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Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
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5
Legal Interventions

The current array of legal interventions to address family violence includes service interventions, procedural and jurisprudential reforms, and efforts to build capacity and expertise in legal and social institutions to invoke legal sanctions—whether threatened or actual. Legal interventions, which include both the criminal and the civil justice systems, have several goals: identifying cases to bring abusers and their victims under the control and protection of legal and social institutions; addressing procedural and evidentiary problems in criminal prosecution; expanding the array of civil interventions to protect victims of abuse; reducing further violence by offenders; and increasing the range of social and legal controls affecting individuals, families, and communities.

Unlike patient-centered or client-centered health and social service interventions, the criminal justice system must also represent society's interests. Its desired outcomes are independent, and at times they may differ from, and even appear to conflict with, those of the people who have been abused. Legal interventions must take into account the issues of due process and concern for the rights of victims as well as those accused of wrongdoing, seeking a balance among interventions to enhance victim protection, facilitate the prosecution of offenders, and preserve the state's interest in fair procedures.

Legal interventions for the treatment and prevention of family violence often focus on procedural changes in law enforcement—such as arrest policies and practices, civil orders of protection, and court standards for the admissibility of evidence—rather than the provision of direct services to clients. The evaluation of such procedural reforms is made difficult by the variations in state and county jurisdictions that influence local law enforcement policies and practices. In

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

evaluating these interventions, many researchers define success as a reduction in recidivism—a program-specific goal that the criminal justice system seldom accomplishes for any other type of offense. This emphasis on a single, hard-to-achieve measure may diminish attention to changes in other important domains, such as individual and public health; child, adult, and family functioning; public safety; equity and fairness; social support and the use of community services; and costs (Worden, 1995).

Family violence treatment and prevention interventions in law enforcement settings have received far less attention in the evaluation research literature than social service interventions (see Table 1-2); less than one-quarter of the studies (21 of 114 studies) selected by the committee for review in this report involve legal interventions. The large majority of these 21 studies focused on domestic violence (18 studies); within this subset, 7 studies examined the impact of spousal arrest policies. This is one of few areas in the family violence research literature in which replication studies have appeared (discussed in section 5B-3). These replication studies have created a database that shows real promise for secondary analyses not only for domestic violence but also for child maltreatment. For example, one recent study that focused on children who witness domestic assaults conducted a secondary analysis of the spousal assault research database to examine the characteristics and prevalence of children in the homes where police officers intervened in response to domestic violence cases (Fantuzzo et al., 1997).

In general, however, evaluations of the effectiveness of legal interventions suffer from problems similar to those in the areas of social service and health care: small study samples, ethical and legal problems in implementing experimental designs and in reporting discovered abuse, the constraints of confidentiality statutes, inadvertent effects caused by the research project, and the complexity of independent variables in multiple and overlapping interventions.

Neither research on the immediate effects of legal reforms nor assessments of the recurrence or cessation of abuse have been routinized for these interventions. Accordingly, policies and procedures reflect ideology and stakeholder interests more than empirical knowledge. With some exceptions (such as the research on arrest policies and domestic violence), the available evaluations are more descriptive than analytic. Experimental or longitudinal studies on the effectiveness of current interventions are rare. The current empirical literature is limited by the kinds of methodological shortcomings discussed in Chapter 3.

Despite the absence of research on their effectiveness, legal interventions are thought by many to play an important role with regard to family violence. For example, as noted later in this chapter, treatment interventions are sometimes provided to offenders solely as a result of arrest and court intervention, and their impact may be influenced by the quality and intensity of court oversight. This chapter reviews legal interventions and the available evaluations of them, first for child maltreatment, then for domestic violence, and finally for elder abuse.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

Child Maltreatment Interventions

In the 1960s, following the passage of legislation that established eligibility for federal funds for child protective services programs, nearly every state adopted mandatory reporting laws, child abuse registries, expanded and newly empowered child protection agencies, and training for personnel in social, legal, and medical agencies. The emergence of child sexual abuse as a social crisis in the 1980s resulted in skyrocketing prosecutions and new evidentiary and procedural rules for such cases (Melton et al., 1995; Weisberg and Wald, 1984). Detailed procedures were put into place to detect, investigate, adjudicate, and resolve cases of child maltreatment—through supervision of families, removal of children from the home, and termination of parental rights.

