowering the federal government to participate in the fight against domestic violence. The Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA") recognized that "violence against women is a crime with far-reaching, harmful consequences for families, children and society." To combat this violent crime problem, VAWA provided that federal domestic violence crimes be prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Consistent with this federal initiative, the Crime Bill also amended the Gun Control Act to include domestic violence related crimes.

This [section] provides a concise summary of the federal statutes in both VAWA and the Gun Control Act that allow prosecution of domestic violence offenders in the federal courts and provides a summary of selected prosecutions under each statute and a checklist of offenses.


Interstate Travel to Commit Domestic Violence. 18 U.S.C. 2261

18 U.S.C. 2261(a)(1).

It is a federal crime for a person to travel interstate (or leave or enter Indian country) with the intent to injure, harass, or intimidate that person's intimate partner when in the course of or as a result of such travel the defendant intentionally commits a violent crime and thereby causes bodily injury. The law requires specific intent to commit domestic violence at the time of interstate travel. The term "intimate partner" includes a spouse, a former spouse, a past or present cohabitant (as long as the parties cohabitated as spouses), and parents of a child in common. The intimate partner definition does not include a girlfriend or boyfriend with whom the defendant has not resided unless protected by state law. There must be bodily injury for prosecution under this statute.

18 U.S.C. 2261(a)(2).

It is a federal crime to cause an intimate partner to cross state lines (or leave or enter Indian country) by force, coercion, duress, or fraud during which or as a result of which, there is bodily harm to the victim. This subsection does not require a showing of specific intent to cause the spouse or intimate partner to travel interstate. It does, however, require proof that the interstate travel resulted from force, coercion, duress, or fraud. As in subsection 2261(a)(1), the defendant must intentionally commit a crime of violence during the course of or as a result of the travel and there must be bodily injury to the spouse or intimate partner.

Interstate Stalking. 18 U.S.C. 2261A. As of September 23, 1996, it is a federal crime to cross a state line with the intent to injure or harass another person, if in the course of or as a result of such travel, the defendant places such person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to, that person or a member of that person's immediate family. The law requires specific intent to violate this subsection at the time of interstate travel. "Immediate family" includes a spouse, parent, sibling, child or any other person living in the same household and related by blood or marriage. It is also a federal crime to "stalk," as it is defined in Section 2261A, within the special or maritime jurisdiction of the United States.

Interstate Travel to Violate an Order of Protection. 18 U.S.C. 2262.

18 U.S.C. 2262(a)(1).

This law prohibits interstate travel (or travel into and out of Indian country) with intent to violate a valid protection order that forbids credible threats of violence, repeated harassment, or bodily injury. To establish a violation of this statute, the Government must demonstrate that a person had the specific intent to violate the protection order at the time of interstate travel and that a violation actually occurred. This statute does not require an intimate partner relationship--although this relationship may be required by the state or other governmental body issuing the order--nor does it require bodily injury.

18 U.S.C. 2262(b)(1).

It is a federal crime to cause a spouse or intimate partner to cross state lines (or leave or enter Indian country) by force, coercion, duress, or fraud during which or as a result of which, there is bodily harm to the victim in violation of a valid order of protection. This subsection does not require a showing of specific intent to cause the spouse or intimate partner to travel interstate. It does, however, require proof that the interstate travel resulted from force, coercion, duress, or fraud. The Government must also prove that a person intentionally injured an intimate partner in violation of a protection order during the course of or as a result of the forced or coercive travel. This subsection, unlike corollary Section 2262(a)(1), requires an intimate relationship between the parties.

The U.S. Department of Justice recognizes that under both 2262(a)(1) and (a)(2), law enforcement may be unable to verify the validity of a protection order at the time of arrest. The national data center from which law enforcement and prosecutors now can verify instantaneously protection orders will be of enormous benefit to federal authorities in the prosecution of criminal cases under Section 2262. However, because participation in the protection order registry is voluntary and not all states are participating, it will be necessary to consult with the United States Attorney in the appropriate district for guidance in these cases.

To assist in prosecution under Section 2262, it is necessary to examine the protection order currently used in one's jurisdiction.

Penalties. Penalties for violations of Sections 2261, 2261A and 2262 hinge on the extent of the bodily injury to the victim. Terms of imprisonment range from five years for bodily injury to life if the crime of violence results in the victim's death.


