Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Stand with Survivors, Question Criminalization

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We stand in solidarity with all survivors of domestic violence and interpersonal violence. We also call into question the criminalizing approaches to domestic/interpersonal violence and seek alternatives that empower individuals, families and communities impacted by violence.

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Orders of Protection: Do they even work?

The efficacy of Protector Orders are unclear, with some studies showing success as high as 85%, others around 15% (success is also defined in various ways); however there are many limitations in application. For one, the order only works for “rule followers” which does not apply to the most extreme or most violent perpetrators. Additionally, they require consistent documentation and communication with police on behalf of the survivor. Police must be vigilant and consistent in their response, which is not typical of overburdened and under-trained police departments. Finally, Orders of protection can sometimes make the situation worse by enraging the perpetrator.

Orders of protection often fail to address many risk factors, especially guns, which our most often the weapon of choice in IPV homicides, yet in many states perpetrators are not required to relinquish any firearms.

Orders of protection are decided by a judge, which excludes a number of marginalized communities who may not feel safe in this setting, including undocumented immigrants, sex workers or victims of trafficking, individuals with substance use disorders. Additionally New York does not have a law that ensure GLBTQ individuals will have access to an order of protection (only 4 states do).

Intervention Programs:No impact on Recidivism

Recidivisim rates are essentially the same between men who were arrested and not referred for treatment and meant that were arrested and received treatment (36% arrested-39%).  

There is not enough evidence for violence prevention programs to prevent IPV and it remains unclear what content actually solicits individual change.  Most curriculums are based on feminist theory and limited to populations in white in rural setting that can not be generalized to other populations.

Dating violence prevention programs are a promising approach for the prevention of partner violence perpetration but we submit that more data are needed to make stronger conclusions, and more work must be done to understand how the content of such programs changes behavior and the specific change mechanisms that they employ.

9 out of 10 times, the time perpetrator is a survivor of abuse as well. We need comprehensive prevention and treatment services, not arrest.

Racial Disparities in IPV Arrest

Statistic show that domestic abuse occurs in equal rates among racial and ethnic groups. However, a study of select cities shows that though abuse rates are equal among races, African Americans are arrested more often for domestic abuse than their white counterparts.

For example: The Minneapolis police department receives about 21,000 911 calls for domestic abuse each year. Out of those calls, an average of 3,000 result in arrests. Minneapolis Police Sergeant of the department’s family violence unit, said more than 50 percent of the men arrested for or suspected of domestic violence, are black. However, black men are only nine percent of the city’s population.

The disparity in domestic violence arrests is not limited to Minneapolis. St. Paul police receive fewer domestic abuse calls each year, but black men are still arrested at a higher rate than white men.

Dr. Oliver Williams of the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work says race, poverty, pro-arrest laws and a higher level of policing in urban communities contribute to the disparity in domestic abuse arrests.

Failure of Mandatory Arrest Policies

Some police statistics state that mandatory-arrest policies lower incidences of domestic violence. Following the enactment of Connecticut’s mandatory arrest law in October 1986, for example, the Hartford Police Department reported a 28% drop in the number of calls for assistance in domestic violence incidents. However, such statistics do not prove conclusively that mandatory-arrest policies have a deterrence effect.

Instead, they may indicate a greater hesitation on the part of battered women to report incidents of violence to the police. After an incident of domestic violence, for example, a woman might engage in a careful cost-benefit analysis and determine that, while police presence would be useful, an arrest would not. A woman may be dependent on the income of her batterer, for example, or she may not want their children to witness their father’s arrest. Such a woman, if aware of a mandatory-arrest policy in her jurisdiction, would likely refrain from calling the police at all, and would thereby be deprived of a potentially useful tool in her struggle to end the violence in her life.

Advocates argue that mandatory arrest symbolizes the support of the state to a battered woman. However, for significant numbers of women, the state is not a source of comfort but a cause for mistrust or anger. Women in relationships with Black men, for example, confront a legacy of police brutality and disproportionately harsh prosecutorial treatment of Black arrestees. Particularly when these women are also Black and have grown up in a community with an excessive police presence, they may view the police with great suspicion and may not find the arrest of their batterer to embody support for them. Thus, any feelings of relief that an arrest of their batterers might otherwise bring may be trumped by feelings of guilt, fear and concern about the fate of their partners in the criminal justice system.

Child Abuse Laws

29 States have laws that explicitly criminalize parents’ failure to protect their children from abuse, however they do not make exceptions for parents who feared for their safety. This allows victims of domestic violence to be prosecuted.

These laws do not take into account the complicated nature of abusive relationships. Prosecutors often use the fact that a partner was abused in court and failed attempts to leave the relationship as proof that the parent should have done more to protect their child.  Research has shown that experiencing ongoing trauma, the brain does not have time to recover the way it would if it were a single event.

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The Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline (1-866-723-3014) is a free 24-hour resource for individuals with questions or concerns about domestic violence.

The Philly Survivors Support Collective (215-618-2020) offers alternatives to the legal system for survivors seeking justice and safety.

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