There was initially strong resistance by child welfare advocates and service providers to the criminal justice system's growing role in these cases, largely based on the assumption that it either could not or would not consider the best interests of the child in making decisions. This resistance abated somewhat as the criminal justice system began to adapt to the special needs of children, establishing special courts to focus on family matters, and child welfare and mental health agencies acknowledged the deterrent role of legal restraints and sanctions on offenders.

Eight legal interventions for child maltreatment are reviewed in the following sections: (1) mandatory reporting requirements, (2) child placement by the courts, (3) court-mandated treatment of child abuse offenders, (4) treatment for sexual abuse offenders, (5) criminal prosecution, (6) improving child witnessing, (7) evidentiary reforms, and (8) procedural reforms. The sections are keyed to the appendix tables that appear at the end of the chapter.

5A-1: Mandatory Reporting Requirements

Prior to the medical recognition of the battered child syndrome in 1962 (Kempe et al., 1962), family violence reporting laws did not exist in federal or state statutes. Following a national advocacy effort focused on the protection of children who were physically abused, all 50 states had adopted laws by 1967 requiring health and other professionals to report suspected child abuse and neglect. Since the creation of child protective services systems and the enactment of mandatory reporting laws, increasing numbers of cases have been reported to child protection agencies without a comparable increase in the resources to support adequate investigation and response to these reports. Whether these objectives have actually been achieved is uncertain, although the number of cases reported to child protection agencies has increased significantly.

The overall change since 1976 has been a growth of 331 percent, from an estimated 10 children reported per 1,000 in 1987 to 43 children reported per 1,000 in 1994 (National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996a,b). The rapid

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

escalation in reported cases has had a significant impact on the investigation and substantiation rates and disposition practices of social service agencies. The 1988 National Incidence Study indicated that only 40 to 50 percent of all reported cases of child maltreatment were substantiated (Sedlak, 1991). By 1994, the rate of substantiated or ''indicated" reports had dropped to about 37 percent (National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996b). This imbalance has encouraged discretionary decisions in which service providers, especially in health settings, seek to provide their clients access to their own treatment programs in lieu of public services (Zellman, 1990, 1992; Brosig and Kalichman, 1992). These findings have prompted a search for revisions in the reporting requirements, to establish certain conditions under which well-trained reporters could exercise more flexibility in filing reports, provide a treatment or intervention plan in lieu of a child protective services investigation, yet maintain informal oversight of cases by child welfare officials (Finkelhor and Zellman, 1991).

The mandatory reporting laws were adopted in the belief that they would reveal cases of child maltreatment that were previously undetected and would provide a means for children and families to receive appropriate services prior to the occurrence of serious injuries, thus enhancing child safety and well-being. In reviewing the research literature on this intervention, the committee found no evaluations of mandatory reporting of child maltreatment that meet its criteria for inclusion (use of a comparison or control group in conduct of the study). Research on this topic is generally descriptive—no quasi-experimental studies have been conducted that could provide guidance to policy officials and service providers.

Designing a study on mandatory reporting with a control group is difficult for several reasons: the universal and mandatory nature of current reporting systems inhibits the formation of an appropriate comparison or control group, uncertainties exist about the appropriate outcomes to measure, and separating the outcomes of mandatory reporting from the outcomes of subsequent services is an immensely complex task. For example, should mandatory reporting be evaluated on the number of cases that are substantiated, on the number of cases that receive some other intervention because of the reporting, on improved state datasets, or on child health and well-being indicators, including child mortality and injury rates?

Mandatory reporting requirements were adopted without evidence of their effectiveness; no reliable study has yet demonstrated their positive or negative effects on the health and well-being of children at risk of maltreatment, their parents and caregivers, and service providers. Several studies have identified significant variations in reporting practices among service providers (especially health professionals) and the presence of a large number of service providers who use discretionary judgement in deciding whether to report suspected cases, especially under circumstances in which a child or family is receiving treatment or intervention services. Nonexperimental research studies have indicated that the

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

filing of a report disrupts therapy in relatively few cases, and that a therapeutic relationship can survive and at times benefit if the therapist confronts and reports abusive behavior (Watson and Levine, 1989; Weisz, 1995).

