Victim or Offender? Heterogeneity Among Women Arrested for Intimate Partner Violence

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Archer, J. (1999). Assessment of the reliability of the Conflict Tactics Scales: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(2), 1263–1289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Archer, J. (2000a). Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126(5), 651–680.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Archer, J. (2000b). Sex differences in physical aggression to partners: A reply to Frieze (2000), O’Leary (2000), and White, Smith, Koss, and Figueredo (2000). Psychological Bulletin, 126(5), 697–702.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Babcock, J., Miller, S., & Siard, C. (2003). Toward a typology of abusive women: Differences between partner-only and generally violent women in the use of violence. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27(2), 153–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Cascardi, M., & Vivian, D. (1995). Context for specific episodes of marital violence: Gender and severity of violence differences. Journal of Family Violence, 10(3), 265–293.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chesney-Lind, M. (2002). Criminalizing victimization: The unintended consequences of pro-arrest policies for girls and women. Criminology & Public Policy, 2(1), 81–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Conradi, L. (2004, September). An exploratory study of heterosexual females as dominant aggressors of physical violence in their intimate relationships. Paper presented at the 9th International Conference on Family Violence, San Diego, CA.

  9. Crager, M., Cousin, M., & Hardy, T. (2003). Victim-defendants: An emerging challenge in responding to domestic violence in Seattle and the King County region. King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

  10. Crowne, D., & Marlowe, D. (1964). The approval motive: Studies in adaptive dependence. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dasgupta, S. (1999). Just like men? A critical review of violence by women. In M. F. Shepard & E. L. Pence (Eds.), Coordinating community response to domestic violence: lessons from Duluth and beyond (pp. 195–222). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Dasgupta, S. (2002). A framework for understanding women’s use of nonlethal violence in intimate heterosexual relationships. Violence Against Women, 8(11), 1364–1389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. DeKeseredy, W., Saunders, D., Schwartz, M., & Alvi, S. (1997). The meanings and motives for women’s use of violence in Canadian college dating relationship: results from a national survey. Sociological-Spectrum, 17, 199–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dutton, D., & Kropp, R. (2000). A review of domestic violence risk instruments. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 1(2), 171–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Geffner, R., & Koonin, M. (2003, September). Female perpetrators of domestic violence. Paper presented at the 8th International Conference Family Violence, San Diego, CA.

