U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Domestic Violence Legislation: Exploring Its Impact on Domestic Violence and the Likelihood That Police Are Informed and Arrest, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
45 pages
This research used data from the National Crime Victimization Survey to test whether State laws that target domestic violence impact the level of domestic violence, police response to domestic violence incidents, and the frequency of arrest of those charged with domestic assault.
The study hypothesized that households which reside in States with aggressive domestic violence legislation would have a lower probability of family and intimate violence. Domestic violence laws are designed to either reduce subsequent violence after an incident or to prevent latent violence from surfacing. Pursuant to these goals, it would be expected that domestic violence law would impact victims' reporting behavior and police officers' arrest decisions. In order to examine the impact of State domestic violence laws on domestic violence victimization, police response, and the arrest of those suspected of domestic violence, data were obtained from the geocoded National Crime Victimization Survey, which is administered randomly to a sample of U.S. residents. Respondents are questioned about their experiences as crime victims regardless of whether the police were contacted. Respondents provide details about each incident, making it easy to distinguish incidents by the relationship of the offender and victim. By linking specific statutes to the survey data, this research is the first to estimate how legislation impacts the probability that a household suffered from domestic violence by using a nationally representative sample. Further, because effective policy depends upon its implementation, this research also examined how legislation had influenced police involvement and arrest. The findings indicate that although relatively few domestic violence laws had an impact on the reporting of domestic violence to police and subsequent arrest of those suspected of domestic assault, most jurisdictions with aggressive domestic violence laws reduced the overall probability of domestic violence. This suggests that the laws have had a deterrent effect. Specifically, households in States that mandate arrest were found to be less likely to suffer from spousal violence. This finding suggests that would-be offenders who perceive a high cost to violence apparently refrain from acting out their aggression. This is also evident in the finding that States which have expanded the eligibility of civil protection orders to victims living separately from their abuser have a lower likelihood of boyfriend or girlfriend violence. In sum, aggressive policy does apparently reduce domestic violence, indicating that States should continue to adopt statutes that protect victims and sanction offenders. 6 tables, 2 figures, and 37 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000