The objectives and potential benefits of mandatory reporting include (1) increasing detection before violence escalates (when families might be more receptive to social support services), (2) relieving victims and family members of the reporting burden (and thus enhancing their safety), (3) enhancing health care provider response to family violence by fostering greater coordination among service systems, (4) punishing perpetrators, and (5) improving documentation, data collection, and knowledge about the epidemiology of family violence, which can enhance the evaluation of interventions and encourage communities to increase resources for prevention and treatment programs (Hyman et al., 1995; Hampton and Newberger, 1985).

Experience with reporting practices has raised a number of concerns about the adverse impact and unintended consequences of reporting requirements on children, their parents and caregivers, and service providers in both health care and social service settings:

  • (1)  

    discouraging clients who do not want involvement with the law enforcement system from seeking social services and health care;

  • (2)  

    risking retaliation by the abuser against victims who reveal abuse;

  • (3)  

    creating expectations of services and protection that cannot be met;

  • (4)  

    flooding the social services system with reports that involve minor cases of child maltreatment;

  • (5)  

    interfering with provider-client relationships and rapport, especially in areas that involve trust, safety, goal setting, deterrence, and treatment;

  • (6)  

    encouraging inadequate responses by providers, especially from those who do not understand their reporting responsibilities or who may abdicate responsibility for ongoing care once a report has been made;

  • (7)  

    fostering poor case detection and data collection practices, including noncompliance, biased compliance, and false positive reporting, as well as confusion about what must be reported; and

  • (8)  

    encouraging greater surveillance bias, including class or ethnic bias in reporting, because of the disproportionate reporting of low-income and minority communities who rely on public services (whose care providers are more likely to file reports) rather than private care (whose care providers are likely to use greater discretion in determining whether a report should be filed) (Besharov, 1994; Hyman et al., 1995; Hampton and Newberger, 1985).

Some critics have indicated that legal reporting requirements have weakened the protection of children by diverting administrative resources away from services for children and families in serious trouble in favor of investigation of minor cases (Besharov, 1994). The tendency to perceive family violence as

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

criminal behavior has also raised concerns about the bias or stigma associated with reporting practices. There is concern that reporting requirements have stimulated false positive cases with damaging effects on some parents, children, and families, although the size of this impact is not known. Finally, many research investigators and sponsors believe that the reporting requirements represent an impediment to the conduct of population-based studies of child maltreatment (National Research Council, 1993a).

The effectiveness of mandatory reporting therefore needs to be examined within the broad dimensions of family violence and the impact of reporting practices on child and family access to services as well as on data collection. More important, the impact of mandatory reporting laws should be judged by the ways in which they interact with other services to help protect children and adults from abuse and neglect and to mitigate their consequences. When criminal acts can be substantiated, mandatory reporting practices can result in the prosecution of cases that would not otherwise be detected. Mandatory reporting requirements can also diminish the use of discretionary judgment and exact an unknown price on the ability of service professionals to control the timing, nature, and scope of disclosures of child maltreatment to legal authorities. These impacts may or may not be harmful to children at risk and their families, depending on the circumstances and severity of the maltreatment that is disclosed.

At this time, significant doubts exist about the ability of social service agencies to respond adequately to initial reports of suspected cases. These doubts suggest that greater caution is required before expanding the use of mandatory reporting requirements in protecting adult victims of maltreatment, especially in the areas of domestic violence and elder abuse.

5A-2: Child Placement by the Courts

Juvenile courts (sometimes called family courts) can issue an order of protection, order services and treatment for the family, temporarily remove the child from the home, or, as a last resort, terminate parental rights and provide permanent placement for a child whose care is overseen by the child welfare system. This section deals with the role of the courts in making such decisions; the evaluations of placement outcomes (such as foster care and group homes) are covered in Chapter 4.

The actions of juvenile courts are generally limited to cases of parental abuse and neglect (Bulkley et al., 1996). If the abuse or neglect is substantiated, the judge has a number of options, including requiring the parents to participate in treatment or cooperate with caseworkers as a condition of keeping the child at home; issuing a protective supervision order that allows parents to retain custody under certain conditions or under the supervision of the child protective services agency; removing the child from the home temporarily; giving custody of the child to the agency or other persons; and terminating parental rights to end the

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

legal relationship between parent and child. Alternative dispositions to the termination of parental rights have been developed as well; for example, some courts award guardianship to third parties in lieu of termination, who provide care and parental support but who do not legally supplant the relationship of the natural parents. The courts can also establish timetables and deadlines to require public agencies to determine a service plan for the child.

Although statutory bases for termination of parental rights differ by state, in all cases the burden of proof is the standard of clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard than in other civil proceedings. The burden of proof is on the petitioner—usually the government agency charged with child protection, but it can be others, such as family members, guardians ad litem, prospective adoptive parents, and others specified by state statute. There is a presumption in favor of maintaining the parent-child relationship and preservation of family ties (Santosky v. Kramer, 455 US 745, 71 L Ed 2d 599, 102 S Ct 1388, 1982). Testimony must include evidence that termination of parental rights would be in the best interest of the child. The parents are entitled to due process, notice, and an opportunity to be heard and represented by counsel. The justifications for termination of parental rights in child sexual abuse cases have included refusal to participate in or make progress in treatment, and failure to acknowledge responsibility or to take steps toward rehabilitation (Bross, 1995).

The gravity of parental rights hearings has given rise to other procedural and service interventions designed to protect the child's interests in resolving the conflict between the risks of continued involvement with abusive parents and permanent separation from them. For example, the position of court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) has developed to represent the child's interests in custody negotiations; they are typically attorneys or trained lay volunteers who either function independently or work in conjunction with attorneys and caseworkers. Comparing a CASA lay volunteer model with a model using staff attorneys in a juvenile unit of the court, one descriptive study found that the use of CASAs resulted in more services obtained for children and reduced the time that the child spent in the home of the family of origin (Poertner and Press, 1990). They concluded that lay volunteer CASAs could represent children in juvenile court as well as trained court attorneys.

The effectiveness of the juvenile court system in child maltreatment cases has not been formally evaluated. The courts have the ability to protect children by exercising the power to remove them from the home or to mandate treatment and services. Juvenile courts also have the ability to provide oversight and in-home monitoring and can act both to help the child and family and to punish the offender (Bulkley et al., 1996). The disadvantages of the juvenile court system include the removal of the child rather than the offender from the home; the lack of due process protections for those accused of abuse comparable to criminal court procedures; the risk of unnecessary intervention with families; long, indefinite,

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

or multiple out-of-home placements; and unnecessary removal of some children without adequate preventive or treatment services (Bulkley, 1988).

Evaluations of the effectiveness of the juvenile court system should consider what relevant outcomes constitute the most important indicators of its success or limitations. Examples include: the extent to which children's placement status remains uncertain or unstable during periods of court oversight; patterns of service utilization associated with cases in the juvenile court system compared with those that are administered by the social services agencies alone; and long-term measures of child health and well-being and family support associated with cases that are handled by juvenile courts. Such studies could compare the long-term outcomes of siblings or neighborhood children who were reported for maltreatment but were not referred for court attention to those of children whose cases received significant involvement by the juvenile court. Such studies could help clarify which characteristics of maltreatment cases are likely to stimulate court referrals and examine the disparities that exist in caseloads handled by judicial, social services, and health agencies.

5A-3: Court-Mandated Treatment for Child Abuse Offenders

The courts can mandate parents to treatment as a condition for keeping or regaining custody of their children. In Chapter 4, we discussed types of treatment and treatment outcome studies of parenting practices and family support services (4A-1). Here we deal with the impact on treatment of its being mandated through the courts rather than being voluntary.

Practitioners are divided on the wisdom of mandating treatment. Those who favor it believe that the threat of legal sanctions will encourage participation in treatment by parents who would otherwise refuse services. Those who question the wisdom of mandatory treatment emphasize the importance of client motivation for involvement in treatment and fear that court mandates may increase resistance to treatment. There has been very little empirical research to help settle this debate.

Table 5A-3 lists two evaluations in this area that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. One study compared parents ordered to a treatment program with those who voluntarily entered treatment (Wolfe et al., 1980). They found that court-ordered parents were more likely to complete the treatment program. However, the other study found no such differences in treatment completion between voluntary and court-mandated parents (Irueste-Montes and Montes, 1988). Both groups attended and completed treatment at similar rates and showed similar improvements in their interactions with their children. The researchers conclude that mandating treatment does not increase resistance to participation. Although they did not ask all court-mandated participants whether they would have voluntarily entered treatment, informal comments by some of these parents suggested that they would have dropped out of the 3-year program

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

or refused treatment altogether had the legal sanctions not been in place. Court oversight of treatment referrals thus seem to facilitate completion rates for offenders who would be unlikely to voluntarily participate in treatment programs. Whether completion results in improved parent-child interactions or positive child outcomes remains generally unknown in the research literature.

5A-4: Treatment for Sexual Abuse Offenders

Treatment programs for sex offenders seem to be increasing in number, and adults who sexually abuse children are often offered treatment as part of or in lieu of other sanctions by the court. Such programs seek to normalize sexual preferences and enhance social functioning, working from the assumptions that deviant sexual acts result from an attraction to inappropriate partners or behaviors and that social deficits restrict access to appropriate partners and cause stress in the offender, both of which increase the likelihood of offensive behavior (Marshall and Barbaree, 1988).

Although some efforts have been made to classify offenders in terms of their relationship to the target child, research studies cannot yet distinguish clearly between sexual offenses that involve familial relationships and those that do not. For example, one study classified two treatment groups as "incest offenders"—men who exclusively molested either their own daughters or granddaughters or who molested female children for whom they were serving as surrogate fathers, such as stepdaughters, adopted daughters, and daughters of a common-law wife—and "molesters of nonfamilial children"—men who molested children who were not their own and for whom they were not serving as the surrogate father (Marshall and Barbaree, 1988). Such distinctions are ambiguous in the research literature, however; sex offender programs often do not classify treatment groups according to the nature of the relationships between the victim and the offender.

A 1994 survey found 710 sex offender programs in the United States, a 139 percent increase in programs since 1986 (Freeman-Longo and Knopp, 1992). The vast majority (573) of the programs were outpatient or community-based; 90 were prison-based; and the remaining 47 were other residential-based programs.

Three general approaches are used in treating sex offenders: cognitive-behavioral, psychotherapeutic, and organic (also called biological or physical). Today, the cognitive-behavioral approach predominates (Freeman-Longo and Knopp, 1992) and consists of a number of cognitive and skills training methods, behavior control techniques, and, more recently, relapse prevention strategies borrowed from the field of addiction treatment (Marshall et al., 1991). The psychotherapeutic approach includes individual, group, and family counseling. The organic approach includes surgical castration, hormonal and other pharmacological treatments, and psychosurgery.

There is no consensus in the research as to whether treating sex offenders reduces recidivism (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1996). It is generally believed

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

that the recidivism rate for incest offenders is low compared with that of other child molesters (Furby et al., 1989). It has also been suggested that incest is related to family dynamics and opportunism rather than to inappropriate sexual preferences, suggesting that behavior modification treatment programs may be less effective with incest offenders (Quinsey et al., 1993). One study suggests that post-treatment recidivism rates vary widely with different offender characteristics, including type of offense; the growing body of literature on the treatment of sex offenders may therefore not be applicable to incest offenders (Furby et al., 1989).

Table 5A-4 lists two evaluations in this area that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. One study matched a treated and untreated group of child molesters, all of whom admitted their crimes and requested treatment (Marshall and Barbaree, 1988). Treatment consisted of cognitive-behavioral outpatient services. The treatment group had far lower recidivism rates than the control group on both official and unofficial measures.

The other study compared the effectiveness of a multimodal inpatient treatment for incest offenders and heterosexual pedophiles. The treatment programs included group psychotherapy, social skills training, anger management, psychodrama, film discussion of victims, and stress inoculation (Lang et al., 1988). Both groups showed improvement, and incest offenders showed greater improvement than pedophiles on trait anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, social skills deficits, indirect hostility, and irritability. By the end of a 3-year follow-up, 7 percent of the incest offenders and 18 percent of the pedophiles had reoffended. The small sample size and lack of an untreated control group make it impossible to attribute changes to the treatment. In fact, the recidivism rates reported in this study are similar to those of the untreated control group rates in the Marshall and Barbaree (1988) study.

Several reviews of less rigorous studies have shown some promising results from multicomponent, cognitive-behavioral treatment approaches, particularly with child molesters (Becker and Hunter, 1992; Marshall et al., 1991; Martens, 1992). Reviews of studies of psychotherapeutic approaches concluded that counseling was insufficient by itself to change the behavior of sex offenders (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1996). Organic treatments have shown some evidence of effectiveness, but no consensus exists about which drug is most effective or about the duration of positive effects (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1996). Marshall et al. (1991) suggest that organic treatments should not be viewed as a means for reducing reoffending in and of themselves, but they may be appropriate as a means of reducing an offender's sex drive until cognitive-behavioral treatments can begin to build self-control.

Although cognitive-behavioral approaches and other forms of treatment appear to show some positive outcomes of treatment for sex offenders, more rigorous characterizations of the types of offenders involved in treatment are needed before the effectiveness of treatment programs in reducing repeat sexual offenses

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

can be determined for incest offenders and others who are involved in ongoing familial relationships with their victims. For incest reoffending, attention is required to the circumstances in which offenders are referred to or request treatment, and the ways in which treatment is used as a deterrent in determining whether an offender can maintain custody or remain in contact with the child or family.

5A-5: Criminal Prosecution of Child Abuse Offenders

The impact of criminal prosecution of child abuse on the protection of children has not been rigorously evaluated. The question of whether to criminally prosecute child maltreatment offenders is shaped by competing views of the role of the legal system in influencing behavior and responding to individuals, families, and community needs. Those who are opposed to criminal action believe that it hurts the family, that the criminal justice system is insensitive to families' and children's needs, and that district attorneys and police officers focus more on prosecution than on referrals for treatment and services. Those who favor criminal prosecution believe that it is an effective way to enforce the laws, deter future abuse, discourage unacceptable behavior, and coerce individuals into treatment. This perspective reflects a belief that, as a matter of policy, one should not selectively forgo prosecution of criminal behavior for the sole reason that the victim is related to the offender.

There are no evaluations in this area that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. The research cited in this section is either descriptive or lacks control groups.

In most states, reports of maltreatment are made to a designated child protection agency (see discussion in section 5A-1 above). After investigating, the agency may report serious cases to law enforcement officials (some states require child protective services to report all cases of abuse and neglect to the district attorney). Once a case is referred to law enforcement, prosecutors have broad discretion in whether or not to file charges and whether to drop or accept the case.

Research focusing on the decision making of prosecutors has examined variables that play a role in the acceptance and rejection of cases; decisions to prosecute vary widely, with many factors determining whether a prosecutor decides to proceed (Whitcomb, 1992). In a federally sponsored 3-year study in four cities, prosecutors were influenced by mandatory reporting requirements, statutes regarding procedural and evidentiary practices, and the availability of alternatives to prosecution, such as counseling (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1994). Another study found three primary characteristics related to prosecutors' decisions to file charges: age and maturity of the victim, the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, and the evidence of abuse (Borland and Brady, 1985).

Younger children may be less competent to testify and lack credibility, so

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

their cases may be screened out. The relationship of the offender to the child poses questions regarding safety and the likelihood that the abuse will occur again. A study of initial decisions by prosecutors in sexual abuse cases found that offenders who were fathers, stepfathers, and uncles were more likely to be prosecuted than brothers, child care workers, or babysitters (MacMurray, 1989). This study also found that cases involving male victims were more likely to be prosecuted than those involving female victims.

Because of the hidden nature of child abuse, prosecutors may feel there is not enough physical or medical evidence to successfully prosecute a case. The nature of the abuse itself may also determine whether prosecution is pursued. A 1993 American Bar Association survey of 600 prosecutors found that they reported prosecuting fewer physical than sexual abuse cases (Smith and Elstein, 1993), despite the fact that there is a high attrition rate in sexual abuse cases (Finkelhor, 1984). Overall, few child abuse and neglect cases go to trial; those that do raise questions concerning the ability and role of children as witnesses in the court system.

5A-6: Improving Child Witnessing

Children have not usually been considered believable witnesses in a court of law (Myers, 1994). Although an extensive body of literature has focused on their ability to adequately serve as witnesses, no evaluations in this area have been conducted that involve the use of comparison or control groups. The discussion that follows is based on other types of research.

In a criminal justice system designed for adults, issues such as children's competence to testify, their ability to distinguish fact and fiction, and the possible harm that their testifying presents pose special challenges. Researchers have explored children's memory, suggestibility, and ability to distinguish truth from fantasy (Goodman, 1984; Goodman et al., 1987). Their credibility rests on the knowledge that they are able to recall and report events reliably. In general, laboratory studies involving eyewitness accounts indicate that children as young as four years of age can present testimony that is as reliable as that of adults (Melton, 1985). Interestingly, children are no more likely to lie than adults (Myers, 1994). Errors in their testimony are primarily those of omission (Goodman et al., 1987). When questioned through free recall about what they have experienced, children may be less forthcoming than adults but are nonetheless accurate in their descriptions (Melton, 1985). However, retrospective studies of children demonstrate that traumatic events are often vividly remembered (Terr, 1981, 1983). The threat of injury and degree of trauma may also result in children's attempting to control their fear by reconstructing events to make them seem less threatening (Eth and Pynoos, 1985).

