How Has the Violence against Women Act Affected the Response of the Criminal Justice System to Domestic Violence?

Article excerpt

This study uses an interrupted time series design to examine the association between the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) and several different dimensions of the criminal justice system's involvement in violence against women. These include examining the domestic violence incidence rate, and rates of police notification, arrest, and judicial authorities' involvement. Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey from 1992 to 2003 is used. Results suggest that overall the incidence of domestic violence has decreased while police notification and perpetrator arrest have increased over time. Further, victim involvement with judicial authorities significantly increased after enactment of the VAWA. Interpretations and potential explanations of the results are discussed.

Keywords: domestic violence, National Crime Victimization Survey, Violence Against Women Act, incidence rate, arrest, police notification

Introduction

Since the 1970s when public awareness of violence against women increased largely due to the dedicated efforts of advocates for battered women, society has responded to violence occurring in intimate relationships. Supportive services for victims such as emergency shelters and legal consultation, aggressive batterer interventions such as pro-arrest policies and treatment programs for the batterer, and legislation to institutionally address violence against women such as the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) have been used to respond to violence in intimate relationships.

Beginning in the 1980s, many individual states actively addressed domestic violence through legal reforms including defining domestic violence as crime, pro- or mandated arrest policies, expanding the definition of intimate partners to include cohabiting couples and same sex couples, and introducing civil protection orders (Burt, Dyer, Newmark, Norris, & Harrell, 1996). Legal reforms at the state level led to federal legislation, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which was designed to improve interstate criminal justice enforcement and provide adequate funding for criminal justice interventions and social services for victims.

The VAWA focuses on six distinct areas: safe streets for women (e.g., grants to combat violence against women in public), safe homes for women (e.g., grants for domestic violence hotlines and battered women's shelters), equal justice for women in the courts (e.g., grants to develop education and training programs for judges), stalker and domestic violence reduction (e.g., grants to improve processes for data collection regarding stalking and domestic violence into crime information databases), protection for battered immigrant women and children (e.g., rights for battered immigrant women to file legal petitions), and provisions for strengthening existing laws. The VAWA consolidates almost all of states' legal reforms responding to domestic violence and was expected to effectively facilitate and strengthen existing state policies to reduce and intervene in domestic violence. The VAWA does this through grants, education and training programs, and pro-arrest policies.

Given the scope of the VAWA, it is natural to expect positive changes in the criminal justice response following its enactment. This study is interested in whether, and how, the VAWA has affected domestic violence, specifically with regard to the incidence of violence between intimate partners, and interactions between victims and criminal justice system.

Review of the Literature

The rate of domestic violence appears to be declining. From 1993 to 1997 the domestic violence incidence rate fell from 9.8 to 7.5 per 1,000 women (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Increased legal services for victims and improvements in women's economic status seem to have contributed to the decline (Farmer & Tiefenthaler, 2003), although the results of studies on the effect of arrest have been inconclusive (e. …