Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 34–44 | Cite as

Police Evaluations of Intimate Partner Violence in Heterosexual and Same-Sex Relationships: Do Experience and Training Play a Role?

  • Brenda RussellEmail author
  • John A. (Drew) Sturgeon


In recent years, law enforcement agencies have enhanced intimate partner violence (IPV) policies and increased the frequency of required training. Yet, there is limited research that addresses how experience and training are related to evaluations of heterosexual and same-sex disputants in an IPV incident. This research investigates how officers perceive heterosexual and same-sex disputants in IPV incidents and examines how officer experience, frequency, and recency of required IPV training affect evaluations. Law enforcement officers (n = 309) across 27 states responded to a hypothetical scenario of an IPV incident between a heterosexual or same-sex couple. Dependent variables included perpetrator and victim arrest, perceived fairness of non-arrest options, willingness to provide referrals for perpetrator and victim, and severity of victim injury. Officers believed that the use of some non-arrest options was fairer when the perpetrator was a gay male or heterosexual female and there were no significant effects for arrest options. Referrals to a domestic violence hotline and injury severity varied by perpetrator and victim gender and sexual orientation. While officer experience played a role in non-arrest options, frequency and recency of officer training were not related to dependent variables of interest. Officers embrace evaluations of IPV that demonstrate differential evaluations of the incident as a result of gender and sexual orientation. These evaluations may have implications for the legitimacy of claims and safety and justice for victims and officers.


Police Officer Evaluations Same sex LGBT Sexual minorities Arrest Non-arrest Gender Training Experience Injury 



I would like to thank Howie Mintzer for his assistance in creating the database and Brandon Fisher for her assistance with data and literature review.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This project has been approved by the Penn State IRB. The authors followed ethical guidelines provided by the American Psychological Association and the Institutional Review Board to promote accuracy, honest, and truthfulness of science and maximize benefits and minimize harm. Participants provided informed consent and responses were completely anonymous. The authors are not aware of conflicts between ethics and the other organizations and consultants. This research was not funded.


