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Arresting Developments: Trends in Female Arrests for Domestic Violence and Proposed Explanations

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 12 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2006 Pages: 355-371
Date Published
April 2006
17 pages

This article attempts to provide a better understanding in the dramatic increase in female arrests for domestic violence and the unintended consequence of this on efforts to reduce domestic violence.


In California, aggregate felony domestic violence arrest rates more than doubled from 1987 to 1997 and then declined 23 percent from 1997 to 2000. Disaggregating by gender revealed that arrests of men and women exhibited differential growth rates. Female arrest rates for domestic violence increased more than 500 percent, while male rates decreased 136 percent. In summation, women composed 5 percent of all domestic violence arrests in 1987 and 18 percent of all domestic violence arrests in 2000. An unintended consequence in the movement to decrease violence against women has been an increase in female arrests in domestic violence. Proposed explanations for these unintended trends include: (1) women are engaging in more violence against their intimate partners; (2) men are engaging in less violence against their intimate partners; (3) male batterers are able to manipulate the system to their advantage; (4) the system has become more democratic in that while the criminal justice system was reluctant to take action against women in the past, today it is more fair; (5) the observed rate increase indicates enhanced sensitivity and an overall net-widening effect; and (6) the criminal justice system is limited in its ability to adequately identify, respond to, and reduce this type of social problem through primarily police practice. This analysis, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, was limited, in that, it presented only trends in felony arrests and did not utilize misdemeanor arrests, which are presumed to be numerous. Figure, table, references

Date Published: April 1, 2006