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

Published June 2009


The purpose of this work is to describe to practitioners what the research tells us about domestic violence, including its perpetrators and victims, the impact of current responses to it and, more particularly, the implications of that research for day-to-day, real-world responses to domestic violence by law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges.

Although many state and federal statutes define domestic violence broadly, for the purposes of this work, it is confined to offenses committed by and against current or former intimate partners, married or unmarried, with or without children.

Most but not all of the research reports discussed in this brief are from studies funded by the National Institute of Justice and/or published in a variety of refereed journals. For example, several studies of women seeking hospital emergency room treatment for injuries inflicted by intimate partners are included because, although of primary concern to the medical community, these studies underscore victim characteristics found in criminal-justice-related research, suggesting how representative the latter is.

Less rigorous research reports are also included because of the quality of their data collection or because they provide accurate examples of performance measures. For example, several performance evaluations of specific programs are included, not because they address program effectiveness in terms of preventing reabuse but because they provide concrete examples of what specific programs can achieve in terms of important program outputs such as arrest or successful prosecution rates. Some of the most extensive examinations of prosecution practices have been conducted by newspaper-initiated investigations in which reporters gained access to state court data tapes of thousands of cases.

Although some research findings may be questionable because researchers used less than rigorous research methodology, the research itself may be cited because it contains accurate data illustrating an important phenomenon. The data are unaffected by the research design used by the researchers. For example, although Jacobson and Gottman's findings regarding the typology of batterers [128] have been questioned, their reported observations, if not their conclusions, have been confirmed. [158] They are cited in support of the proposition that batterer reaction to their violence is not uniform but are not cited in support of their more controversial conclusion that all batterers fall into two distinct categories.

The policy and practice implications are based on the evidence provided by the research and are therefore confined to areas specifically addressed by researchers. Consequently, the implications described in this brief do not constitute a comprehensive listing of promising practices or even policies and procedures widely recognized to be effective. Whenever possible, policy implications are based on multiple studies. However, in some instances, where only one study examined an issue deemed to be important to practitioners, policy implications may be drawn from just that one study. In such cases, the narrative will alert readers that the research has not yet been replicated.

Date Created: June 5, 2009