Mandatory arrest laws for intimate partner violence (IPV) have increased both the number and proportion of arrests that involve female defendants. Whether these numbers should be as high as they are remains a source of controversy. Most practitioners argue that women are usually arrested for defensive actions used in the face of assaults perpetrated by their spouse/partner. Others believe that these higher arrest rates more accurately reflect the true prevalence of physical aggression perpetrated by women. One way to help clarify this debate is to take a closer look at the women charged with IPV. The present study used self-reported information and criminal justice records on prior aggression to classify 485 women convicted of IPV into four distinct subtypes (i.e., no prior violence, primary victim, primary aggressor, and primary aggressor not identified). Despite the fact that all of these women were arrested for and convicted of IPV, analyses consistently found that few of the women could be considered as the primary aggressor in their relationship. Nor, however, were all of the women classified as primary victims. Methodological issues are discussed as well as the policy, practice, and research implications of this study.
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Johnson (2000) also proposed one other type of IPV that occur between intimates. Mutual Violent Control (MVC) refers to relationships in which both the man and woman engage in coercive violence.
When examining police reports for prior IPV incidents and recidivism we only considered reports that involved the same couple from the instant offense. The main reason for this was to ensure coding accuracy. Major problems were discovered with the unique ID code used by the police, leading us to search for records using each person’s name and birth date instead. Given that women are more likely to change their last name, this might have led to a significant bias in locating their prior reports as compared to their male partner. In the end we searched for all the records involving the female and then all records involving the male and retained only those involving both people.
The logic behind the use of this term stems from limitations in the measures used to assess physical aggression and coercive control. If a broader array of items were included, like forced sexual activity or stalking behaviors, then a clear primary aggressor might have been more readily identified. Similarly, taking into account the contextual factors behind the controlling behaviors assessed (e.g., Kimmel, 2002) might also have resulted in a clearer picture of who is mostly responsible. At the same time, there may be instances where the aggression and coercive control is truly mutual and further efforts need to be taken to identify such cases.
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The authors would like to thank the staff of the Memphis Exchange Club’s Domestic Violence Assessment Center for their efforts in collecting these data and making them available to us for research purposes. In particular we would like to thank Angela Jones, Dulcy Stout, Catherine Schuhmacher, and Flo Yarbro. We would also like to thank Jim White and Hallie Kilbert, students at Portland State University, for assistance in coding data.
Throughout the remainder of the text the term “offender” is used to refer to the arrested woman and “victim” is used to refer to her male spouse/partner. Although we recognize that this terminology may be controversial, especially in light of our own findings and the research of others, it should be pointed out that all of the women in the sample were found or pled guilty to domestic violence. Thus, in the eyes of the court, probation, and assessment center, these women were being treated as offenders.
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Henning, K., Renauer, B. & Holdford, R. Victim or Offender? Heterogeneity Among Women Arrested for Intimate Partner Violence. J Fam Viol 21, 351–368 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-006-9032-4
- Female offenders
- Partner abuse
- Typology Recidivism