Arrest for Sexual Assault: A Test of Donald Black's Relational Distance Theory

Dawn Beichner, Illinois State University
Cassia Spohn, University of Nebraska at Omaha

In his relational distance theory, Donald Black (1976) proposed a positive relationship between the level of relational distance among adversaries (or between the victim and the suspect) and the likelihood of the police or other third parties intervening in disputes. That is, the greater the relational distance between the suspect and victim in a case, the greater the likelihood of arrest. In a recent examination of assault data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, Felson and Ackerman (2001) found that the impact of relational distance was conditioned by level of seriousness of the assault. More specifically, these authors found that police were less likely to make an arrest in minor assault cases when the victim and suspect were intimate partners than when the suspect was an identifiable stranger. This study replicates and extends Felson and Ackerman's (2001) research; we use data from the San Diego Police Department to examine whether the relational distance between victims and suspects affects the likelihood of arrest in sexual assault cases and if this effect is conditioned by case seriousness.

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Updated 05/20/2006