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Do Domestic Violence Services Save Lives?

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 250 Dated: November 2003 Pages: 20-25
Date Published
November 2003
6 pages

This article discusses policies and services designed to help victims of domestic violence.


Policies and services designed to help victims of domestic violence appear to have two possible and opposing effects: either they decrease the abuse and risk of homicide, or they have the unintended consequences of increasing them. Some interventions that reduce contact between intimate partners in violent relationships also reduce opportunities for further abuse and potential homicide attempts. But certain interventions designed to help victims gain access to helpful resources may actually increase the risk of homicide because they have a backlash or retaliation effect. The outcome depends on the type of intervention and the characteristics of the victim and the offender. Reducing the contact between the intimate partners lowers the chances that one will kill the other. This is called exposure reduction. Two policies support exposure reduction: warrantless arrest laws and higher Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefit levels. A retaliation effect or backlash may be triggered by an intervention, such as a restraining order, arrest, or shelter protection. Two policies appear to provoke backlash: prosecutor willingness to take cases of protection order violation, and the relative education of the partners. Research found a number of factors that supported both exposure reduction and backlash theories, but only among different groups, based on marital status, gender, and race. These factors included: (1) State laws requiring mandatory arrest for violating a protection order; (2) the availability of contempt, misdemeanor, or felony charges for violating a protection order; (3) State laws providing for no-contact orders, custody relief, or protection beyond cohabitation; (4) agencies with dedicated budgets for legal advocacy and with lawyers on staff; and (5) pro-arrest and mandatory arrest policies for protection order violations and mandatory arrest for domestic assault. The fact that retaliation occurs doesn’t mean that prevention strategies are a bad idea. Instead, prevention should be tailored to individual needs. 1 figure, 16 notes

Date Published: November 1, 2003