An Arresting ExperimentDomestic Violence Victim Experiences

and Perceptions

JOANN MILLERPurdue University

This study looks at the experiences and perceptions that domestic violence victimsreported with Mills’s power model. The victims’partners were the primary researchparticipants in an arrest experiment. The following were empirically examined: theoccurrence of violence following suspect arrest, victim perceptions of personal andlegal power, victim satisfaction with the police, and victim perceptions of safety fol-lowing legal intervention. Race and two victim resource measures (i.e., employmentstatus and income advantage) explained variance in perceptions of independence. Apolice empowerment scale was used to measure legal power. It was found that arrestaffected the probability of reoccurring domestic violence. Suspect arrest and the vic-tim’s perceptions of legal power were related to perceptions of safety followingpolice intervention. The study concludes with some implications for domestic vio-lence research, programs, and perspectives.

Keywords: domestic violence; intimate partner violence; perceptions; victim; arrest

We analyzed the victim interviews that were conducted as part of a random-ized domestic violence arrest experiment, in Dade County, Florida, that wasdesigned to examine how police responses affected the likelihood of reoccur-ring violence. Domestic violence suspects, the primary participants in thefield experiment, were assigned to an arrest or to a no arrest condition. Thenature of their offenses, domestic violence, generated a second type ofresearch participant: The victims, like the suspects, were subjected to thearrest experiment. We examined the arrest study from the victim’s perspec-tive by analyzing the interviews that were conducted soon after police inter-vention and 6 months later. We examined the victims’ reports of reoccurringviolence, their perceptions of power, and their subjective experiences follow-


Author’s Note: This study was sponsored by a Social and Behavioral Science Center Fellow-ship, Purdue University, and a Fellowship in Law and Sociology, Harvard Law School. Theauthor is most grateful to R. Gartner, Jonathan Miller, G. D. Hill, and two anonymous reviewerswho made useful comments on earlier drafts.

JOURNAL OF INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE, Vol. 18 No. 7, July 2003 695-716DOI: 10.1177/0886260503251130© 2003 Sage Publications

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ing police intervention, including their feelings of safety and their satisfac-tion with how the police responded to their preferences. We discuss thisstudy’s implications for domestic violence explanations and programs,focusing on the importance of understanding the role of victim perceptionsand empowerment.


For two decades researchers have used randomized or experimentaldesigns to study how police practices can decrease the probability, frequency,and severity of reoccurring family or domestic violence (Davis & Taylor,1997; Ford, 1991; Maxwell, Garner, & Fagan, 2001; Sherman, 1992). Thereare few field experiments more controversial than the collection of six stud-ies, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, that are known as theSpouse Assault Replication Program (SARP). Endorsed by feminist advo-cates and crime control proponents alike, the earliest results were reported ontelevision and in major metropolitan newspapers. Most urban police depart-ments in the United States, in response to the widely publicized initial experi-ment, developed mandatory or preferred arrest policies for domestic vio-lence, although some analysts issued sharp warnings of likely victim harmsand injuries (Sherman, 1992).

The initial experiment was fielded in Minneapolis, and five quasi-replication studies were fielded in Omaha, Colorado Springs, Milwaukee,Charlotte, and Metro Dade County, Florida. An Atlanta experiment was alsoconducted, but the data were not made available to social science researchers.All the SARP studies were originally designed to explain the specific deter-rent effect of suspect arrest on reoccurring or repeated family or domesticviolence. (Some of the post hoc explanations of the empirical findings arebased on social control theories.) Various methods were used across theSARP sites to assign domestic violence suspects to an arrest treatment groupor to a no arrest control group.

Maxwell et al. (2001) reported that the SARP studies generated at least300 potential outcome measures. Most of them, collected at two or threepoints in time, focused on the suspect’s reoccurring violence that was perpe-trated against the same intimate partner. One key type of outcome measureexamined the number and types of violent events that occurred followingpolice intervention. Another important type examined time to failure, or theamount of time between the initial police response and a police record of asubsequent offense.


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The domestic violence victims were interviewed in all the SARP experi-ments, primarily to corroborate police reports or other records of suspectbehavior. The typical victim interview schedule was designed to measurecharacteristics of the victim’s relationship with the suspect and get detailedreports of violent events and threats. In two of the experiments, Omaha andDade County, interviewers asked the victims to disclose detailed reports oftheir perceptions and feelings following police intervention. This study isbased on the victims of the Dade County experiment.

