U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

In Their Own Words: Battered Women's Assessment of the Criminal Processing System's Responses

NCJ Number
Violence and Victims Volume: 13 Issue: 3 Dated: Fall 1998 Pages: 251-268
E Erez; J Belknap
Date Published
18 pages
This study of battered women's assessment of the criminal justice system's responses to their plights addresses victims' interactions with the police and the prosecution, their court experiences, their assessment of factors that affected cooperation, and their satisfaction with the system's agents and penalties.
Names of female battering victims were taken from the records of the Victim Assistance Program affiliated with the prosecutor's office in two counties in Ohio. Altogether, 498 victims who were seen or assisted through these offices during 1993 were identified. Surveys were sent by the prosecutor's office to the respondents' addresses as they appeared in the case records. Over one-third (36 percent) of the surveys were returned as undeliverable due to address changes. Of the remaining victims, only 50 responded (a 10-percent response rate for the initial sample). This small response rate precludes any generalizations and makes conclusions risky. Yet, there are reasons to assume that the descriptions of the system's responses as they emerged from the data are not atypical; they have a high level of agreement with the opinions of service providers in these counties, and the characteristics of the victims and their case outcomes resemble those of the cases processed in the counties from which they came. The respondents were all women, and the majority (84 percent) were Anglo; the remainder were African American. The overwhelming majority (90 percent) of the victims initiated the contact with the criminal justice system regarding the battering; in the remaining 10 percent of the cases, either a neighbor or a friend notified the police. The victims' responses show the inordinate difficulties and frustrations they experienced because of their domestic violence situation. Victims report incessant threats, abuse, confusion, and pain. Following contacts with the police and encounters with prosecutors or judges, many realized that the system had a limited capability or investment in helping or providing them with meaningful relief from their abusers. Their responses also reflected the contradictions inherent in the criminal processing system's attempt to approach these incidents as "just another crime," and particularly, the problematic use of adversarial proceedings when parties are simultaneously family members and assailants. Although recognizing the limitations and possible harm caused by contact with the criminal justice system, the victims' responses suggest that criminal processing agents can and do make some positive difference. Victims' positive reactions to the criminal justice system were most often related to the caring and persistence specific criminal justice agents showed in their efforts to support and guide them through this difficult experience. 6 notes and 66 references