The Effect of Victim-Offender Relationship on Reporting Crimes of Violence against Women

By Gartner, Rosemary; Macmillan, Ross | Canadian Journal of Criminology, July 1995 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Victim-Offender Relationship on Reporting Crimes of Violence against Women


Gartner, Rosemary, Macmillan, Ross, Canadian Journal of Criminology


acteristiques de la victime. Nous faisons egalement etat de donnees suggerant un changement qui serait survenu dans le temps quant aux effets de certains genres de relation victime-agresseur sur le signalement a la police. Les consequences theoriques, methodologiques et politiques de telles conclusions y sont discutees.

This paper examines how a crime victim's relationship with her offender affects the likelihood that police will learn about the crime. While both mainstream and feminist social science perspectives predict that the more intimate the relationship, the less likely police awareness of the crime, empirical evidence supporting this prediction has been weak. These mixed findings are due in part to limitations of conventional victimization surveys. This study is based on data from the 1993 Canadian Violence Against Women Survey, which overcomes many of these limitations. Our findings demonstrate that criminal justice knowledge of violence against women is systematically biased. The multivariate analysis reveals that, while all types of violence against women are under-reported, intimate violence is least likely to be reported to the police, independent of type and severity of violence and victim characteristics. We also find evidence suggesting a change over time in the effects of some types of victim-offender relationships on police reporting. Theoretical, methodological, and policy implications of these findings are discussed.

Introduction

In the mid-1970s, a wide-ranging movement to increase public awareness of violence against women emerged in Canada and several other countries. Among this movement's continuing concerns has been the extent to which violence against women fails to come to the attention of legal officials. Feminist activists and researchers have argued that, because women are most likely to be victimized by people they know well and because people victimized by those they know well are less likely to inform authorities, official information on violence against women inevitably underestimates its prevalence and misrepresents its character.

Coincidentally, two developments within the social sciences, one empirical and one theoretical, raised similar questions about gaps in legal awareness of different types of violent behaviours. The empirical development was made possible by victimization surveys, which were initiated in the late 1960's by social scientists concerned with the "dark figure of crime" or that portion of crime not known to criminal justice officials. These surveys provided the first empirical basis for determining whether some types of victimization are less likely than others to be subject to legal intervention. Subsequently, a major theoretical development in the sociology of law (Black 1976) furnished a conceptual framework for expecting the relationship between parties involved in violent conflicts to affect whether and what kinds of legal reactions would ensue.

And so, the question of whether legal awareness of violent behaviour varies by the relationship between victim and offender arose simultaneously, albeit for different reasons, in both public and academic arenas. Nevertheless, the concordance between the claims of the violence against women movement and the predictions of Black's theory has yet to find consistent support in the empirical evidence. To date, data from victimization surveys have not shown unequivocally that non-stranger or intimate violence is less likely than stranger violence to come to the attention of legal officials.

In this paper, we examine whether the relationship between female victims of violence and their offenders affects the likelihood of legal awareness of the violence. What distinguishes our examination of this question from previous work is the empirical basis for our analysis: Statistics Canada's Violence Against Women Survey, the most comprehensive survey data set on violence against women currently available. …

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