SARP Results

Results from all but one of the SARP experiments were reported, some-times to the press and often in social science journal articles (Lempert, 1989).Sherman and Berk (1984), architects of the original Minneapolis experiment,found that “the arrest intervention certainly did not make things worse andmay well have made things better” (p. 269). Reports from the other experi-ments were more cautious. Analysis of the suspect data from the ColoradoSprings experiment showed that arrest had no deterrent effect. Analysis of thevictim interview data, however, uncovered modest deterrence, especiallyamong employed suspects (Berk, Campbell, Klap, & Western, 1992). Pateand Hamilton (1992) reported an interaction effect between arrest and sus-pect employment status in the Dade County experiment, leading them to sug-gest that “the deterrent effect of arrest is influenced by the informal sanctionsimplicit in employment status” (p. 695). Perhaps worst of all, early reportsbased on the Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Omaha experiments concluded thatarrest had either no deterrent effect, or an escalation of violence effect, by 6months following police intervention (Dunford, Huizinga, & Elliott, 1991;Hirschel, Hutchison, & Dean, 1992; Sherman et al., 1991).

Berk et al. (1992), Sherman (1992), Garner, Fagan, and Maxwell (1995),Gelles (1993), Mills (1998), and Maxwell, Garner, and Fagan (1999) con-ducted meta-analyses of some or all of the SARP studies and reached sharplydivided conclusions. Did arrest deter domestic violence? Gelles concludedthat “a more complete and sobering look at . . . [the arrest experiments] indi-cates that the initial claim of the deterrent value of mandatory arrest policiesmay well be the social science equivalent of cold fusion” (p. 578). His posi-tion was challenged by Berk (1993a, 1993b), and more recently by Maxwellet al. (1999), who reported a slight or modest relationship between arrest andrepeat offending.

Maxwell et al. (2001) pooled select data elements across all the SARPsites to resolve the basic questions advanced by the six randomized arrest


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experiments. They found no evidence to conclude that arrest escalateddomestic violence. Arrest, they reported, had a small and, in some experi-ments, a statistically nonsignificant effect on suspect behavior. Most sus-pects, regardless of the type of police intervention, did not reoffend. All told,researchers who have studied empirical findings across SARP sites havereported that arrest, along with individual and social psychological attributesand characteristics, differentially affected recidivistic, misdemeanor domes-tic violence. Suspects who experienced shame as a consequence of arrest, atwork or in their communities, were less likely to reoffend. However, thosewith relatively low “stakes in conformity” (Toby, 1957) were not likely to bedeterred by arrest. The SARP studies showed that “the size of the reduction inrepeat offending associated with arrest is modest compared with the effect ofother factors (such as the batterer’s age and prior criminal record) on the like-lihood of repeat offending” (Maxwell et al., 2001, p. 2; see also Garner et al.,1995).

Victim Reports

Mills (1998) and Stephens and Sinden (2000) challenged any attempt toreach definitive conclusions from the SARP experiments: “It is the victimswho have the most to gain (or lose) from the current [arrest] trend . . . but weknow little about victims’ experiences . . . and their interactions. . . . Theirvoices are needed” (Stephens & Sinden, 2000, p. 535). Thus, our researchwas designed to complement the published SARP studies by focusing exclu-sively on the victims of one of the arrest experiments. Specifically, itadvances the Pate and Hamilton (1992) study, and it takes a step in the direc-tion called for by Stephens and Sinden. We studied the Dade County victims’reports to examine how their objective and subjective experiences wererelated to police intervention, including suspect arrest. Based on victim data,we analyzed reports of reoccurring violence immediately following the ini-tial police call and 6 months later. In addition, we examined perceptions andsubjective experiences that were related to the arrest experiment.


Mills (1998) analyzed the publications resulting from the SARP experi-ments and concluded that uniform and mandatory programs, such as themandatory arrest of all domestic violence suspects or no-drop prosecution,fail to stop the violence and protect the victims. Women, controlled and


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abused initially by their partners, can be victimized once again by a “one sizefits all” legal response that does not consider the unique person’s needs to sur-vive episodes of domestic violence. Mills also argued that the victim’s powercan be enhanced by effective legal intervention that incorporates the individ-ual’s requirements and preferences. The victim, empowered by appropriatepolice and prosecutorial responses, can prevent revictimization.

We adapted Mills’s (1998, 1999) model to distinguish two types of power,personal power and legal power, that domestic violence victims in the MetroDade arrest experiment perceived and could use to prevent or stop violence.We conceptualized personal power as a person’s perceived control over eco-nomic and social resources. We conceptualized legal power as perceivedempowerment in response to police intervention.

Personal Power

Mills (1998) defined personal power as the social actor’s sense of controlwhen dealing with others, including a domestic partner. We analyzed per-ceived independence as an indicator or a proxy measure for personal power.That is, we believe that the women who perceived high levels of independ-ence, relative to others, perceived higher levels of personal power.

We hypothesized that personal power is a function of work and earnedincome. We expected to find that employed women and those with an incomeadvantage within their intimate relationships had stronger perceptions ofindependence compared to unemployed women or compared to those with anincome disadvantage. Furthermore, we hypothesized that levels of independ-ence were related to domestic violence experiences. Women with higher lev-els of personal power, we hypothesized, would be less likely to experiencerepeated acts of domestic violence following police intervention.

