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

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 5 — Are they likely to be mentally ill or have certain personality traits?

Batterers are no more likely to be mentally ill than the general population. [89] Although various researchers have attempted to classify abusers — ranging from agitated "pit bulls" and silent "cobras" [128] to "dysphoric/borderline" and "generally avoidance and anti-social" [122] — attempts to use these classifications to predict risk of reabuse have proven unhelpful. [112] However, researchers agree that batterers may differ markedly from each other. [29, 123, [193] Although some batterers may appear to be emotionally overwrought to responding police officers, other batterers may appear calm and collected. [128] Other research suggests that batterers can be classified as low-, moderate- and high-level abusers and that, contrary to common belief, batterers remain within these categories. [28] Similarly, in the treatment literature, the multistate study of four batterer intervention programs consistently found that approximately a quarter of court-referred batterers are high-level abusers, unlikely to respond to treatment. [84, 85, 88]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Abuser demeanor at the scene, especially compared to overwrought, traumatized victims, can be misleading. (Research basis: Multiple studies have failed to validate any classification of battering propensity based on personality types or mental illnesses, and multiple observational studies reveal different patterns of behaviors among batterers.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Battering does not appear to be a mental aberration and is not responsive to mental health counseling. Although batterers may suffer from depression or low self-esteem after being arrested or restrained, these conditions have not been found to have caused the abuse. (Research basis: Multiple studies have failed to validate any classification of battering propensity based on personality types or mental illnesses, and multiple observational studies reveal different patterns of behaviors among batterers.)

Date Created: January 30, 2009