When Worlds Collide: Women's Responses to Arrest and Prosecution for Domestic Violence

Susan Calhoun-Stuber, University of Southern Colorado

While several studies have explored the circumstances of battered women who kill their abusers less has been written concerning female domestic violence offenders charged with lesser offenses. This paper presents the results of a study of 40 women who were arrested and charged with domestic violence misdemeanors. The women were interviewed on two occasions, prior to beginning a court ordered treatment program and after completing the program, about their experiences with the police and in court. The study examines the effects of the criminal justice system intervention on women's behavior, self-definitions, and attitudes toward domestic violence and the criminal justice system. The majority of the women in the study had not previously been arrested and the experience of arrest and incarceration had a profound effect on them. The women's use of violence is examined contextually with attention to the complex relationship between their victimization and use of aggression. While the women gain a different perspective concerning the nature of the police response to domestic violence incidents over the course of their treatment, they voice a strong disinclination to call the police in the future. This finding raises important questions about the effectiveness of current policy, the accuracy of recidivism measures, and the effect of proactive arrest procedures on battered women.

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Updated 05/20/2006