Possession of Firearm While Subject to Order of Protection. 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8). It is illegal for a person to possess a firearm while subject to a court order restraining such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner. The protection order must have been issued following an evidentiary hearing as to which the defendant had notice and an opportunity to appear. The protection order must also include a specific finding that the defendant represents a credible threat to the physical safety of the victim or must include an explicit prohibition against the use of force that would reasonably be expected to cause injury.

Transfer of Firearm to Person Subject to Order of Protection. 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(8). It is also illegal to transfer a firearm to a person subject to a court order that restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner. A violation of Section 922(d)(8) must be knowing. Proof concerning knowledge on the part of the supplier may be difficult to establish without a fully operational central registry for protection orders.

Official Use Exemption. 18 U.S.C. 925. The restrictions of Sections 922(d)(8) and (g)(8) do not apply to firearms issued by governmental agencies to a law enforcement officer or military personnel so long as the officer or military personnel is on duty. Personal firearms do not fall within this exemption nor may these personnel possess officially issued firearms when off duty.

Possession of Firearm After Conviction of Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence. 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9). As of September 30, 1996, it is illegal to possess a firearm after conviction of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. This prohibition applies to persons convicted of such misdemeanors at any time, even if the conviction occurred prior to the new law's effective date.

Transfer of Firearm to Person Convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence. 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(9). It is also illegal to transfer a firearm to a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. A violation of Section 922(d)(9) must be knowing.

Official Use Exemption. 18 U.S.C. 925. The official use exemption does not apply to Sections 922(d)(9) and 922(g)(9). This means that law enforcement officers or military personnel who have been convicted of a qualifying domestic violence misdemeanor will not be able to possess or receive firearms for any purpose, including the performance of official duties.

Penalties. The maximum term of imprisonment for a violation of Sections 922(d)(8), 922(g)(8), 922(d)(9), or 922(g)(9), is ten years.


Full Faith and Credit to Orders of Protection. 18 U.S.C. 2265. This civil law provides that a civil or criminal domestic protection order issued by a court in one state or Indian tribe shall be accorded full faith and credit by the court of another state or tribe, and is to be enforced as if it were the order of the court of the second state or tribe. This law applies to permanent, temporary, and ex parte protection orders that comply with the statute's requirements. To comply, the protection order must have provided the defendant with reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard, in a manner consistent with due process. This law does not apply to mutual protection orders if (a) the original respondent did not file a cross or counter petition seeking a protective order or (b) if such a cross or counter petition was filed, but the court did not make specific findings that each party was entitled to such an order.

Amendment of the Brady Statement. 18 U.S.C. 922(s). The Brady statement requirements were amended as of September 30, 1996, to include a statement that the recipient of the firearm has not been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The Brady statement still does not require that the firearm recipient state whether he/she is currently subject to a valid protection order. The recipient will be compelled to fill out, at the time of receipt of the firearm(s), an ATF form requiring certification that he/she is not subject to a valid protection order.

Right of Victim to Speak at Bail Hearing. 18 U.S.C. 2263. The victim of a VAWA crime has the right to be heard at a bail hearing with regard to the danger posed by the defendant. In addition, depending upon the circumstances of the case, the United States Attorney's Office may move for pre-trial detention of the defendant.

Other Victims' Rights. 42 U.S.C. 10606(b). All federal crime victims, including a domestic violence victim, have the right to:

  • Be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
  • Be reasonably protected from the accused offender.
  • Be notified of court proceedings.
  • Be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, unless the court determines that testimony by the victim would be materially affected if the victim heard other testimony at trial.
  • Confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.

Restitution. 18 U.S.C. 2264. In a VAWA case, the Court must order restitution after conviction to reimburse the victim for the full amount of losses.

Self-Petitioning for Battered Immigrant Women and Children. 8 U.S.C. 1154. VAWA specifically provides that battered and abused spouses and children of citizens and lawful permanent residents may self-petition for independent legal residency. This statute prevents citizens or residents from using the residency process as a means to exert control over an alien spouse or child and allows victims to remain in the United States independent of their abusive husbands/parents.

The federal domestic violence statutes provide powerful weapons for United States Attorney's Offices around the country to assist state and local law enforcement in their fight against domestic violence. Increased awareness of these federal laws will allow the U.S. Department of Justice to work in a collaborative manner with state and local counterparts in an effort to reduce one of the nation's most serious crime problems.

A checklist of federal domestic violence statutes can be found in Appendix C at the end of the chapter.