  1. Archer J (2000) Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: a meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull 126:651–680Google Scholar
  2. Berk SF, Loseke DR (1981) “Handling family violence”: The situational determinants of police arrest in domestic disturbances. Law and Society Review 15:193–215Google Scholar
  3. Briones-Robinson R, Powers RA, Socia KM (2016) Sexual orientation bias crimes. Examination of reporting, perception of police bias, and differential police response. Crim Justice Behav 43(12):1688–1709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buzawa E, Austin T (1993) Determining police response to domestic violence victims. Am Behav Sci 36:610–623CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buzawa E, Hotaling G (2000) The police response to domestic violence calls for assistance in three Massachusetts towns: final report. In: Washington DC: national institute of justiceGoogle Scholar
  6. Calton JM, Cattaneo LB, Gebbhard KT (2016) Barriers to help seeking for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer survivors of intimate partner violence. Trauma Violence Abuse 17(5):585–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Catalano S (2013) Intimate partner violence: Attributes of victimization, 1993–2011. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics.Google Scholar
  8. Cormier N, Woodworth M (2008) Do you see what I see? The influence of gender stereotypes on student and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) perceptions of violent same-sex and opposite- sex relationships. J Aggress Maltreat Trauma 17(4):478–505. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Comstock GD (1991) The police as perpetrators of anti-gay/lesbian violence. In: Comstock GD (ed) Violence against lesbians and gay men, Appendix C. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 152–162Google Scholar
  10. Cummings K (2007) Katherine’s diary: the story of a transsexual. Australia: Reed Books. [Google Scholar]Google Scholar
  11. Edwards KM, Sylaska KM, Neal AM (2015) Intimate partner violence among sexual minority populations: a critical review of the literature and agenda for future research. Psychol Violence 5(2):112–121. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eitle D (2005) The influence of mandatory arrest policies, police organizational characteristics, and situational variables on the probability of arrest in domestic violence cases. Crime & Delinquency 51:573–597Google Scholar
  13. Farris EM, Holman MR (2015) Public officials and a “private” matter: evaluations and policies in the county sheriff office regarding violence against women. Soc Sci Q 96(4):1117–1135. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Feder L (1998) Police handling of domestic and nondomestic assault calls: is there a case for discrimination? Crime & Delinquency 44(2):335–349Google Scholar
  15. Finn MA, Stalans LJ (1997) The influence of gender and mental state on police decisions in domestic assault cases. Crim Justice Behav 24(2):157–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Finneran C, Stephenson R (2013) Intimate partner violence among men who have sex with men a systematic review. Trauma Violence Abuse 14(2):168–185. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Guadelupe-Diaz XL, Jasinski J (2016) “I wasn’t a priority, I wasn’t a victim”: challenges in help seeking for transgender survivors of intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women 23:1–21. Google Scholar
  18. Hamel J & Russell B (2013) The partner abuse state of knowledge project: The implications for law enforcement responses to domestic violence. In B. L Russell (Ed.) Perceptions of Female Offenders: How Stereotypes and Social Norms Affect Criminal Justice Response, New York: Springer. doi:
  19. Helmke G, Levitsky S (2012) Informal institutions and comparative politics: a research agenda. Perspect Polit 2:725–740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Herbert S (1998) Police subculture revisited. Criminology 36:343–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hirschel D, Faggiani D (2012) When arrest is not an arrest: exceptionally clearing cases of intimate partner violence. Police Quarterly 15(4):358–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hoyle C (1998) Negotiating domestic violence: Police, criminal justice and victims. Oxford: ClarendonGoogle Scholar
  23. Kropp PR, Hart SD (2004) The development of the brief spousal assault form for the evaluation of risk (B-safer): a tool for criminal justice professionals. Department of Justice Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  24. Logan TK, Shannon L, Walker R (2006) Police evaluations toward domestic violence offenders. J Interpersonal Violence 21(10):1365–1374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mastrofski SD, Snipes JB, Parks RB, Maxwell CD (2000) The helping hand of the law: police control of citizens on request. Criminology 38(2):307–342. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mele M (in press) Police response to domestic violence: the influence of extralegal factors on arrest decisions. Partner AbuseGoogle Scholar
  27. Messinger AM (2011) Invisible victims: same sex IPV in the National Violence against Women Survey. J Interpersonal Violence 26(11):2228–2243. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Miles-Johnson T (2013) LGBTI variations in crime reporting: how sexual identity influences decisions to call the cops. SAGE Open 3(2):1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miles-Johnson T (2015) Policing transgender people: discretionary police power and th ineffectual aspirations of one Australian police initiative. SAGE Open 5:1–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pattavina A, Hirschel D, Buzawa E, Faggiani D, Bentley H (2007) A comparison of the police response to heterosexual versus same-sex intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women 13(4):374–394. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Police Executive Research Forum (PERF, 2015) Police improve response to domestic violence but abuse often remains the ‘hidden crime’. Subject to Debate: A Newsletter of the Police Executive Research Forum, 29(1), January/February 2015Google Scholar
  32. Prokos A, Padavic I (2002) ‘There oughtta be a law against bitches’: masculinity lessons in police academy training. Gend Work Organ 9(4):439–4459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Russell B, Chapleau K, Kraus (2015) When is it abuse? How assailant gender, sexual orientation, and protections orders influence perceptions of a case of intimate partner abuse. Partner Abuse 6(1):47–64. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Saunders DG (1980) The police response to battered women: predictors of officers' use of arrest, counseling, and minimal action. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1979). Dissertation Abstracts International, 40, 6446-AGoogle Scholar
  35. Saunders DG, Prost SG, Oehme K (2016) Responses of police officers to cases of officer domestic violence: effects of demographic and professional factors. J Fam Violence 31(6):771–784. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stalans LJ, Finn MA (1995) How novice and experienced officers interpret wife assaults: normative and efficiency frames. Law Soc Rev 29:287–321. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stalans LJ, Finn MA (2006) Public's and police officers' interpretation and handling of domestic violence cases: divergent realities. J Interpers Violence 21(9):1129–1155.
  38. Storey JE, Strand S (2017) The influence of victim vulnerability and gender on police officers’ assessment of intimate partner violence risk. J Fam Violence 32(1):125–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tesch BP, Bekerian D, English P, Harrington E (2010) Same-sex domestic violence: why victims are more at risk. Int J Police Sci Manag 12(4):526–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Trujillo MP, Ross S (2008) Police response to domestic violence: making decisions about risk and risk management. J Interpersonal Violence 23(4):44–473Google Scholar
  41. Walters ML, Chen J, & Breidig MJ (2013) The national intimate partner and sexual violence survey: 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. Atlanta, GA National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionGoogle Scholar
  42. Younglove J, Kerr M, Vitello C (2002) Law enforcement officers' perceptions of same sex domestic violence: reason for cautious optimism.J Interpers Violence 17(7):760–772Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State University, BerksReadingUSA
  2. 2.University of Washington Medical CenterSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations