Victims of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a crime, not a family matter, and should be
approached as such by law enforcement. U.S. Department of Justice statistics
indicate that approximately 20 percent of homicides are committed within
families or within intimate relationships, and one out of three female homicide
victims is killed by an intimate. Furthermore, approximately 28 percent of
violent crimes against females are committed by husbands or boyfriends. Finally,
approximately 50 percent of domestic violence occurs between married partners
and 25 percent between non-married partners living together, both involving
mainly male assailants and female victims.
The three primary responsibilities of law enforcement in domestic
violence cases are to (1) provide physical safety and security for victims, (2)
assist victims by coordinating their referral to support services, and (3) make
arrests of domestic violence perpetrators as required by law.
Unlike most other victims of crime, victims of domestic violence do not
usually suffer a “sudden and unpredictable” threat to their safety or lives.
More often, domestic violence involves years of personal stress and trauma, as
well as physical injury. Thus, in domestic violence cases—unlike in other
crimes—your ability to help victims cope with and recover from their
victimization may be limited.
Tips for Responding to Victims of Domestic Violence
- Because domestic violence cases present potential dangers, responding
officers should arrive in pairs at the scene if possible. Introduce yourself
and explain that you were called because of a possible injury. Ask
permission to enter the residence to make sure everything is okay.
- Separate the parties involved in domestic violence before interviewing
them, even if they are not violent or arguing when you arrive.
- Ask victims whether they would like you to contact a family member or
- Avoid judging victims or personally commenting on the situation. Abusive
relationships continue for many reasons. Offering advice to the victim at
the scene will not solve this complex problem.
- Even if no children are present at the scene, ask whether there are
children in the family, and, if so, find out their whereabouts. Keep in mind
that children sometimes hide or are hidden in these circumstances.
- Approach children with care and kindness. Look for signs of emotional
trauma or distress. Be attentive to physical indications of child abuse
since domestic violence is sometimes linked with child abuse.
- Even when no domestic violence charges can be filed, encourage the
parties to separate for a short period—at least overnight. If victims'
safety at home can be assured, consider asking assailants to leave. Although
law enforcement officers have traditionally asked victims to leave the home,
this serves to disrupt their lives even further, especially when children
- Assure victims that the purpose of your intervention is to help address
the problem, not to make the situation worse.
- Provide victims referral information on domestic violence shelters and
battered women's programs. This should be done away from the offender.
- Remember that domestic violence can occur in same-sex relationships.
- Be sure to complete a thorough report.