Our research hypothesis pertaining to personal power and reoccurringdomestic violence was derived from the empirical studies that examine howlevels of personal resources, or the control over resources, can empower vic-tims to prevent repeated violence (see, e.g., Gelles, 1993; Jasinski, 2001c;Johnson, 1992; McCloskey, 1996; Miller & Knudsen, 1999; Teichman &Teichman 1989). Being employed outside the home is a social resource,whereas income advantage is an economic resource. Employed women, inprinciple, have access to information, and to social resources such as friend-ships or work networks, at a higher level than unemployed women. Anincome advantage can give a woman greater control or access to the financialor economic resources of a household.


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Legal Power

Mills (1998) defined court system or legal power as the victims’ “percep-tions of their role in the court process” (p. 310). We believe that legal power issimilar to Ford’s (1991) “power by alliance.” Ford’s concept is based on hisfindings from a domestic violence prosecution study (Ford, 1991; Ford &Regoli, 1993, 1998). A domestic violence victim can form a partnership or analliance with a legal actor, a police officer or a prosecuting attorney, who con-veys respect and a concern for her safety. The alliance itself can be a powerfulresource that victims can use to prevent violence. The threat to call an allywho has the power of the state to dispense in response to a criminal code vio-lation has a greater deterrent effect than the threat to call a stranger or a friend.An ally in criminal justice can also provide information and connections to anetwork of social service providers. Legal power, used by victims of domes-tic violence, can prevent reoccurring violence. It can also mediate the effectsof arrest or other forms of police intervention, similar to how informal mech-anisms of social control mediate the deterrent effects of arrest on the suspects(Pate & Hamilton, 1992; Sherman, 1992; Toby, 1957).

Legal power represents the woman’s perceived ability to control criminaljustice decisions and their consequences. We hypothesized that legal power,regardless of whether the suspect was arrested, increased when the policetook legal actions that corresponded to the victim’s preferences. Further-more, we hypothesized that victims’ subjective responses to police interven-tion were related to their perceptions of legal power. We expected to find thatwomen who were satisfied with what the police did perceived higher levels oflegal power. Finally, we expected to find that women who perceived higherlevels of legal power following a police response experienced greater percep-tions of personal safety.


A Randomized Field Experiment

The data we analyzed are from the victim interviews that were conductedas a part of the Dade County, Florida, arrest experiment from the SARP. Theprincipal investigators of the experiment designed the study to explain howlegal and informal sanctions deter misdemeanor domestic violence perpetra-tors from repeated acts of abuse or violence (Pate & Hamilton, 1992; Pate,Hamilton, & Annan, 1994). Whereas Pate and Hamilton (1992) focused onthe suspects and the consequences of formal and informal social controls,


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this study focused on the victims. Thus, our research was designed to com-plement Pate and Hamilton’s work. We examined empirically what the policedid in response to a domestic violence call, characteristics of the victim andthe suspect, the victim’s perceptions of personal and legal power, and victimreports of domestic violence following police intervention.

The Dade County arrest experiment, conducted over a 3-year period, useda unique, two-assignment design. Police randomly assigned each case to anarrest or to a no arrest condition. Independently, they randomly assigned 50%of the cases to a police Safe Streets Unit for counseling and follow-up investi-gation. We examined arrest and Safe Streets assignment as two types ofexperimental conditions that could influence recidivistic domestic violence.Arguably, close police follow up, the hallmark of the Safe Streets Program, islike intensive probation that is used to prevent recidivistic criminal behavior.

Of the assigned responses (arrest versus no arrest), 90% were actuallydelivered in the Dade County experiment. The misassignment rate, or depar-tures from the treatment or control group assigned, was higher in DadeCounty than it was in some of the other sites (e.g., Milwaukee or Omaha) butlower than it was in Charlotte (13%). Across all the SARP sites, the averagemisassignment rate was approximately 3% (Maxwell et al., 2001). Sherman(1993) argued that the misassignment rate, albeit considerably higher thanthe ideal, does not severely challenge the internal validity of the study.

A total of 50.4% of the suspects were arrested, as assigned, and a total of39.5% of the suspects were not arrested, as assigned. A correlation analysis(not reported here in table form) showed that departures from the conditionsassigned were not related to the following characteristics, which have beenfound in previous research to be related to the occurrence of domestic vio-lence: a woman’s pregnancy, employment status, marital status, or race orethnicity (see, e.g., Jasinski, 2001a, 2001b; McCloskey, 1996; Straus &Gelles, 1986). Likewise, personal and relationship characteristics were notcorrelated with the second type of treatment assigned (i.e., the assignment ofthe case to the Safe Streets Unit for follow-up investigation and counseling).

