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

Published June 2009

Chapter 6. Prosecution Responses

Section  4 — Do victims want their abusers prosecuted?

If asked to declare publicly in court in front of their abusers, victims may express ambivalence about the prosecution and/or sentencing of their abusers. However, in interviews with researchers, often a majority of victims support domestic violence prosecutions and sentencing, especially mandatory referral to batterer programs. In a Chicago misdemeanor court study, approximately two-thirds of victims (67.6 percent) reported that they wanted their abusers to be prosecuted and jailed. [107] A study of four prosecution programs in California, Washington, Oregon and Nebraska, found that three-quarters (76 percent) of the victims interviewed wanted their abusers arrested, and 55 percent want them prosecuted. Furthermore, 59 percent expressed satisfaction with the outcome, and 67 percent expressed satisfaction with the judge, once the cases were prosecuted. [196]

Even when the majority of victims oppose prosecution, after trial they may change their minds. In the Quincy arrest study, only 46.8 percent wanted their abusers to be prosecuted as charged or wanted more serious charges filed. However, after trial, 53.4 percent said the court experience gave them a "sense of control," 36.9 percent said it motivated them to end the relationship with their abuser, and 38.8 percent said it "made them safer." Most victims (71 percent) who did not want the case to go to court expressed satisfaction after the trial. [23] Similarly, a study of four specialized prosecution programs in four different states found that although 45 percent did not want their cases prosecuted, once they were prosecuted, only 14 percent tried to stop the prosecutors and only 4 percent said they wanted the court to let the defendant go. About three-quarters (72.1 percent) reported that they wanted the defendant jailed and/or ordered into treatment (79 percent). Sixty-four percent (64 percent) expressed satisfaction with the prosecution, another 9 percent were neutral, and only 27 percent were dissatisfied. Most (85 percent) reported that they felt the prosecution was helpful. [196]

Implications for Prosecutors

Prosecutors should not allow victim opposition to automatically stop them from prosecuting cases. If prosecutors find that the overwhelming majority of victims consistently oppose prosecution, they should examine both their and law enforcement's interaction with victims to increase support of prosecution from victims that is more in line with that found across the rest of the country. (Research basis: Numerous studies from disparate jurisdictions.)

Implications for Judges

Judges should not assume that allowing cases to proceed over victim objections will necessarily embitter victims or jeopardize their safety. (Research basis: Numerous studies from disparate jurisdictions on victim attitudes toward prosecution, and several studies on court sentencing.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009