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

Published June 2009

Chapter 4. Victim Characteristics 

Section 3 — Why do some victims behave as they do?

A significant proportion of victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault suffer from trauma. [3, 153] Studies have found up to 88 percent of battered women in shelters suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). [6] Other studies have found that as many as 72 percent of abuse victims experience depression [212] and 75 percent experience severe anxiety. [76] A meta-analysis across multiple samples of battered women found a weighted mean prevalence of 48 percent for depression and 64 percent for PTSD. [77]

Even victims who do not have PTSD have been found to be severely adversely affected by their abuse. [153] Victims brought to emergency rooms of hospitals, for example, are more socially isolated, have lower self-esteem and have fewer social and financial resources than other women treated for injuries in the same hospital emergency rooms who were not injured by their partners. [95, 153]

Research also suggests that some victims of intimate partner abuse have experienced multifaceted violence that stretches across their life span, beginning in childhood. [143] Such prior victimization is associated with greater risk of more serious (adult) partner violence, particularly systemic abuse, which includes physical, sexual and stalking abuse. [153] In short, some of the adult victims who suffer the greatest abuse may be the least able to protect themselves.

Implications for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officers may find that the most severely traumatized victims behave the least as law enforcement officers expect of them. These victims may be among the least able to cooperate with law enforcement. (Research basis: Multiple victim studies have documented PTSD rates, although many studies obviously seek out samples likely to include the most severely abused victims, such as those in shelters.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Prosecutors should be prepared to assist and support traumatized victims and/or make appropriate referrals to other service providers. Prosecutors should be prepared to identify, and judges should allow appointment of, expert witnesses if they are needed to educate juries, and judges as necessary if a victim's reaction to trauma appears problematic or counterintuitive. (Research basis: Multiple victim studies have documented PTSD rates, although many studies obviously seek out samples likely to include the most severely abused victims, such as those in shelters.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009