The data we used to examine personal and legal power were taken exclu-sively from victim interviews for two reasons. First, we were interested inhow arrest and other police responses were related to the victims’ experi-ences. Second, although there is a substantial research literature on the SARPexperiments, most studies, including the only one that examined pooled dataacross all sites, analyzed suspect behavior. Because the victims were the con-cern in this research, we examined how their personal and legal power can beenhanced and thus used to prevent reoccurring or repeated domesticviolence.


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Interviews with the Dade County victims were conducted in Spanish or inEnglish, shortly after the initial domestic violence incident occurred (i.e., theevent that made the suspect and his partner eligible for the field experiment)and 6 months later. The victims were paid $20 for each completed interview.A total of 595 victims completed the first interview, but only 385 victimscompleted the follow-up or second interview. The study’s attrition rate, simi-lar to all the other SARP studies, has no verifiable explanation, although itlikely includes refusals from fearful women and the inability to locate womenwho moved away from the suspects (Sherman, 1992). The analysis of thedata based on the second interviews, because of the high attrition rate, wasconducted for exploratory purposes only.


Victims, shortly after police intervention, reported to female interviewerswhether the domestic violence had continued. They also reported the typeand number of violent events that they experienced following the police call.During their second or follow-up interviews, the victims reported the numberof physical assaults, threats, and property damage incidents that hadoccurred. Based on victim responses during the first interview, we con-structed a variable to indicate whether physical violence occurred subsequentto a police call. Based on responses to the follow-up interview questions, wecounted the number of times a victim was hit, threatened, or experiencedproperty damage. We also constructed a summed scale to represent the totalnumber and type of incidents that victims reported over a period of 6 months.

Both interview schedules included items to measure each domestic part-ner’s employment status, all sources and levels of income, levels of educa-tional attainment, marital status, household composition, and whether thevictim and the suspect lived together. The initial interview included a singlequestion that asked victims how independent they are. Independence wasused to measure perceptions of personal power in this study. It was coded on a5-point scale, in the direction of independence.

We constructed a measure of the victim’s income advantage that is basedonly on categories of earned income: victim’s earned income divided by sus-pect’s earned income. Values greater than 1.0 indicate that the victim had anearned income advantage. Values less than 1.0 indicate that the victim had anearned income disadvantage. Zero values indicate no earned income for oneor both domestic partners.

A single question asked how safe victims felt following police interven-tion. Responses ranged from very unsafe (coded 1) to very safe (coded 4). Thevictims reported whether they wanted the suspect arrested (yes or no) and


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how satisfied they were, measured on a 4-point scale and coded in the direc-tion of very safe, with what the police did in response to domestic violencecalls.

Six semantic-differential type items were used to measure legal power, orthe victim’s perceptions of how she was affected by the action that the policetook: (a) helpless or powerful, (b) out of control or in control, (c) afraid orbrave, (d) weak or strong, (e) discouraged or encouraged, and (f) hesitant ordetermined. Respondents rated each item on a 7-point scale that was coded inthe direction of high levels of perceived power. Responses to the seven itemswere summed to form a legal power scale. The Cronbach’s alpha (i.e., thereliability measure for the summed scale) is .903.

The follow-up interview measured acts of violence that were perpetratedby the suspect within 6 months after police intervention. A summed scale wascreated to represent the total number of times the suspect threatened the vic-tim, the number of assaults perpetrated, and the number of times the suspectdamaged the victim’s property. The Cronbach’s alpha for the reoccurringviolence scale is .804.

During the second or follow-up interviews, victims indicated how likelyor willing they were to call the police in the future if necessary. Willingness tocall was rated on a 3-point scale, in the direction of more likely to call. Vic-tims rated the amount of stress they experienced in their relationships, codedon a 0 to 4-point scale in the direction of increased stress. They told inter-viewers whether the suspect recognized the wrongfulness of domestic vio-lence. “Do not know” responses were coded 0.5, no responses were coded 0,and yes responses were coded 1.0.


A Descriptive Profile

No segment of the adult population is immune to domestic violence. How-ever, certain types of women, especially poor and minority women, are morelikely to be victimized and much more likely to be trapped within abusivehouseholds (Hampton & Gelles, 1994; Mann, 1996; Richie, 1996; West,1999). Moreover, police arrests and court actions affect a disproportionatenumber of African Americans, relative to their representation in U.S. societyor their representation in the population of criminal offenders (Davis, 1997;Gottfredson & Jarjoura, 1996; Hagan & Albonetti, 1982; Humphrey &Fogarty, 1987; Jacobs & O’Brien, 1998; Klein, Petersilia, & Turner, 1990;McCoy, 1997; Wortley, Macmillan, & Hagan, 1997). The Dade County arrest


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experiment, conducted in the urban area ranked seventh in the nation inLatino population, appears to reflect the deeply institutionalized race dispar-ity in the legal arena. The Dade County population, according to the 1990U.S. census, was 20.5% African American, yet 42.6% of the suspects in theDade County experiment were African American. Compared to Anglowomen, African American women are much less likely to call the police toarrest domestic violence suspects, or to use court procedures to stop the vio-lence (Lee, Thompson, & Mechanic, 2002; Weis, 2001). However, AfricanAmerican men, and their partners, were vastly overrepresented in the DadeCounty experiment.