State Domestic Violence Laws

The Family Violence Division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, provides assistance to states in drafting, enacting, or implementing domestic violence laws. Its 1998 Family Violence Legislative Update highlights key domestic violence public policy initiatives:

  • Welfare reform. Fearing that the tightened federal rules for public assistance mandated by Congress, unrelieved by federal exemptions for victims of domestic violence could jeopardize the safety of battered women and their children, states are beginning to mandate such exemptions themselves.
  • Full faith and credit. Full faith and credit laws require states to provide for full faith and credit for out-of-state protective orders. At the end of the 1997 legislative year, seventeen states had passed such statutes which, when all states follow suit, will make it much easier everywhere in the country to ascertain the existence of orders of protection issued anywhere in the country.
  • Fee waiver. Federal requirements mandate that states eliminate fees charged to victims of domestic violence for orders of protection. In 1997, Louisiana and Nevada mandated that these fees be charged to abusers instead.
  • Enhanced penalties. These laws include among others: enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, making violation of protective orders a felony in cases where the violation constitutes an assault, and increasing penalties for persons who commit acts of domestic violence while they are subject to a protection order.
  • New crimes of domestic violence. In response to the mounting evidence of the detriment that witnessing domestic violence causes children, a handful of states have created new crime categories for committing acts of domestic violence in the presence of children. Three states have also made it a law to interfere with the reporting of domestic violence. Certain abusers who typically rip the phone out of the wall in order to prevent the police from being called can now be charged for this act as well.


In its 1998 "Family Violence Legislative Update," the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges identified a number of trends in domestic violence legislation:

  • Making it easier for victims to keep their addresses confidential when obtaining and maintaining restraining orders.
  • Limiting the use of mediation to determine custody and visitation issues in cases where there is domestic violence.
  • Creating fatality review commissions.
  • Mandating that employers begin to address the safety of victims of domestic violence in the workplace.

Promising Practices

  • Law Enforcement Response Procedures for Children. The Austin (Texas) Police Department's Domestic Violence Unit teaches police officers that they must:

- Ensure that every incident reported indicates whether children live in the home, where the children were during the incident, and where they were located when the officer arrived.

- Let hiding children know the police officers are in the room and then count to five before opening the door or looking under the bed.

- Kneel down to the child's level when speaking to him or her and calmly ask open-ended questions.

- Ask the child "How can I help?"

- Photograph every child whether or not they have visible injuries

- Document the name, age, school, and teacher of each child in order to alert teachers of the situation.

  • One of the most promising innovations in the legal system is the unified family court, which is being implemented in an ever-increasing number of states. Judge Robert W. Page describes the unified family court as "a court for families." A genuine unified family court has authority over child abuse and neglect; divorce, child custody, and visitation; partner abuse; elder abuse; juvenile delinquency; termination of parental rights; and other family law matters. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recommends that the family court should have "criminal jurisdiction over adults for crimes committed against family and household members."

In a paper delivered at the National Conference on Family Violence: Health and Justice in 1994, Judge Page's description of the advantages of a unified family court was offered:

The primary advantage claimed for a family court system is the unification of all complaints, petitions, and case types within one case processing and management system in order to provide a more efficient, less costly and damaging, consistent and longer lasting resolution of the problems presented. By directing that all complaints or petitions must be resolved in one unified court, the opportunities for inconsistency and errors based upon inaccurate or incomplete information are greatly reduced (Myers 1994, 3).

  • Advocacy for Women and Kids in Emergencies (AWAKE). The nation's first hospital-based program that offers advocacy and support to abused mothers at the same time that the hospital is providing protection to abused children was created in 1986 by Children's Hospital in Boston. AWAKE was formed to broaden child abuse programming to include intervention on behalf of battered women and to coordinate services that are often offered separately, and in conflict, to women and children. In the AWAKE program, battered women with abused children are paired with an advocate experienced in family violence. The advocate devises an immediate safety plan that is updated during each subsequent contact and is designed to keep mothers and children together and safe. Input is sought from a multidisciplinary team (Child Protection Services, District Attorney, Department of Social Services, and outside agencies). Long-term supportive services are also offered to these families. In addition, a 1994 program expansion began offering services at a health center located in a public housing development that are provided by two bilingual, bicultural advocates (FVPF 1997).
  • The Alexandria, Virginia-based Institute for Law and Justice (ILJ), with support from VAWA, has identified over 350 Web sites related to domestic violence. In a summary contained in the 1998 Report: Evaluation of the STOP Formula Grants Under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, ILJ identified eight types of information available to practitioner audiences that can be adopted by other agencies (Burt et al. July 1998):

1. Model police protocols for arrest policies and procedures.

2. Model protocols for prosecutors agencies.

3. Model training programs for police and other criminal justice personnel.

4. Guidelines for enforcement of out-of-state civil protection orders under the constitutional full faith and credit clause.

