The Problem of Domestic Violence in Criminal Justice

The Problem of Domestic Violence in Criminal Justice

A Law Enforcement Perspective

Domestic violence is a complicated, serious, and ongoing issue for criminal justice agencies in the United States due to varied risk factors and causes. This broad area of risk and causes creates many problems when trying to design legal programs that solve the problem. This broad area of risk and causes in domestic violence has inspired a variety of different agencies and programs that are dedicated to dealing with the problems and the various types of violence that occur. However, despite many different programs and agencies which have dedicated resources to dealing with domestic violence; the problem continues to elude a permanent solution. There are a variety of issues and factors that create barriers to solving the domestic violence problem.

Defining the Problem

Domestic violence is a special form of violence in that it is indicative of violence that it personal in nature or pertains to violence that exists within personal relationships. As a result of this understanding, domestic violence is also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence (Shipway, 2004). Further complicating the issue of domestic violence is the fact that the violence also comes in a multitude of forms such as physical abuse such as punching, kicking, biting, shoving, etc. However, domestic violence also involves other forms of aggressive behavior such as threatening; sexual abuse/molestation; psychological/emotional abuse; and rape (Shipway, 2004).

Causes of Domestic Violence

While there is no specific cause for domestic violence, there are a considerable number of risk factors that impact the risk of violence. The risk factors that seem to promote domestic violence include drugs, unemployment, underemployment, lack of education, unmarried people involved in relationships, and religion (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013). These risk factors substantially increase the risk of a person becoming the victim of domestic violence.

Because women are at the highest risk for being the victim of domestic violence, a great deal of research centers on domestic violence between men and women. One of the leading factors in the risk of women being abused has been shown to be a pattern of thinking or mind-set in men in these relationships. Typically, men who believe that they have authority over women, or should control women, places women in relationships with these men at the highest risk (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013).

The one recurring theme in research into domestic violence is the impact of witnessing the violence as children (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013). Children who are raised in environments that experience domestic violence learn or develop a belief that violence is an acceptable means for resolving conflict (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013). There are gender differences such as males who witness or are victims of domestic violence often commit abuse against women in adulthood. Females who witness or are victims of domestic violence are significantly at risk of being battered or abused by their husbands (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013).

Scope of Domestic Violence

The scope of domestic violence is difficult to ascertain. Despite beliefs to the contrary, domestic violence impacts males as well as females. The problem that researchers have in defining the scope of domestic violence is the fact that there is a great deal of silence, fear and shame attached to the issue. Often the patterns of abuse are viewed by victims as ‘normal’ and go unreported. For these reasons, domestic violence is highly underreported. Moreover, both genders are impacted severely by domestic violence and the problem continues to impact future generations when children are victims or witnesses to violence. Exposure to domestic violence has been documented as a cause of mental illness, self-harm, and suicide (Brinkerhoff, Lynn, Ortega, & Weitz, 2008).

In the United States it is estimated that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are the victims of domestic abuse annually (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, 2000). This form of violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, 2000). Domestic violence also impacts children with 3.3 million children being victims and witnesses to domestic violence each year (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, 2000). This exposure has a negative impact on psychological development. The witnessing of domestic violence causes problems in children’s ability to socialize as well as developing cognitively (Brinkerhoff, Lynn, Ortega, & Weitz, 2008).

The problems associated with domestic violence do not end when the victims are separated from their abuser. Often victims are left in worse financial or living situation than they were when they had to endure the abuser. For instance, women that leave abusive husbands will often have few choices and opportunities due to the fact that the abuse isolated them from having money or family or friends to count on. Research shows that this is one of the largest barriers facing victims of domestic violence and the most common reason that these individuals will not leave the abuser or seek help (Advocates for Human Rights, 2006).

In the United States, despite inaccuracies in the data, the fact remains that women are the victims of domestic violence more often than men (Compton, 2010). Women are also the victims of the most severe abuse resulting in injuries and death (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, 2000). The Department of Justice reported that 22.1% of women and 7.4% of men were abused or assaulted by a spouse (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, 2000).

Framing the Problem

A major problem for law enforcement is the fact that there is a lack of consistency in laws governing the problem. The laws in one state can be dissimilar to the laws in another state and this can create problems when policies and programs are implemented at the federal level. For example, most domestic violence programs treat the problem from the standpoint that it is a serious issue that involves law enforcement. In contrast to this standpoint, historically domestic violence has been considered a private family matter (Fagan, 1995). Law enforcement often do not make arrests and will attempt to diminish the severity of the situation by offering advice or scolding the individuals involved (Fagan, 1995). Equal in reluctance with police, is the fact that judges will not impose harsh sentences because the situations are seen as minor or nuisance infractions (Roberts, 2007). The impact of police and courts being reluctant to intervene in such problems further complicates and diminishes the ability of law enforcement programs and policies to be effective in reducing domestic violence (Roberts, 2007).


Domestic violence continues to be a major problem for police agencies. What is needed is a more robust system of aid that allows for more effective prosecution of cases and eliminates the problem permanently. For instance, it was found that the public service that had the greatest impact on reducing domestic violence was legal aid. Programs that provide protection, government benefits, and provide legal protection against attempts of abusers to take custody of children have the highest rates of success (Hamel, Nicholls & Tonia, 2007).

Another solution to the domestic abuse issue is to establish multiagency participation programs. In England all murders resulting from domestic abuse are subject to multiagency review and study. This review involves law enforcement, social services, and other agencies of possible involvement (Hamel, Nicholls & Tonia, 2007). The idea behind this multiagency participation is to define the problem from different approaches to develop new strategies.

Another solution is to provide more unified legal structure. The current legal approach in the United States is based on state laws which vary considerably. More consistency in laws would allow for more consistent legal approaches and strategies.


Advocates for Human Rights. (2006, February 1). Domestic violence and housing. Retrieved from

Compton, Michael T. (2010). Clinical Manual of Prevention in Mental Health (1st ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing. p. 245.

Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). violence against women. Retrieved from

Dryden-Edwards, R., & Stöppler, M. C. (2013). Domestic violence: Causes. Retrieved from

Fagan, Jeffrey (1995). “Criminalization of Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits”. Research Report. Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation. National Institute of Justice.

Shipway, Lynn (2004). Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Health Professionals. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978–0–415–28220–8.

Hamel, John; Nicholls, Tonia L. (2007). Family Interventions in Domestic Violence: A Handbook of Gender-Inclusive Theory and Treatment. New York, NY: Springer.

Roberts, Albert R. (2007). Battered Women and their Families: Intervention Strategies and Treatment Programs (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Springer.

Brinkerhoff, David B.; Lynn K. White, Suzanne T. Ortega, Rose Weitz (2008). Essentials of Sociology (7th ed.). Thomson/Wadsworth. p. 13.

U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. (2000). Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the national violence against women survey . Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, 1(1), Retrieved from

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Triola Vincent. Fri, Jan 22, 2021. The Problem of Domestic Violence in Criminal Justice Retrieved from

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