Domestic Violence Laws: The Voices of Battered Women
Smith, Alisa, Violence and Victims
This article reports the findings from an exploratory survey of battered women's views about mandatory arrest, mandatory reporting by doctors and nurses, no-drop policies, confidentiality laws, privilege laws, court-victim advocate programs, and specialized domestic violence courts. Although there was general support for the adoption of these laws, some variation based on demographic and situational circumstance was found. These findings raise questions about the universalistic nature of polices developed to address the problem of domestic violence. Battered women are not a homogeneous group, and public policy may be better designed to accommodate the individual needs of victims.
The once secreted family problem of domestic violence has emerged as a public, social problem. Feminists and victim advocates in the 1970s severely criticized the legal response to domestic violence, and abused women began to file lawsuits against the police for failing to take intimate violence seriously. In 1984 a study by Sherman and Berk found that arrest rather than other responses to domestic violence deterred future victimization. By the late 1980s the criminal justice system responded. Warrantless arrest laws for misdemeanor domestic violence were adopted, and victim-advocate programs emerged to assist victims with the criminal justice process. Today, warrantless arrest laws and victim-advocate programs are in place nearly nationwide (Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996; Chalk & King, 1998; Miller, 1997, 1998). The current trend is to utilize innovative and creative legal interventions to combat intimate violence (Buzawa & Buzawa, 1992; Cahn, 1992; Dutton, 1995; Hilton, 1992, Pagan, 1996). Specialized domestic violence courts and prosecution units provide specific attention to this social problem (Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996). Some prosecution offices have instituted "no drop" policies in an attempt to compel victims to testify against their abuser (Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996; Cahn, 1992). And some places have adopted mandatory medical reporting, mandatory or proarrest laws, and confidentiality or privilege laws for battered women shelters. Each intervention is intended to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence, increase reporting, and protect victims. Table 1 provides an overview of the number of states that have implemented these legal interventions or programs.
Despite the adoption of laws to address domestic violence, little is known about the effectiveness of the adopted interventions. Few studies examine whether the laws and policies achieve the goals of victim protection or victim empowerment, and there is a total absence of victims' opinions or perceptions of legal interventions (Chalk & King, 1998; Crowell & Burgess, 1996; Ford & Regoli, 1993; Hilton, 1992). In order for a legal intervention to protect victims from future violence or to empower victims to act, victims' must first initiate an intervention. Victims' opinions about legal interventions are critical to taking this "first step." Victims who support the adoption of legal interventions, or believe they will benefit from the laws, will be more likely to initiate the legal process. Victims who do not support their adoption, or who do not foresee any benefit from the interventions, are less likely to ask the police or any other agency to intervene. It is essential for an adequate evaluation of the effectiveness of domestic violence legal interventions to examine the opinions of victims (Brandl & Horvath, 1991; Erez & Tontodonato, 1992; Hagan, 1983; Macleod, Prescott & Corson, 1996; Smith, 1983).
This research explores victim opinions on the adoption, perceived benefit and the effect on victim reporting of seven legal interventions. This article reports the preliminary findings from this exploratory survey of victims' views about mandatory arrest, mandatory reporting by doctors and nurses, "no drop" policies, confidentiality laws for battered-womenshelter employees, privilege laws for battered women-shelter employees, court-victim advocate programs, and specialized domestic violence courts. …