5. Interagency agreements and plans among county agencies to enforce domestic violence laws.

6. Batterer intervention program operational manuals.

7. Informational pamphlets for victims of domestic violence.

8. Physician guides for recognizing and treating domestic violence as a health problem.

ILJ's link page to more than 350 Web sites is located at <www.ilj.org/dv>.

  • An on-line Domestic Violence Shelter Tour and Information Site was created by Victim Services, Inc. of New York City. This innovative Web site includes a tour of a domestic violence shelter and features photos and the voices of women who have sought shelter with Victim Services; a children's art gallery of drawings by children who have survived domestic violence; a map that identifies domestic violence resources available across the United States; links to over 150 domestic violence Web sites around the world; and general information about domestic violence and victim assistance. The Victim Services Domestic Violence Shelter Tour and Information Site is located at <www.dvsheltertour.org/>.
  • Community Partners. The East Boston Neighborhood Health Center has trained all its staff to identify and report incidents of violence against women to designated staff members. For example, janitors and clerical workers are asked to contact the nurse supervisor if they witness dangerous behavior on the premises. By teaching all staff that they are important links in keeping victims safe, the center reports an increased awareness among nonmedical personnel about violence against women crimes and improved collaboration with local services in planning for safety.
  • The California Youth Authority (CYA) Office of Prevention and Victim Services has created a series of Technical Assistance Bulletins that are designed to educate its staff about important victimization issues that might personally affect their families and them. A Bulletin on domestic violence was developed following the murder of a CYA staff member by her ex-boyfriend. It includes information about typologies of battering and victimization, protection issues, developing a safety plan, how to help coworkers who might be in domestic violence situations, and resources for local and national victim assistance programs. CYA encourages other justice agencies to replicate its Bulletins for their employees; a copy of the Domestic Violence Technical Assistance Bulletin is available by calling 916-262-1392.
  • In Pierce County, Washington, all marriage license applications contain the following citation: "The laws of this state affirm your right to live within the marriage free from violence and abuse. Neither you not your spouse is the property of the other. The laws against physical abuse; emotional or psychological abuse; sexual abuse; and battery and assault are applicable to spouses and other family members, and violations of these laws are punishable by either fine or imprisonment, or both."

- Third-year students at the Battered Women's Rights Clinic at the City University of New York Law School assist low-income clients with a range of legal needs. This may include obtaining civil protection orders, pursuing contempt charges, seeking child support or custody orders, and handling housing or public benefit cases. The clinic teaches students to consider the unique social and economic obstacles confronted by battered women and to work on law reform efforts to overcome these barriers. Students have conducted workshops in local shelters and for victim services agencies and citizen groups.

- Law students at the University of Georgia Law School assist indigent victims of domestic violence in rural counties to file pro se petitions, obtain protective orders, and find appropriate referral services. The Protective Order Project also acts as a resource center for victims and service providers in the community.

- Students in the Families and the Law Clinic at Catholic University (Washington, DC), Columbus School of Law, develop and run community education projects on dating violence prevention in local high schools. Law students address the dynamics of domestic violence, the civil and criminal remedies available, and dating violence myths. High school students respond to the substance and format of these workshops, viewing law students as both peer role model and an accurate source of legal information (ABA 1997).

  • The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), in partnership with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the umbrella group for the majority of domestic violence shelters across the nation, provides free medical services to victims of domestic abuse. Shelter counselors refer domestic violence victims who have received injuries to the face, head, or neck to AAFPRS for consultation with a surgeon, and suitable candidates are given reconstructive surgery at no cost. Since July 1994, 614 victims have been referred to plastic surgeons (OVC 1998).
  • In its continuing efforts to educate the medical profession about domestic violence, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has produced a slide lecture about the health care needs of domestic violence victims. Target audiences include OB-GYN residents, third-year OB-GYN medical students, first- and second-year medical students in courses such as "Introduction to Clinical Medicine," and other health care providers including emergency department personnel, dentists, nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and mental health providers (OVC 1998).
  • The Family Violence Intervention Model for Dental Professionals Project, funded by OVC, has developed comprehensive curricula and educational videos for dentists and dental ancillary staff that provide information about the dynamics of family violence, appropriate interventions by dental staff, and identification of family violence resources for dental providers. Training videos model appropriate interventions in the office environment, and depict the clinical signs of abuse and neglect. The materials have been piloted and incorporated into the training program of the dental school at the university. Additional training programs are scheduled to occur throughout the country.

