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Effects of Victims' Experiences with Prosecutors on Victim Empowerment and Re-Occurrence of Intimate Partner Violence, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2003
118 pages
This report presents the findings of a study that identified the types of actions taken by prosecutors in the handling of cases of intimate partner violence.
Recent results of the national victimization survey indicate that about 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence are women. Such victims are often reluctant to participate fully in the prosecution of their abuser. In response to this reluctance, prosecutors across the Nation have adopted "no-drop" or evidence-based policies. These policies call for the prosecution of all cases of family violence if there is legal evidence to support such prosecution, regardless of the wishes or desires of the victim. Since the goals of the victim may not be compatible with the goals of the prosecution, the effects of such policies on victims' empowerment are in question. This study identified the types of actions taken by prosecutors in two separate court jurisdictions, one of which had a "no-drop" policy. The prosecutors' actions were classified into five distinct types that varied on the degree to which they allowed victims to exercise choice and coerced victims into participating in court processes. The five types of actions identified were minimal, supportive, persuasive, choice, and coercive. Minimal actions occurred when prosecutors' offices only contact with the victim was a single phone call and/or a form letter informing the victim of the status of the case. Supportive strategies included actions taken by prosecutors' offices to provide education and information about domestic violence, and social support to victims to cope with the violence. Persuasive actions describe prosecutors' offices that persuaded the victim to actively cooperate with their office. A fourth action, choice, allowed victims to withdraw their complaint, sometimes with the promise that prosecution would cease, but most times not. Lastly, coercive strategies involve actions by prosecutors' offices to coerce victims to participate in court proceedings by threatening them with arrest if they attempt to withdraw their complaint or they fail to appear when summoned to court. Data for the study were collected from interviews with 170 adult female victims of family violence in Gwinnett County and DeKalb County, GA. The interviews were conducted at three separate times: shortly after the case entered the solicitor's office; following the initial disposition of the case by the court; and 6 months following the initial disposition of the case. Additional information about the current incident was obtained from the solicitor's offices in both counties and included police reports, affidavits for arrest warrants, and information on the defendant's criminal history. The dependent variables for the study were personal, or victim, empowerment, the willingness and competence a victim has in settling differences with her partner; self-efficacy, the degree of mastery a victim feels over her life; and re-occurrence of abuse during follow-up (6-months after case disposition). Predictor variables included: victim's prior experience with the justice system, victim's experience with violence, victims' experiences with the justice system during current case processing, relationship status during case processing, characteristics of current criminal incident, and outcomes of current criminal incident. Results of the study indicate that the presence of a no-drop policy did not result in more coercive strategies being used. Coercive strategies were just as likely to occur regardless of whether the solicitor's office had a no-drop policy or not. Giving the victim the choice to withdraw the complaint, regardless of the prosecution's decision to continue, was more prevalent in the office that did not have a no-drop policy. Overall, coercive actions were used in a relatively small number of cases: 12 percent of respondents were subpoenaed to testify because they were unwilling to do so and 11 percent were threatened with arrest if they refused to testify or withdrew the complaint. Personal empowerment and self-efficacy are highly related concepts and appeared to be influenced by the same factors. Actions taken by prosecutors did not affect victims' level of self-efficacy or personal empowerment, but did influence their level of court empowerment, the expectation to be afforded fair and equitable treatment by the court. Levels of court empowerment declined for all victims from the initial interview to the initial disposition of the case, with the exception of those allowed to withdraw their complaint. The greatest declines in court empowerment were for those with minimal contact with the prosecutors' offices or those coerced into participating in the process. Incompatible goals between the prosecution and the victim were not related to changes in court or personal empowerment. Lastly, the relationship between victims' levels of empowerment and the re-occurrence of abuse and violence was examined and none of the effects reached statistical significance at the .05 level. Findings suggest that prosecutors should re-assess whether coercing victims is worth the costs. Use of coercive actions has the effect of lowering victims' empowerment, and this should not be an acceptable outcome for prosecutors. 11 tables, references, and endnotes

Date Published: August 1, 2003