Approximately 21% of the couples in the experiment were Latino, 20%were Anglo, and the remaining couples were mostly Asian American. Mostcouples (79.4%) were married at the time, and 80% had at least one other per-son, usually a child, living with them. Both the suspects and the victimstended to have completed their formal education by earning a high schooldiploma (71% of the suspects and 61% of the victims). At the follow-up inter-view, 62% of the victims reported that they were employed and that 82% ofthe suspects were employed.

Arrest and Reoccurring Domestic Violence

Table 1, based on the first victim interviews, shows the effect of arrest on abinary-coded variable that indicates whether the victims experienced reoc-curring physical violence shortly after police intervention. ANOVA was used


TABLE 1: Victim Reports of Violence Following Police Intervention, Suspect Assignedto Control or Experimental Groupsa

More Violence SincePolice Intervention (Yes or No)

Treatment or Control Group (Actually Delivered) M SD n

No arrest, no Safe Streets (control group) 0.31 0.46 71Arrest only 0.14 0.35 95Safe Streets only 0.24 0.43 73Both arrest and Safe Streets 0.18 0.39 100

Range 0-1Overall M 0.21Overall F (group differences, post hoc Tukey test) 2.761* (no arrest and no Safe

.Streets, and arrest only)

a. An ANOVA was run.*p < .05.

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to examine the statistical significance of differences in mean values acrossgroups, with a post hoc Tukey test to identify significant differences acrosspairs of groups.

Overall, 21% of the victims reported that at least one episode of violencefollowed the police intervention. We found that arrest, according to the MetroDade victims, had a moderate, short-term effect on reoccurring domestic vio-lence. Of the victims in the control group (i.e., those whose partners were notarrested or assigned to a Safe Streets Unit), 31% experienced subsequent actsof violence shortly after the police call. Of the victims whose partners werearrested (but not assigned to Safe Streets), 14% experienced reoccurring vio-lence after the police call. The post hoc Tukey test showed that the only statis-tically significant difference in reoccurring domestic violence was foundbetween the control and the arrest-only treatment group.

Personal power. An ordinary least squares regression model was specified(see Table 2) to explain variance in the victim’s perception of independence(personal power) as a function of suspect arrest, race, marital status and livingarrangements, and the victim’s social and economic resources. We found thatsuspect arrest was not significantly related to the victim’s perception of per-sonal power. This supports Mills’s (1998) distinction between the two typesof power that women can experience within their interpersonal relationships:A legal response to violence was not related to perceptions of personal power.


TABLE 2: Personal Power—Victim Perceptions of Independencea (n = 595)

Independent Variable b SE β t

Suspect arrested 0.018 0.116 .006 0.158Anglo suspect –0.642 0.134 –.173*** –4.783Married couple –0.540 0.146 –.137*** –3.705Couple lives together –0.564 0.128 –.164*** –4.418Suspect employed –0.790 0.155 –.196*** –5.104Victim employed 0.847 0.133 .258*** 6.362Victim earned income advantageb 0.289 0.121 .099* 2.383

Intercept 4.180 0.202 20.668Adjusted R2 (F) .246*** (27.335)M (SD) 3.200 (1.601)

a. A 5-point rating scale (1 = totally dependent, 5 = not dependent at all) was used, and an ordi-nary least squares model was run.b. Victim earned income advantage = victim’s earned income divided by suspect’s earnedincome. Range = 0.05 to 4.80. Values less than 1.0 indicate victim’s disadvantage. Values greaterthan 1.0 indicate victim’s advantage. A zero value indicates that either partner was unemployedat the time of the police response.*p < .05. ***p < .001.

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A woman abused by an Anglo man in the Metro Dade County experiment,compared to a woman abused by an African American or Latino man, experi-enced less personal power. Richie’s (1996) gender entrapment theory offers acounterintuitive explanation for this finding. Richie argued that a dual expo-sure to racism and sexism makes African American women unusually vul-nerable to domestic violence. The physical and emotional consequences ofviolence within the home discourage women from reaching outside to socialcontrol agencies that are presumed to be racist. Instead, many African Ameri-can women are empowered by their relationships with friends and family tocontrol behaviors within their intimate relationships. African Americanwomen are likely to “speak openly and directly about the violence in theirhomes” (Weis, 2001, p. 156). Anglo women, however, are far more likelythan minority women to “deal silently with their ‘secret’” of domestic vio-lence. They work to maintain the ideology of the “‘good’ white family life”(Weis, 2001, p. 156). The contradiction, experiencing abuse while talking upthe “good husband,” can diminish or destroy perceptions of personal poweror independence.