Domestic Violence Self-Examination

1. Describe one form of abuse that comprises domestic violence.

2. What are the two characteristics that are significantly and consistently correlated with batterers?

3. Describe one effect of domestic violence on children.

4. Describe three of the responsibilities involved in advocating for victims of domestic violence.

5. Describe a promising practice in domestic violence prevention or intervention (either one that was highlighted in this chapter, or one that exists in your community).

Chapter 9 References

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Chapter 9 Additional Resources

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). June 1998. "Presale Handgun Statistics, 1997." Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). 18 February 1999. "Characteristics of Crime." Summary Findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). 18 February 1999. "Criminal Offender Statistics." Summary Findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Burnam, M. A., J. A. Stein, J. M. Golding, J. M. Siegel, S. B. Sorenson, A. B. Forsythe, and C. A. Telles. 1988. "Sexual Assault and Mental Disorders in a Community Population." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56: 843-850.

Craven, D. September 1997. "Sex Differences in Violent Victimization, 1994." Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

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Healey, K. M. and C. Smith. July 1998. Batterer Programs: What Criminal Agencies Need to Know. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

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Chapter 9 Appendix A

Power and Control Wheel

Equality Wheel

Chapter 9 Appendix B

A Community Checklist: Important Steps

to End Violence Against Women

In July 1995, a National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women was established by Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala. The purpose of the forty-seven-member, multidisciplinary council was to "help promote greater awareness of the problem of violence against women and its victims, to help devise solutions to the problem, and to advise the federal government on implementing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act."

The Advisory Council developed a checklist of important steps that communities can take to end violence against women, including the religious community, colleges and universities, law enforcement, health care professionals, the sports industry, the news media, and the workplace.

As Attorney General Reno and Secretary Shalala stated in the introduction to the Community Checklist:

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but is meant to offer some straightforward, practical suggestions that we believe can make a difference in communities across the country. By coming together as a community, exchanging ideas, and coordinating efforts, we can begin to end this violence that destroys so many American lives.

Published during the 1996 National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, "A Community Checklist" offers valuable insights into what individuals and community constituencies can do to address domestic violence.


The religious community provides a safe haven for women and families in need. In addition, it exhorts society to share compassion and comfort with those afflicted by the tragedy of domestic violence. Leaders of the religious community have identified actions to share with the nation to create a unified response to violence against women.

  • Become a safe place. Make your church, temple, mosque, or synagogue a safe place where victims of domestic violence can come for help. Display brochures and posters which include the telephone number of the domestic violence and sexual assault programs in your area. Publicize the National Domestic Violence Hotline number, 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD).

  • Educate the congregation. Provide ways for members of the congregation to learn as much as they can about domestic and sexual violence. Routinely include information in monthly newsletters, on bulletin boards, and in marriage preparation classes. Sponsor educational seminars on violence against women in your congregation.

  • Speak out. Speak out about domestic violence and sexual assault from the pulpit. As a faith leader, you can have a powerful impact on peoples' attitudes and beliefs.

  • Lead by example. Volunteer to serve on the board of directors at the local domestic violence/sexual assault program or attend a training to become a crisis volunteer.

  • Offer space. Offer meeting space for educational seminars or weekly support groups or serve as a supervised visitation site when parents need to visit safely with their children.

  • Partner with existing resources. Include your local domestic violence or sexual assault program in donations and community service projects. Adopt a shelter for which your church, temple, mosque or synagogue provides material support, or provide similar support to families as they rebuild their lives following a shelter stay.

  • Prepare to be a resource. Do the theological and scriptural homework necessary to better understand and respond to family violence and receive training from professionals in the fields of sexual and domestic violence.

  • Intervene. If you suspect violence is occurring in a relationship, speak to each member of the couple separately. Help the victim plan for safety. Let both individuals know of the community resources available to assist them. Do not attempt couples counseling.

  • Support professional training. Encourage and support training and education for clergy and lay leaders, hospital chaplains, and seminary students to increase awareness about sexual and domestic violence.

  • Address internal issues. Encourage continued efforts by religious institutions to address allegations of abuse by religious leaders to ensure that religious leaders are a safe resource for victims and their children.

