Dual arrests and the domestic violence arrests of women


    The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.
    - Nathaniel Branden

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed because the majority of domestic violence advocates are firmly convinced that violence against women is distinct from violence in general. Advocates also believe that violence against women is often ignored or not understood by the criminal justice system.

A contentious issue that continues to divide domestic violence advocates and the criminal justice systems is disagreement concerning the cause of or reason for dual arrest and the increased number women being arrested for domestic violence.

Dual arrests and the increased number of women arrested were not foreseen by the proponents of domestic violence laws and mandatory arrest policies. Advocates most often claim these arrests are the result of the lack of proper training for law enforcement.

The variance in the number of dual arrests that remain in a state with universal domestic violence statutes often not statistically significant and may reflect the dramatic differences in arrests in general from community to community.

Some officers, out of the sight of supervision, will always maintain a certain degree of discretion in minor incidents and observe the time honored tradition of respecting the victims desires. If a third party reports a fight between two people, there are no apparent injuries and neither one of those two people want to make an official police report of that altercation, a report will rarely be filed.

Dual arrest and the arrest of women, similar to domestic violence, occur for a variety of reasons. However, the primary reason may be that domestic violence laws in the majority of states ignore the difference between minor and serious acts of assaultive and battering behavior.

Violence against women may display some different characteristics than violence in general, however, many studies now document that the cause and consequences of violence against women, family violence, and intimate partner violence regardless of sexual orientation, are far more alike than different.

It appears that some advocates are unable or unwilling to recognize that domestic violence laws are not about “battering behavior.” Domestic violence laws include any and all physical assaults and threats.

In some states simply the fear that an assault may occur is sufficient to issue a restraining order or more stringent criminal action. The National Violence Against Women Survey documents women are far more likely to report domestic violence than men and law enforcement officers are far more likely to take a report and to make an arrest if the victim was female.

Law enforcement officers know that when they respond to domestic violence calls, the victims with black eyes, broken noses, and cracked ribs are most often women. However, the National Violence Against Women Survey documents that majority of domestic violence incidents are minor in nature and there are no apparent injuries.

While all other crimes make the distinction between serious crimes (felonies) and minor crimes (misdemeanors) the vast majority of domestic violence laws do not. Concerning domestic violence intervention this historic, dramatic and legally relevant difference is ignored.

There are many studies that document women engage in minor assaultive behavior as often as men. Women are as likely as men to initiate this type of violence. If a wife slaps a husband or a husband punches a wife, each individual act by statute law, is an act of domestic violence. Neither act alone constitutes “battering behavior.”

In the criminal justice system because of common, statute and court law and despite the desires of some ideological based “primary aggressor,” language, the person who hits first or initiates the violence, continues to have legal relevance. Initiation refutes the fact that the behavior is defensive, helps establish intent, and is often an important factor concerning all criminal assaults.

Ellen Pence, a pioneer in domestic violence programs and the founder of the Feminist or Duluth model of domestic violence intervention acknowledges that her program was designed to address violent predators and chronic battering. Pence acknowledges that the Duluth program is not designed for intervention concerning each and every act of family assaultive behavior.

Pence has come to believe that contemporary domestic violence intervention, far too often, is “one-size-fits-all.” Pence also thinks that “one-size-fits-all” interventions can allow some chronic violent abusers to avoid proper punitive sanctions for their long term violent behavior.

Battering Behavior

Intimate partner terrorism is a sometimes used to describe battering behavior. Battering is long term violent physical assaults or forced coercive and controlling behavior by one person against another person with the intent to change or alter that person’s behavior.

It is generally agreed that a battered victim is someone whose life is completely controlled by another person and whose behavior has been changed to meet the demands of the batterer.

Batterers are not acting out of anger or because they have temporarily lost control of their emotions. In fact “control” over their spouse or intimate partner is the specific goal of the batterer.

Family Violence

It is also generally agreed that most families, over a long period of time, will inevitably suffer from some form of conflict that occurs in most intimate or familial styled relationships.

Those who have the most physical power or economic control most often will prevail in these confrontations. Those who lack physical strength, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will most often be the recipient of the most severe injuries.

The issues of power and control are not limited to male and female heterosexual relationships. The issues of power, control and forceful coercive behavior are present in child, sibling, spousal, intimate partner and elder abuse regardless of gender or sexual orientation. They are lessons we often learn as children before we can speak.

Family violence is not repetitive physically assaultive behavior that is used to control the behavior of another family member. The lone exception is that we continue to condone this type of behavior against our children.

Family violence is often short term spontaneous behavior that arises out of anger, anxiety, grief, stress, alcohol or drug abuse, health or work issues, depression or any number of crisis that afflict many families.

Domestic Violence Laws

By statute law all assaultive acts, regardless of how minor or serious they are, are acts of domestic violence and ideological based domestic violence training can not change the proper implementation of these laws.

Pence agrees that intimate partners, regardless of gender, may sometime during their relationship push, shove, slap or hit their partner. Pence acknowledges that many of these isolated incidents of “family violence” are not reflective of “battering behavior.” Domestic violence laws most often ignore that distinction.

The fact is that many family members, at some point, have engaged in some minor assaultive behavior against another family member or intimate partner. In fact, sibling violence may very well be the most underreported and least understood form of family violence.

The vast majority of domestic violence laws are not predicated on “battering behavior.” Rather they encompass any and all individual assaults or threatening behavior, regardless of rapidity or severity.

Hence, the primary reason for dual arrests and the increase in the arrest of women are “one-size-fits-all” domestic violence laws and mandatory arrest policies, not the lack of proper law enforcement training.


Contemporary “one-size-fits-all” intervention and laws have created a backlash and impede proper progress. An ever increasing number of physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, family counselors, educators, social workers, attorneys, domestic violence advocates and members of the criminal justice system are questioning the ethics and the effectiveness of contemporary “one-size-fits-all” domestic violence intervention.

Dual arrest, the increase in numbers of women arrested and the continued resistance of the criminal justice system will continue until domestic violence advocates and public policy makers recognize the danger in ignoring the dramatic and important difference between incidental minor violence and chronically violent behavior.

Some advocates claim that we should not change what we are doing because we might be saving lives. If this is true, is not changing what we are doing just as important because of the lives we might be losing?

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