We found that a victim’s perception of personal power was negativelyrelated to being married and to living with the suspect. The disadvantage ofmarriage for some domestic violence victims has been documented empiri-cally by family violence researchers, and it is explained by criminal opportu-nity theory (McCloskey, 1996; Miller & Knudsen, 1999; Straus & Gelles,1986). Domestic violence victims who are married to their offenders oftenhave little control over economic and social resources. Threats to leave a mar-riage can result in the escalation of violence. Yet being married to, and livingwith a domestic violence perpetrator, increases his opportunities to commitreoccurring acts of violence.

In support of our research hypothesis, we found that employed victims,compared to unemployed victims, perceived more personal power. Thegreater the earned income advantage a victim had within her interpersonalrelationship, the more personal power she perceived. However, personalpower, contrary to our research hypothesis, was not related to whether thevictim experienced reoccurring violence following a police response. Wefound (not reported here in table form) no significant empirical relationshipbetween a victim’s perception of independence and her report of domesticviolence following police intervention.

Legal power. We measured legal power with six items from the victiminterviews and used ANOVA to examine whether the arrest of a partner per sewas related to the degree of legal power perceived by the victims. All the


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responses to the separate items were coded in the direction of increasedpower, reflecting the degree to which victims felt more powerful, in control,brave, strong, encouraged, and determined in response to the action taken bythe police.

The summed scale showed a high level of inter-item reliability(Cronbach’s alpha = .903), but there was no significant difference in the legalpower scores across the victim-participant groups (not shown here in tableform). We noted, however, a distinctive pattern in the data. Victims whosepartners were arrested, compared to those whose partners were not arrested,scored slightly higher on each item of the legal power scale. These “non-findings” are potentially informative because they support Ford’s (1991)argument that a criminal justice response can help a victim form an alliancewith a legal actor. The alliance may protect the victim from an escalation inviolence.

Table 3 shows the results of a regression model that was specified toexplain variance in legal power as a function of suspect arrest, the victim’spreference for arrest, race, and the victim’s satisfaction with the policeresponse. We found that arrest per se was negatively related to perceptions oflegal power. It is quite possible that many women in the experiment wantedthe police to respond to their domestic violence problems but not to arresttheir partners (Mullings, 1997; Weis, 2001). This premise is supportedempirically. We found that if a victim wanted the police to arrest a suspect andthe police did arrest the suspect, the victim perceived a higher level of legalpower. The more satisfied she was with the police action that was taken,whether or not the police action included arresting the suspect, the more legalpower she perceived. These findings clearly support Mills’s (1998, 1999)argument that effective responses to domestic violence are those that reflect


TABLE 3: Explaining Variance in Perceived Legal Powera (n = 588)

Independent Variable b SE β t

Suspect arrested –2.097 0.819 –.102** –2.560Anglo suspect –3.319 0.866 –.141*** –3.832Victim wanted and got suspect arrested 2.319 1.174 .077** 1.980Victim satisfied with police action 3.444 0.291 .453*** 11.838

Intercept 18.026 1.109 16.250Adjusted R2 (F) .213*** (40.792)M (SD) 29.900 (10.148)

a. A 6-item scale was used (alpha = .903), and an ordinary least squares model was run.**p < .01. ***p < .001.

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the victim’s preferences and autonomy. A legal response that respects thevictim’s needs can have positive consequences. It can partner the victimwith a powerful social control agent and empower her to prevent reoccurringviolence.

The analysis shown in Table 4 partly supports Mills’s (1998, 1999) argu-ment. We found that suspect arrest was positively related to a victim’s percep-tion of safety. Feeling safe was not related to race or to the victim’s satisfac-tion with the police action that was taken. However, perceptions of safetywere significantly related to perceptions of legal power. The more legalpower a victim perceived, the safer she felt following a domestic violenceincident. The analysis permits the inference that arrest can increase percep-tions of safety, even for some victims who preferred the police to stop the vio-lence without arresting the domestic violence suspect.

Six-Month Follow-Up Interviews

Due to the high attrition rate among the victim-participants in the DadeCounty experiment, we analyzed the 6-month follow-up interviews as anexploratory study. We drew inferences from our empirical findings only forthe purpose of encouraging discussion.

