The Domestic Assault of Women: Psychological and Criminal Justice Perspectives

By Donald G. Dutton | Go to book overview

8
The Criminal Justice Response to
Wife Assault

The proper design of public policies requires a clear and sober understanding of the nature of man and, in particular, of the extent to which that nature can be changed by plan.

— J.Q. Wilson, Thinking About Crime

Several results and conclusions from earlier chapters converge on the issues of police intervention in family violence. In Chapter 1 we learned that about 10.2% of women are assaulted by their husbands and about 6.8% are assaulted repeatedly (Schulman 1979; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz 1980). Of the women who are assaulted, about 14.5% call the police (Schulman 1979; Straus & Gelles 1985). Hence, about one in six assaults (using the Severe Abuse Index of the Straus CTS as the criterion) is reported to police. This report rate implies, first of all, that a limit is imposed on criminal justice effectiveness as a solution to wife assault. The criminal justice system cannot deal effectively with crimes that are both private and unreported.

As we shall see later in this chapter, the single greatest impediment to a more effective criminal justice response to wife assault is the victim's failure to report the event to the police. If the assault is severe, and the victim is traumatized, then some of the psychological consequences of assault described in the last chapter may prevent the victim from taking effective self-protective actions. As shall be seen, however, many victims of wife assault do not define the event as a crime and, for this reason, may fail to report it to the police. Nevertheless, the one-in-six report statistic also suggests that the police, more than any other outside agency, will come into contact with the greatest number of wife assaults, perhaps 14.5% of all committed assaults. If the state is to generate policy for diminishing the incidence of wife-assault, such policy will need to focus on police procedure for intervention.

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