  16. Graham-Kevan, N., & Archer, J. (2003). Physical aggression and control in heterosexual relationships: The effect of sampling. Violence & Victims, 18(2), 181–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Greenfeld, L., Rand, M., Craven, D., Klaus, P., Perkins, C., Ringel, C., Warchol, G., Matson, C. and Fox, J. A. (1998). Violence by intimates: Analysis of data on crimes by current or former spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends (NCJ 167237). Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Greenwald, H., & Satow, Y. (1970). A short social desirability scale. Psychological Reports, 27, 131–135.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hamberger, L. K. (1997). Cognitive behavioral treatment of men who batter their partners. Cognitive & Behavioral Practice, 4(1), 147–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hamberger, L. K., & Arnold, J. (1990). The impact of mandatory arrest on domestic violence perpetrator counseling services. Family Violence Bulletin, 6, 11–12.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hamberger, L. K., & Guse, C. (2002). Men’s and women’s use of intimate partner violence in clinical samples. Violence Against Women, 8(11), 1301–1331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Hamberger, L. K., & Potente, T. (1994). Counseling heterosexual women arrested for domestic violence: Implications for theory and practice. Violence & Victims, 9(2), 125–137.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Hamberger, L. K., Lohr, J. M., & Bonge, D. (1994). The intended function of domestic violence is different for arrested male and female perpetrators. Family violence and Sexual Assault Bulletin, 10, 40–44.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hamberger, L. K., Lohr, J. M., Bonge, D., & Tolin, D. F. (1996). A large sample empirical typology of male spouse abusers and its relationship to dimensions of abuse. Violence and Victims, 11, 277–292.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Healey, K., Smith, C., & O’Sullivan, C. (1998). Batterer intervention: Program approaches and criminal justice strategies. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Henning, K., & Feder, L. (2004). A comparison between men and women arrested for domestic violence: Who presents the greater threat? Journal of Family Violence, 19(2), 69–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Henning, K., Jones, A., & Holdford, R. (2005). “I didn’t do it, but if I did I had a good reason”: Minimization, denial, and attributions of blame among male and female domestic violence offenders. Journal of Family Violence, 20(3), 131–139.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Henning, K., Jones, A., & Holdford, R. (2003). Treatment needs of women arrested for domestic violence: A comparison with male offenders. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(8), 839–856.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Henning, K., & Renauer, B. (2005). Prosecution of women arrested for domestic violence: Are they treated more leniently than men? Violence and Victims, 20(3), 361–376.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hirschel, D., & Buzawa, E. (2002). Understanding the context of dual arrest with directions for future research. Violence Against Women, 8(12), 1449–1473.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Holtzworth-Munroe, A., & Stuart, G. (1994). Typologies of male batterers: Three subtypes and the differences among them. Psychological Bulletin, 116(3), 476–497.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Johnson, M. (1995). Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: Two forms of violence against women. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 57(2), 283–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Johnson, M. (2000). Conflict and control: Images of symmetry and asymmetry in domestic violence. In A. Booth, C. Crouter, & M. Clements (Eds.), Couples in conflict, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Johnson, M., & Ferraro, K. (2000). Research on domestic violence in the 1990s: Making distinctions. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 62(4), 948–963.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Johnson, M., & Leone, J. (2005). The differential effects of intimate terrorism and situational couple violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Journal of Family Issues, 26(3), 322–349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Kerig, P. (1996). Assessing the link between interparental conflict and child adjustment: The Conflict and Problem-Solving Scales. Journal of Family Violence, 10(4), 454–473.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Kimmel, M. S. (2002). “Gender symmetry” in domestic violence: A substantive and methodological research review. Violence Against Women, 8(11), 1332–1363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Huss, M., & Ramsey, S. (2000). The clinical utility of batterer typologies. Journal of Family Violence, 15, 37–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Leisring, P., Dowd, L., & Rosenbaum, A. (2003). Treatment of partner aggressive women. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 7, 257–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Locke, H., & Wallace, K. (1987). Locke–Wallace marital adjustment test. In K. Corcoran & J. Fischer (Eds.), Measures for clinical practice (pp. 451–453). London: Collier Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Martin, M. (1997). Double your trouble: Dual arrest in family violence. Journal of Family Violence, 12(2), 139–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. McNeely, R., Cook, P., & Torres, J. (2001). Is domestic violence a gender issue, or a human issue? Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 4(4), 227–251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Mignon, S., & Holmes, W. (1995). Police response to mandatory arrest laws. Crime & Delinquency, 41(4), 430–443.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Miller, G. A. (1999). The substance abuse subtle screening inventory (SASSI) manual. Springville, IN: The SASSI Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Miller, S. (2001). The paradox of women arrested for domestic violence: Criminal justice professionals and service providers respond. Violence Against Women, 7(12), 1339–1376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Milner, J. S. (1986). The Child Abuse Potential Inventory: Manual (2nd ed.). Webster, NC: Psytec.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Murphy, C. M., & O’Leary, K. D. (1989). Psychological aggression predicts physical aggression in early marriage. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 579–582.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Pan, H. S., Neidig, P. H., & O’Leary, K. D. (1994). Male-female and aggressor-victim differences in the factor structure of the modified Conflict Tactics Scale. Journal of lnterpersonal Violence, 9, 366–382.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Pence, E., & Paymar, M. (1993). Education groups for men who batter: The Duluth model. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Robertson, K., & Milner, J. (1983). Construct validity of the Child Abuse Potential Inventory. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 39(3), 426–429.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Robertson, K., & Milner, J. (1985). Convergent and discriminant validity of the Child Abuse Potential Inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 86–88.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Saunders, D. (1986). When battered women use violence: Husband-abuse or self-defense? Violence & Victims, 1(1), 47–60.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Saunders, D. (1991). Procedures for adjusting self-reports of violence for social desirability bias. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6(3), 336–344.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Saunders, D. (1995). The tendency to arrest victims of domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10(2), 147–158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Saunders, D. (2002). Are physical assault by wives and girlfriends a major social problem? Violence Against Women, 8(12), 1424–1448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Singer, J., & Willett, J. (2003). Applied longitudinal data analysis: Modeling change and event occurrence. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Strack, G., McClane, G., & Hawley, D. (2001). A review of 300 attempted strangulation cases. Part I: criminal legal issues. Journal of Emergency Medicine, 21(3), 303–309.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Straus, M. (1990). The Conflict Tactics Scales and its critics: An evaluation and new data on validity and reliability. In M. A. Straus & R. J. Gelles (Eds.), Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families (pp. 49–73). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Straus, M. (1993). Physical assaults by wives: A major social problem. In R. Gelles and D. Loseke (Eds), Current controversies on family violence (pp. 67–87). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., Boney-McCoy, S., & Sugarman, D. B. (1996). The revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2): Development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17(3), 283–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Straus, M., Hamby, S., Finkelhor, D., Moore, D., & Runyan, D. (1998). Identification of child maltreatment with the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales: Development and psychometric data for a national sample of American parents. Child Abuse and Neglect, 22, 249–270.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Sugarman, D., & Hotaling, G. (1997). Intimate violence and social desirability: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(2), 275–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Sullivan, C., & Cain, D. (2004). Ethical and safety considerations when obtaining information from or about battered women for research purposes. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(5), 603–618.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Swan, S., & Snow, D. (2002). A typology of women’s use of violence in intimate relationships. Violence Against Women, 8(3), 286–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Prevalence and consequences of male-to-female and female-to-male intimate partner violence as measured by the National Violence Against Women Survey. Violence Against Women, 6(2), 142–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Tolman, R. (1999). The validation of the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory. Violence and Victims, 14(1), 25–37.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. Victim Services Agency (1989). State legislation providing for law enforcement response to family violence. Response, 12(3), 6–9.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Walker, L. (1979). The battered woman. New York: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Waltz, J., Babcock, J. C., Jacobson, N. S., & Gottman, J. M. (2000). Testing a typology of batterers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 658–669.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. White, J., Smith, P., Koss, M., & Figueredo, A. (2000). Intimate partner aggression – what have we learned? Comment on Archer (2000). Psychological Bulletin, 126(5), 690–696.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kris Henning.

Additional information

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Female offenders
  • Partner abuse
  • Typology Recidivism