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

Published June 2009

Chapter 1. Overview of Domestic Violence

Section 5 — How widespread are sexual assaults among intimate partners?

If there is physical abuse in domestic violence, studies suggest that there is probably sexual abuse as well. A Texas study found that almost 70 percent of women seeking protective orders were raped, most (79 percent) repeatedly. [157] Although reporting a lower rate, an earlier Massachusetts study found 55 percent of female restraining order petitioners reported to interviewers that they had been sexually assaulted by their abusers, although no one had included this in her affidavit requesting a protective order. [143] Female victims similarly underreported sexual abuse in a Colorado study. Although 20 to 50 percent of women seeking protective orders had been subjected to a variety of abuse, including forced sex within the preceding year, only 4 percent listed forced sex on the complaint form requesting the temporary restraining order. [105]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Investigators should be alert to possible sexual as well as physical abuse in interviewing or investigating domestic assaults. Judgment must be used as to how and when to approach potential victims of sexual assaults. (Research basis: National survey as well as disparate individual studies from multiple regions.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Prosecutors should be aware that sexual abuse is often part of domestic violence, although victims may not report it or be prepared to cooperate in its prosecution. Even if prosecutors cannot file or prosecute, evidence of sexual assaults should be taken into account when prosecutors and judges consider abuser risk and victim vulnerability in terms of filing other charges and making appropriate sentencing recommendations, bail decisions, issuing protective orders, and sentencing abusers after pleas or convictions. (Research basis: National survey as well as disparate individual studies from multiple regions.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009