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

Published June 2009

Chapter 4. Victim Characteristics 

Section 4 — Do male domestic violence victims differ from female victims?

Research on domestic violence victims brought to the attention of law enforcement and the courts find that male victims differ substantially from female victims. [153] First and foremost, male victims of any specific domestic violence incident are more likely than female victims to be future suspects for domestic violence. In one of the only studies to track abusers and victims over time, the Charlotte, N.C., law enforcement study found that 41 percent of males who were identified as victims and who were involved in new incidents of domestic violence within two years were subsequently identified by police as suspects. This compares with only 26.3 percent of females with such role reversals. On the other hand, males identified as suspects were much less likely to be identified later as victims than were female suspects (26 percent vs. 44.4 percent). [68]

Similarly, male victims of domestic violence homicides are much more likely than female victims to have been identified previously as abusers of their eventual killers. [131, 199, 218] Several treatises suggest that the abuse experienced by male victims of female intimates is contextually different than that experienced by women victims of male intimates. [177, 198] Just as male victims differ, so do females convicted of abusing male partners. [162]

Implications for Law Enforcement

Specific incidents of domestic violence may not reveal longer term domestic violence patterns, particularly if the suspect is a female and the victim is a male. Police should acknowledge this and encourage suspects who are more typically victims to report future victimization, notwithstanding their current suspect status. (Research basis: The North Carolina process evaluation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police specialized domestic violence unit is unique in looking at subsequent status of victims and suspects in repeat incidents. The study looked at all police complaints involving domestic violence in 2003 that were followed for the next two years, totaling 6,892 domestic violence complaints. The findings are analogous to numerous findings regarding the prior status of male homicide victims as abusers.)

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

Specific incidents of domestic violence may not reveal longer term domestic violence patterns, particularly if the suspect is a female and the victim is a male. Prosecutors and judges should be sensitive to this fact in charging and recommending sentences for such defendants and in issuing protective orders or fashioning sentences. Typical batterer intervention programs, for example, may not be relevant for abusers engaged in isolated, reactive or defensive behavior. (Research basis: The North Carolina process evaluation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police specialized domestic violence unit is unique in looking at subsequent status of victims and suspects in repeat incidents. The study looked at all police complaints involving domestic violence in 2003 followed for the next two years, totaling 6,892 domestic violence complaints in all. The findings are analogous to numerous findings regarding the prior status of male homicide victims as abusers. The analysis of batterer programs for court-referred female defendants is based on limited qualitative research that focused on content relevance based on defendant abuse histories.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009