(Adapted in part from the Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition and the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, Seattle, WA. Used with permission.)


Colleges and universities offer important opportunities to educate young men and women about violence against women. Experiences on campuses will be carried forth to everyday life and will influence future actions. Therefore, every effort to inform students may mean one less victim abused or one less crime committed. Leaders in higher education have identified the following strategies to assist educators across the country in reaching out to students and communities, and to make campuses safe places for women.

  • Make the campus a safe place. Evaluate the safety and security of the campus environment and the quality and availability of resources to ensure safety. For example, establish campus escort services through campus security and student government programs.

  • Increase awareness. Educate your students, faculty, and staff about the problem of sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses. Provide adequate training on the signs that often accompany abuse, on victims' legal rights, and on available resources.

  • Target special groups. Identify target groups (i.e., new students, fraternities and sororities, athletes, etc.) on your campus and develop specialized training and resources for them.

  • Coordinate resources. Identify resources addressing violence against women on your campus and bring together local community and university service providers.

  • Encourage reporting of violence. Through orientation and awareness programs on campus, encourage students, faculty, and staff to report incidents of violence. Develop effective linkages between campus and community law enforcement personnel.

  • Provide services to the campus community. Support a coordinated community response to violence against women; ensure that services are comprehensive and appropriate for the entire campus community.

  • Develop an administration response to violence on campus. Establish protocols to manage complaints of violence on your campus with care for the victim as the first priority. Your protocol should include a clearly defined process for providing assistance to victims and holding the perpetrators accountable.

  • Review and revise the student code of conduct and policies. Review your campus policies and disciplinary sanctions to assess that violence against women is treated as seriously as other crimes, with equally severe punishments.

  • Provide a voice for women on campus. Provide support for students and faculty to establish victim advocacy groups on campus.

  • Get the message out to the campus community. Speak out against domestic violence and sexual assault in your position of leadership on campus. Communicate expectations about appropriate conduct, include them in student policy statements. Post information about available resources in dining halls, health facilities, dormitories, locker rooms, and other places where students are likely to see it.


Across the country, law enforcement is developing innovative and effective strategies to prevent and prosecute violence against women more effectively. Law enforcement leaders have identified several of these strategies that, if used consistently, may go a long way toward reducing incidents of violence against women.

  • Create a community roundtable. Convene a community roundtable bringing together police, prosecutors, judges, child protection agencies, survivors, religious leaders, health professionals, business leaders, educators, defense attorneys, and victim advocate groups, and meet regularly. Create specific plans for needed change and develop policies among law enforcement, prosecutors, and others that will result in coordinated, consistent responses to domestic violence.

  • Record domestic violence. To help understand and respond to the dimensions of violence against women, develop and require the use of a uniform domestic violence reporting form. It should include an investigative checklist for use in all domestic violence incidents or responses.

  • Continue to educate. Create informational brochures on domestic violence and sexual assault that include safety plans and a list of referral services, for distribution in all courthouses, police stations, and prosecutors offices and in nonlegal settings such as grocery stores, libraries, laundromats, schools, and health centers.

  • Provide clear guidance on responding to domestic violence. Write new or adapt existing protocol policies for police, courts, and prosecutors regarding domestic violence and sexual assault incidents and train all employees to follow them. Policies should specify that domestic violence and sexual assault cases must be treated with the highest priority, regardless of the severity of the offense charged or injuries inflicted.

  • Ensure that law enforcement is well informed. Designate at least one staff member to serve as your agency's domestic violence and sexual assault contact, with responsibility for keeping current on legal developments, training resources, availability of services and grant funds. Wherever possible, create a unit of employees with special expertise to handle domestic violence and sexual assault cases in prosecutor's offices, police departments, and probation/parole agencies and ensure that these employees are well trained regarding their responsibilities.

  • Reach out to front lines. Identify and meet with staff and residents from local battered women's shelters and rape crisis centers to discuss their perceptions of current needs from the law enforcement community. Solicit suggestions for improving the law enforcement response to these crimes.

  • Improve enforcement by implementing a registry of restraining orders and a uniform order for protection. Implement a statewide registry of restraining orders designed to provide accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible information on current and prior restraining orders for use by law enforcement and judicial personnel. Develop a uniform statewide protection order for more effective and efficient enforcement.

  • Support and pursue legislative initiatives. Develop and support legislative initiatives to address issues regarding domestic violence and sexual assault including a) stalking; b) death review teams; c) sentencing guidelines; d) indefinite restraining orders; and e) batterers intervention programs.