Table 5 shows that the three different types of reoccurring domestic vio-lence that were measured by the follow-up victim interviews were notaffected by suspect arrest. We contend that on average, the victims in theDade County arrest experiment were unlikely to have experienced long-termbenefits as a consequence of suspect arrest. We also noticed that the standarddeviations, especially for batteries and threats (shown in Table 5), are sub-


TABLE 4: Victim Felt Safea (n = 588)

Independent Variable b SE β t

Suspect arrested 0.974 0.122 .327*** 7.964Anglo suspect –0.007 0.129 –.002 –0.057Victim wanted and got suspect arrested –0.221 0.173 –.051 –1.279Legal power 0.044 0.006 .302*** 7.122Victim satisfied with police action –0.028 0.048 .025 –0.572

Intercept 1.991 0.199 10.027Adjusted R2 (F) .177*** (26.212)M (SD) 3.83 (1.67)

a. A 4-point rating scale (1 = very unsafe, 4 = very safe) was used, and an ordinary least squaresmodel was run.***p < .001.

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TABLE 5: Six-Month Follow-Up Interviews, Victim Reports of Reoccurring Violencea

Number of Times Number of Times Number of TimesHit or Battered Property Damaged Threatened

Treatment or Control Group (Actually Delivered) M SD n M SD n M SD n

No arrest, no Safe Streets control group 0.47 1.05 76 0.07 0.27 76 2.66 12.06 76Arrest only 0.46 2.14 106 0.28 1.98 106 1.17 5.87 106Safe Streets only 0.49 1.12 75 0.17 0.81 75 1.83 11.63 75Both arrest and Safe Streets 0.26 0.88 115 0.06 0.27 115 0.59 2.48 115

Range 0-20 0-20 0-90Overall M 0.41 0.15 1.42Overall F 0.604 0.824 1.031

a. An ANOVA was run.

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stantial. It is possible that for some victims, suspect arrest, without SafeStreets follow up, resulted in an escalation of battery and threats. For othervictims, arrest could have prevented repeated acts or threats of violence.

In Table 6, a summed scale (Cronbach’s alpha = .804) that represents thetotal number and types of reoccurring domestic violence is regressed on thevictim’s subjective experiences. We found that victims who, according totheir reports, experienced relatively high levels of stress in their marital orintimate relationships also experienced higher levels of reoccurring violence.Those who reported that the suspects realized the wrongfulness of domesticviolence reported less reoccurring violence.

Personal and Legal Power

Our research hypotheses, derived from Mills’s (1998, 1999) power model,were partly supported by the analysis of the victim interviews that were con-ducted as part of the Dade County arrest experiment. Women victimized byAnglo suspects, ceteris paribus, perceived less personal power within theirintimate relationships and less legal power. Employed victims and those whohad an income advantage within their interpersonal relationships reportedrelatively higher levels of personal power. In principle, personal power givesvictims a tool or an instrument to prevent reoccurring domestic violence.Empirically, we could not, however, confirm the expected relationshipbetween the victim’s personal power and the suspect’s desistance of domesticviolence following a police response.


TABLE 6: Victim Reports of Domestic Violence Following Police Intervention, Sum ofNumber of Times Hit, Threatened, and Property Damaged (alpha = .804)(n = 345)

Independent Variable b SE β t

Victim’s perception of relationship stress 0.363 0.128 .157** 2.838Victim thinks she is more likely to call

police in future 0.160 0.212 .039 0.754Suspect realizes wrongfulness of

domestic violence –1.312 0.321 –.229*** –4.082

Intercept 0.414 0.701Adjusted R2 (F) .102 (12.948)***M (SD) 0.834 (2.619)

a. An ordinary least squares model was run.**p < .01. *** p < .001.

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A police response to domestic violence, including suspect arrest, canincrease the victim’s legal power that can be used to prevent reoccurring vio-lence. The more satisfied a victim was with the police action that was taken,the more legal power she perceived. Victims who experienced high levels oflegal power felt more safe as they anticipated and controlled future socialinteractions with their partners.

Six months following police intervention, it was the level of stress within arelationship and the victim’s perception that the suspect recognized thewrongfulness of domestic violence that were related to the probability ofreoccurring violence. Based on these findings, we posit that the most reason-able criminal justice and social service responses to domestic violence arethose that consider the victim’s needs by taking into account her subjectiveexperiences, her cultural and social resources, and her personal and legalresources. In addition, the most effective responses are likely to be those thatconvincingly demonstrate, to the suspect, the wrongfulness of domesticviolence.


Method Issues

The limitations of this study are clear. The research participants, allwomen, were in heterosexual relationships and experienced at least one inci-dent of misdemeanor domestic violence that was brought to the attention ofthe police. The victim-participants in the arrest experiment do not representvictims in Dade County, or domestic violence victims in other areas of theUnited States. Most serious are the disadvantages imposed by the short-term(6 month) victim follow-up period and by the unacceptably high attrition rateamong the research participants.

