Domestic Violence + Call 911 = Victim Gets Arrested?

These days, violence is a frequent topic of discussion in the news. Recently, more often than not the issue is gun control, stop-and-frisk policies or even police training tactics gone horribly awry. What these subjects have in common is that they take into consideration the rights and background of the targets and the accused.

Background Checks Against Victims

Image: iStockPhoto

Not long ago, New York City’s police department announced that they will run criminal background checks on those who report instances of domestic violence. Apparently, the idea behind this is that police officers will have some leverage they can use  in the event that the accuser changes her (or his) mind about pressing charges against the accused. Under this directive, police may check for outstanding warrants and for a history of complaints. Police will even be able to check into the accused’s and the accuser’s driving records.

How does this tactic not exacerbate the problem of domestic violence?

Domestic violence is an act perpetrated by those who use bullying, intimidation, threats and fear tactics in order to get their way. Perpetrators use whatever means they have at their disposal as pawns in their game. Most would agree that we need to help victims of domestic violence feel safe — but how will that happen if the new rules mean that once the victims contact law enforcement officials they are opening themselves up to even more abuse?

According to the American Bar Association’s domestic violence statistics:

  • Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
  • Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
  • Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • Ninety-two percent of women surveyed listed reducing domestic violence and sexual assault as their top concern.
  • Domestic violence victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the US alone—the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
  • Based on reports from 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for help.
  • The costs of intimate partner violence in the US alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.
  • Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.

Can you imagine something such as an unpaid parking ticket standing between an arrest and prosecution in a domestic violence case? This policy places abuse victims at risk of facing arrest if they call 911. With the police employing a virtual strong-arm tactic to ‘encourage’ victims to talk, it’s likely that fewer instances of domestic violence will be reported — and domestic violence already goes unreported far too often. That’s just great for the abusers…but it would be nice for the victims to have a little  safety, privacy and equal protection.


  1. I was the administrator for a domestic violence agency 20 years ago and we had problems getting women to report abuse then. In all this time, nothing has gotten better? And now this? Well, considering that policemen abuse their wives in alarming numbers, nothing surprises me anymore. It’s just so very sad.

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