Interventions - Criminal Justice System

  • Criminal justice consequences have increasingly been employed in domestic violence cases. Physical and sexual assaults are crimes regardless of the nature of the relationship, and, as such, they can be prosecuted as crimes. In addition, violations of restraining orders are criminal acts.
  • In Massachusetts the police are mandated to arrest if there is evidence, or probable cause to believe, that an assault has occurred, whether or not the victim desires to press charges. Dual arrests are strongly discouraged, requiring instead that responding officers, whenever possible, determine the "dominant aggressor" and arrest only that person. Although formerly "No Drop" polices allowed cases to be prosecuted even without a victim's testimony, this is now legally controversial and currently not usual practice. More detail can be found in the 2009 Law Enforcement Guidelines.
  • Research on batterers suggests that arrest sometimes, but not always acts as a deterrent to future violence. In any case, it may provide some short-term safety for survivors, giving them a chance to think through their next steps, get to shelter, obtain a restraining order, or even just get a good night's sleep. Criminal justice intervention may also be a route to other kinds of treatment for the batterer. It is common for the court to mandate attendance at a batterer's intervention program or some other type of treatment.
  • Arrest and prosecution can have unintended negative consequences. These may include: an increased risk to the survivor due to feelings of anger, loss of power, and humiliation on the part of the batterer; significant loss of income for the family if the batterer is sent to jail; deportation; or the survivor's feeling personally humiliated and/or disempowered.
  • Because minority communities are frequently mistreated by the criminal justice system, members of such communities may be legitimately hesitant to involve the police or courts.
  • We, as a society, have not yet developed effective ways of holding abusers accountable outside of the criminal justice system. However, other cultures and some small programs within the United States are using other forms of accountability, e.g. to respected peers in the community or to friends or relatives selected by the survivor.