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

Published June 2009

Chapter 2. Reporting and Arrests

Section 6 — Are there other major sources for reports of domestic violence?

Unlike most crime victims, victims reporting domestic violence can use a parallel track, namely, civil courts where they can petition for protective/restraining orders. In many jurisdictions, more victims report intimate assaults and related crimes to civil courts than to law enforcement. [135] Research from both ends of the country, Massachusetts [32, 134] and the state of Washington [121], however, indicates that the abuse reported in this civil setting is not significantly different from that reported to law enforcement.

Implications for Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

Civil protective order files offer law enforcement and prosecutors an essential tool in identifying domestic violence victims and perpetrators, gauging victim risk, and correctly calibrating appropriate charges and sentences. They may also indicate prior uncharged crimes that may be prosecuted along with more recent charges, particularly if the same victim and/or witnesses are involved in both sets of charges. They may also be used as evidence for violations of probationary sentences. Petitioner affidavits of abuse have been upheld as admissible evidence for probation violation in Tweedie v. Garvey, 94_CV_30139 (U.S. D. Springfield, MA, 1994). (Research basis: Disparate observational studies across the country as well as reported data from multiple states.)

Implications for Judges

Notwithstanding the court arena, civil or criminal, the abuse reported is typically as serious in one as in the other. The major differences are the responses courts can offer. For this reason, judges should inform or ensure that victims are informed that they may file criminal complaints in addition to petitioning courts for civil orders. Each process offers victims different benefits (and poses different challenges). (Research basis: Disparate observational studies across the country as well as reported data from multiple states.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009