  • Conduct training. Conduct ongoing multidisciplinary domestic violence and sexual assault training for police, prosecutors, judges, advocates, defenders, service providers, child protection workers, educators, and others. Training should include the victim's perspective and an emphasis on safety planning.

  • Structure courts to respond to domestic violence/create specialized domestic violence courts. Develop specialized courts that deal exclusively with domestic violence cases in a coordinated, comprehensive manner, where community and court resources can be utilized together to address domestic violence effectively. At a minimum, all court personnel involved with domestic violence cases, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, and corrections and parole officers should receive relevant and practical domestic violence training and have an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.


Health care professionals are in the critical position of providing services to victims of violence as the first contact point for many of these victims. It is crucial that health care professionals recognize their potential to intervene appropriately. Immediate recognition of the problem and the provision of medical care and referrals to appropriate resources within the community can make all the difference. Leaders in the field have identified the following strategies to make interventions by health care professionals more effective.

  • Incorporate training into curricula. Support the incorporation of domestic violence and sexual assault training in medical, nursing, and allied health care professional education curricula.

  • Make resources available to patients. Make resource materials available in waiting rooms and restrooms. Include the National Domestic Violence Hotline number 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD).

  • Support incorporation of protocols into accreditation process. Support efforts to ensure that domestic violence and sexual assault protocols are addressed through the National Commission for Quality Assurance and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.

  • Encourage continuing education on violence against women issues. Encourage your state licensing boards and various specialty groups to encourage physicians and nurses to allocate Continuing Medical Education (CME) hours to violence against women related issues for re-licensure requirements.

  • Involve medical organizations and societies in increasing awareness. Collaborate with health care professional organizations and societies in your area to increase medical school and health care professional involvement in addressing violence against women.

  • Feature violence against women on meeting agendas. Arrange presentations and symposiums on violence against women at various health care specialty annual, regional, and local meetings.

  • Highlight commitment to violence against women issues. Give awards, citations, and certificates to exceptional organizations and individuals for their continued commitment to addressing violence against women.

  • Develop a standard intake form. Develop a standardized intake assessment form for health care professionals who interact with victims of domestic or sexual violence. This assessment form would ensure that certain information regarding these incidents is identified and proper resources are utilized.

  • Ensure Employee Assistance Programs are responsive to victims of domestic violence. Determine whether your health care facility's employee assistance program (EAP) includes domestic violence services or referrals. If it does not, speak with your human resources director or the appropriate manager about the possibility of expanding the program to address the needs of employees facing violence in their homes. All EAP personnel should receive domestic violence training and have an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.

  • Volunteer. Provide a health care series on a volunteer basis to community organizations that serve victims of domestic and sexual violence.


Today, more than ever, our sports players and organizations have an enormous capacity to influence the minds and behaviors of Americans, both young and old. The reason is simple. For many Americans, professional, college, and Olympic athletes are today's heroes. We must utilize this outlet to send a positive message to all Americans about preventing domestic violence and sexual assault. Following are a number of ways communities can work with the local sports industry to help stop the violence.

  • Bring sports leagues together in a common cause. Encourage local sports teams to come together in a joint effort to combat violence against women through joint awareness campaigns and public appearances.

  • Create strict disciplinary policies. Encourage the creation of disciplinary policies for players on domestic violence and violence against women similar to drug policies. These policies should include stiff sanctions and penalties for committing domestic violence and sexual assault.

  • Push for public service announcements (PSAs) during broadcast of sporting events. Write or call sports leagues in support of PSAs about violence against women during the broadcast of major sporting events, including NCAA games.

  • Promote the distribution of educational materials. Promote the distribution of educational materials from local shelters and programs to players by offering the materials to the teams.

  • Involve local sports heroes in community activities. Involve local sports heroes in rallies and events which bring attention to the problem of violence against women.

  • Reach out to potential sponsors. If there are businesses in the area that are known for making or selling sporting equipment or clothing, approach them for sponsorship of community awareness activities.


The media industry represents much more than television and film stars. It is the most influential source of information for millions of Americans. Before we can change people's attitudes about violence against women and prevent violent behavior, we must not only change the way violence is portrayed in the media, but also educate members of the media who report on domestic violence and sexual assault crime. Leaders in the media industry have identified ways in which communities can work with their local media to encourage responsible reporting of violence against women.

