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Domestic violence is one of those gender related violations that has had a long past but a short history. Men have battered, abused and mistreated their wives or intimate partners for a long time. Historically, wife or partner abuse has been viewed as a "normal" part of marriage or intimate relationships; an experience that women who have entered marriage or established relationships should expect, or tolerate. Only towards the end of the twentieth century, in the 1970's, has domestic violence been defined a crime, justifying intervention by the criminal justice system.
Police are the first line of defense for victims in general, and victims of domestic violence in particular. The victimization in cases of domestic violence is often perpetrated behind closed doors, with no one to witness it. If there are family members in the household who witness the violence they may be apprehensive about testifying, more often than not they shy away from having to take sides amidst dual or conflicting loyalties. The first contact the victim and offender have with the criminal justice system is likely to be the police. This initial contact was found to be particularly important with domestic violence victims. If the police response is considered "inadequate", it negatively affects the victims' self esteem and makes them less likely to turn to the criminal justice system in the future. There are also many other reasons for which policies such as arrest as well as prosecution or adjudication may not be enforced as lawmakers have envisioned. For instance, legal agents who may be skeptical about the asymmetry of violence behavior, or who do not view domestic violence complaints as serious or appropriate reason for intervention (Belknap, 1995), may be inclined to interpret the criminal law very strictly for arrest or prosecution purposes (Johnson, Sigler & Crowley, 1994), or at the same time be tolerant of physical aggression that could be rationalized as punishment for women's marital inadequacies
(Saunders, 1995). Such agents are inclined to define marital violence as a civil matter intended for resolution in divorce courts rather than under the purview of the criminal courts (Johnson, Sigler & Crowley, 1994). The attention to arrest has had some advantages in regard to the criminal justice response to domestic violence. First, the focus on police response has been evaluated almost exclusively in terms of the arrest or mediation decision. Clearly there are other actions police can take, in addition to arresting batterers when responding to domestic violence calls. For instance, the use of referrals by police seems crucial for informing battered women and their violators of available programs, shelters and legal rights. Too little attention has been paid to this important function of the police in domestic violence. Second, the research agenda focusing on the deterrent effect of pro-arrest policies has limited the definition of "success" to include only whether arresting batterers affects their recidivism. This focus ignores other influences that arrest might have on victims, such as providing them an opportunity to escape with or without their children, as well as police officers communicating to victims and their children that the batterer's behavior is reprehensible and in fact a crime. Such face to face communications are crucial for assisting battered, immigrant women, who often do not know that woman battering is a crime, or that help and services are available to battered women, regardless of their immigration status. Prosecutors, like the police, historically have taken minimal action in the few cases of domestic violence that have come to their attention (Ford & Regoli, 1993, Schmidt & Steury, 1989). This disregard towards domestic violence cases has resulted, however, from application of legal considerations, such as the statutory seriousness of the offense, the offender's prior record, taking into account whether weapons were used, the presence of an injury, or the availability of physical evidence . Other than injury, these elements or case
characteristics are not usually present in domestic violence incidents, and their absence reduces the likelihood of prosecution. Prosecutors have undertaken other strategies to increase their ability to prosecute crimes with reluctant victims, or those who withdraw their complaints, as is the case in domestic violence incidents. One strategy is the adoption of victim advocacy programs within prosecutors' offices, which streamline case processing and may increase victim retention in the legal process. Another strategy is evidence-based prosecution, the practice of building cases without relying on victim testimony. These approaches hold promise as they take pressure off victims. However, these policies have been viewed as intended to serve prosecutorial needs rather than victims' objectives , and it is not clear whether prosecutors will receive the resources or have the inclination to adopt such labor-intensive strategy with misdemeanor cases , although they may be an accepted practice in felony cases.
Pulling together resources and coordinating efforts may improve the justice system response to domestic violence. Including educational, religious, political, cultural, media or health professionals or institutions in a coordinated response can help in addressing this persistent social problem. The American public's intuitive conclusion that law enforcement alone cannot resolve the problem is in fact correct. Further, the criminal justice response, like other institutional responses, can be either helpful or harmful to victims as well as to their batterers . Awareness of the problem by the courts is the first step in stopping domestic violence.