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

Published June 2009

Chapter 4. Victim Characteristics 

Section 2 — To what extent do victims engage in alcohol and drug abuse?

Victim abuse of drugs and alcohol is also associated with domestic violence victimization. [153] In the most dramatic findings, victims (or their families) reported in the Memphis night arrest study that 42 percent of victims were drinking or drugging the day of their assault. [19] The New Mexico fatality review study documented that a third of the female victims had alcohol in their system at the autopsy, with a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit allowable for driving; a little less than a quarter had drugs in their system. [170] Among women treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by their abusers, those who suffered from substance abuse were found to have increased risk of violence from partners. However, if the partners' use of alcohol and drugs are controlled for, victim substance abuse is not associated with increased risk of violence. [144] Another hospital study also found that victims who were injured by partners were more likely than other injured women in an emergency room to test positive for substance abuse. [95]

Victim substance abuse has also been found to be associated with abuser use. For example, whereas one in five North Carolina victims reported either being high or binge drinking at the time of abuse, almost three-quarters (72 percent) of these victims were in relationships with men who were high or were binge drinking. [126]

Victim substance abuse has also been identified as a consequence of the ongoing abuse. In other words, victims abuse drugs as a form of self-medication to deal with their abuse trauma. [153]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Victims' abuse of drugs and/or alcohol may make them more vulnerable to continued abuse, requiring greater law enforcement scrutiny or surveillance. Information given to victims should include substance abuse treatment referral information. (Research basis: Multiple single-jurisdiction observational studies of victims as well as findings from a national victim survey of a representative sample of 8,000 women between November 1995 and May 1996.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Victims' abuse of drugs and/or alcohol may make them more vulnerable to continued abuse. Prosecutors should look at victim vulnerability first and worry about tactical considerations, such as what kind of witness they may make, second. Furthermore, prosecutors should be prepared to file a motion in limine , and judges should conduct a hearing, to determine whether to exclude evidence related to a victim's "bad" character (e.g., substance abuse) that does not directly relate to the abuse incident prosecuted and/or the victim's ability to perceive or remember the incident. (Research basis: Multiple single-jurisdiction observational studies of victims as well as findings from a national victim survey of a representative sample of 8,000 women between November 1995 and May 1996.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009