  • Use the power of communication. Contact local television, radio, and newspapers urging thoughtful and accurate coverage of violence against women, and the provision of educational messages about the problem when possible.

  • Urge action through the local paper. Through community organizations, distribute model op-ed pieces and letters to the editor and urge community action for placement of these pieces.

  • Link media with experts. Provide media outlets with a list of well-known experts available for interviews and a packet of materials with information on a variety of related subject areas, such as local shelters and programs.

  • Organize public events. Plan a public event, such as a community education forum on violence against women, and solicit local media coverage.

  • Encourage employee awareness. Encourage the development of domestic violence awareness programs for employees of media outlets.

  • Build a bridge between media and law enforcement. Urge police chiefs and commissioners to go on air locally to discuss domestic violence and violence against women.

  • Provide a forum for community leaders. Encourage community leaders to speak to media about issues of violence against women.

  • Publicize local resources through reporting. Encourage local media to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline number, 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD), through reporting on incidents of domestic violence.


Men and women spend more and more of their daily lives in the workplace. Domestic violence is a workplace issue that affects the safety, health, and productivity of America's workers. Business and labor leaders have identified several strategies that can be used to create safer and more supportive workplaces.

  • Ensure Employee Assistance Programs are responsive to victims of domestic violence. Determine whether your company's employee assistance program (EAP) includes domestic violence services or referrals. If it does not, speak with your human resources director or the appropriate manager about the possibility of expanding the program to address the needs of employees facing violence in their homes. All EAP personnel should receive domestic violence training and have an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.

  • Provide management with the tools to respond to domestic violence. Establish a training program for all supervisors and managers at your workplace to give them guidance on how to respond when an employee is a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence.

  • Educate employees about domestic violence. Sponsor a workshop or series of workshops at your workplace on domestic violence. Invite a domestic violence survivor to speak about her experiences and to discuss the impact of violence on her life and her work.

  • Share materials about domestic violence. Distribute educational materials about domestic violence to all employees in your workplace and display posters and brochures in public places which explain the issue. Send the message that there is no excuse for domestic violence. Make victim safety information available in private places such as restrooms or in paycheck envelopes. All information should include the National Domestic Violence Hotline number, 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD).

  • Increase safety at the workplace. Find out whether security guards at your workplace have been trained to handle the special safety needs of battered women, who may be stalked at work. If they have not, speak with the appropriate manager to arrange training and help security personnel develop safety procedures.

  • Coordinate with local law enforcement. Arrange a meeting between security personnel at your workplace and local law enforcement agencies to facilitate appropriate information sharing and the development of collaborative working relationships.

  • Join in local community efforts to combat domestic violence. Conduct a drive in your workplace to collect items for local domestic violence shelters. Be sure to contact the programs first to find out what they want, but common needs for shelters are toys, clothing, furniture, office equipment, office supplies, and food. Alternatively, make a contribution of company products.

  • Donate time and resources. Adopt a local domestic violence shelter by collecting money from coworkers for a joint donation or by getting a group of coworkers to make a commitment of volunteer hours. For example, raise money to pay for a new roof for a shelter; organize groups of volunteers to paint a shelter, do yard work around the shelter, assist with a special event, or provide other specialized skills (Advisory Council on Violence Against Women 1996).

Chapter 9 Appendix C

Checklist of Federal Domestic Violence Statutes/Offenses
  • Domestic Violence Offenses.

- Interstate travel to commit domestic violence - 18 U.S.C. 2261.

- Interstate stalking - 18 U.S.C. 2261A.

- Interstate travel to violate a Protection Order - 18 U.S.C. 2262.

  • Firearms Offenses.

- Possession of a firearm while subject to a Protection Order - 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8).

- Transfer of a firearm to a person subject to a Protection Order - 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(8).

- Possession of a firearm after conviction of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence - 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9).

- Transfer of a firearm to a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence - 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(9).

- Official use exemption from firearms offenses (except 922(d)(9) and 922(g)(9)) -

18 U.S.C. 925(a)(1).

  • Other Relevant Statutes.

- Full Faith and Credit - 18 U.S.C. 2265.

- Brady statement - 18 U.S.C. 922(s).

- Right of victim to be heard at bail hearing - 18 U.S.C. 2263.

- Other victims' rights - 18 U.S.C. 10606(b).

- Restitution - 18 U.S.C. 2264.

- Self-Petitioning for battered immigrant women and children - 8 U.S.C. 1154.

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2000 NVAA Text
Chapter 9
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