This study also makes clear the advantages of an experimental fielddesign. We pose two crucial questions that all experiments should ask andanswer: Did the Dade County arrest experiment cause harm to domestic vio-lence victims? We found no evidence that victims faced an increased likeli-hood of reoccurring violence as a consequence of the arrest experiment. Didthe failure to arrest those randomly assigned to a control group cause victimharm? We conclude, ironically, that it did not. Arrest may have had a statisti-cally significant albeit weak effect on the probability of reoccurring domesticviolence.


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Responses to Domestic Violence

Our analysis of the Metro Dade victim data contributes to the literature onsocial and legal responses to domestic violence. We conclude that personaland legal power are subjectively experienced perceptions that can be effec-tive resources for domestic violence victims. Legal actors can form partner-ships with victims by recognizing that each person is unique and faces cul-tural, economic, family, and emotional circumstances that can increase ordecrease the probability of reoccurring violence. Partnerships and alliancesempower victims. They are, however, precluded by police or court actionsthat fail to consider the unique victim’s characteristics and needs.

Perceptions of personal power can be reaffirmed by legal power. Together,personal and legal power can be used to influence and control the suspect’sbehaviors, as they simultaneously assure the victim’s perceptions of safety.

This research, because it is based on an arrest experiment that included anextremely disproportionate representation of African American victims,accentuates the need for domestic violence programs to appeal to our AfricanAmerican communities. Police arrests, safe shelters, and prosecution pro-grams have been the preferred solutions for domestic violence problems inthe United States since the mid-1970s. However, many African Americanwomen remain unwilling to turn to safe shelters because they are not “cultur-ally friendly” (Nelson, 2002, p. 2). In other research (Miller, 2002), we foundthat African American victims were compelled to move from a safe shelter toa homeless shelter to avoid assault by Anglo clients within the domestic vio-lence shelter.

Other victims refuse to call the police to avoid turning their partners overto a criminal justice system that, they perceive, discriminates against AfricanAmericans (Nelson, 2002, p. 4). African American victims can be empow-ered by police and other sociolegal actors who recognize the circumstancesthat the individual African American victim and her community encounter.Oliver (2000) illustrated the possibilities. He recognized the limits of typicaldomestic violence programs that are based on what he called a “one size fitsall” model, and he urged the development of prevention and intervention pro-grams that are based on African American popular culture. He cited success-ful programs that focus on culture-specific radio campaigns, gospel music,and African American icons in public service announcements. Some advo-cates may argue that only our urban areas with the most diverse populationsand the healthiest fiscal conditions can afford the culturally diverse programsthat are needed to respond to the various types of domestic violence victimsin the United States. We agree with Oliver and with Richie (2000) who


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reminded advocates that “the assumed race and class neutrality of genderviolence led to the erasure of low-income women and women of color fromthe dominant view” (p. 1135). No city and no intervention program canafford to ignore all the violence and all the victims.

Future Research and Domestic Violence Perspectives

Social science theories of domestic violence tend to explain the reoccur-rence or desistance of battery and threats of violence (Miller & Knudsen,1999). Many feminist perspectives examine the consequences of patriarchyfor women in general and for specific women within their intimate relation-ships (Dobash, Dobash, Cavanagh, & Lewis, 2000). Other feminists plaitrace and class into their explanations (Richie, 1996; Weis, 2001). We offerthree modest suggestions for the continued development of perspectives thatfocus on what women can do to prevent and stop domestic violence.

First, we argue that domestic violence theory and research should con-tinue to focus on explaining the subjective experiences of women. Emotionsand perceptions, such as empowerment, stress, and feeling safe, can haveimportant effects for women who face the risk of domestic violence. Emo-tions and perceptions are central because outside actors, the police orextended family members, do not share a bedroom with a potential abuser.

Second, we argue that a woman’s culture, her resources, and her connec-tions to legal actors can enhance perceptions of personal and legal power.Cultural and social resources can empower women to talk and discloseshared problems, thus insulating women from the dangers of isolation.Shared accounts can protect individual women. Financial resources, espe-cially earned income, can empower women by making them agents of socialcontrol within an intimate relationship. Legal alliances can enhance percep-tions of safety and trust.

Third, we take the feminist position that the only reasonable explanationof domestic violence is one that considers simultaneously the unique personand the intersection of race, gender, and class in U.S. society. We contend thatit is absolutely unacceptable for any woman to be subjected to the injuries ofdomestic violence. Concomitantly, we contend that an explanation of domes-tic violence that fails to address race and class differences is insufficient.

Although “every woman” can be a victim of domestic violence, accordingto the slogan, I realize full well that I sit comfortably in my office to writeabout a problem that too many women, often poor, homeless, and minoritywomen, will not get the opportunity to avoid.


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JoAnn Miller is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropologyat Purdue University. Her research and interests focus on social problems, socialinequalities, and interpersonal violence. She and Robert Perrucci are the editors of Con-temporary Sociology.


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