The need to question children in a detailed manner raises concerns about their suggestibility and the extent to which their developmental level allows them

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

to be influenced by others. Myers (1994) notes that researchers studying children's susceptibility to suggestion can be separated into two groups. One emphasizes children's susceptibility when being tested in artificially and sometimes extremely stressful situations. The second group acknowledges children's limitations but offers evidence that they can resist suggestion. Identifying children's strengths and weaknesses, these researchers concentrate on methods to improve testimony (Goodman et al., 1987).

Research comparing children and adults in simulated situations has shown that younger children (age 3 and below) consistently recall less information and answer objective questions less accurately (Goodman et al., 1987), although other results reveal that adults and 6-year-olds differed little in their ability to answer objective questions (Goodman and Reed, 1986). Younger children, like adults, have proven to be more suggestible when the interviewer is seen as an authoritative figure (Ceci et al., 1987). Although children may have difficulty distinguishing between their own thoughts and actions, they are able to separate another person's actions from their own thoughts (Johnson and Foley, 1984). The potential suggestibility of children necessitates careful interviewing techniques by professionals involved in legal investigation and prosecution of child maltreatment.

Given that most research is conducted in artificial circumstances that often bear little resemblance to the courtroom or the judicial process, the strength of laboratory research findings is uncertain when applied to real-life situations. The courtroom presents children with a mystifying and stressful environment. Cross-examination, facing the defendant, and testifying for long periods of time may affect children's ability to testify competently and accurately.

The impact of testifying can be harmful or beneficial for children; there is evidence for both. Some researchers believe that testifying in the courtroom can further traumatize children (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1994). Others believe that testifying can be beneficial, if children are provided with an opportunity to tell their story and to be believed (Runyan et al., 1988).

5A-7: Evidentiary Reforms

Increased recognition of the need to assist and protect child witnesses in court has led to the development of innovative procedural and evidentiary approaches, many of which raise issues of constitutionality, due process, and fairness. Reforms have involved system changes, such as modifications in the rules of evidence, exceptions to the restricted use of hearsay testimony, and the use of child advocates in the courtroom. A primary concern has been to shield children from having to confront the defendant in person. The use of videotaping and closed circuit television, which allows for a live transmission to the courtroom

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

from a nearby location, is currently allowed in some states. The impacts of these reforms on children, adolescents, adults, and legal procedures remain unknown.

Although evidentiary reforms are the subject of intense debate, there are no evaluations in this area that meet the committee's criteria for use of a comparison or control group. Research to determine the efficacy of various reforms is limited, and knowledge of their actual impact on children is anecdotal. Innovations that enhance a child's ability to recall and relate with accuracy may improve the prosecution of child maltreatment cases that involve criminal acts. But given that the court must choose among the rights of the defendant, standards of evidence, and the potential harm to the child, further investigation of the reforms under consideration is warranted.

5A-8: Procedural Reforms

Recognizing that children often need support when they testify in the courtroom, provisions to allow for victim advocates and guardians ad litem have increased. Victim advocates are often part of a community-based program not officially affiliated with the criminal justice system. Guardians ad litem (''for the suit") are appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child in a legal proceeding. Statutes vary with regard to the types of hearings and proceedings that advocates can attend, but usually one person, such as a parent, relative, or friend, is permitted to stay with the child and may even hold the child's hand (Whitcomb, 1992). Legal issues surrounding guardians ad litem include questions regarding their legal status, their proper function and responsibility, and their right to privileged communication with the child (Whitcomb, 1992).

In this area no evaluations meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. One study that did not include a comparison group found that children testifying in criminal court were better able to answer questions and appeared less frightened when a parent or loved one was allowed to remain with them (Goodman et al., 1987). Additional efforts to streamline the judicial process have been made but remain unevaluated in the research literature. Recent innovations include the development of specialized child advocacy teams, multidisciplinary teams to coordinate investigations, and specialized police investigative units.

Domestic Violence Interventions

Before the 1970s, legal institutions responded with ambivalence to violence toward wives and intimate partners. The convergence of the interests of feminists, victim advocates, and legislators led to a series of reforms beginning in the late 1970s to strengthen criminal justice responses to wife beating (Lerman, 1981; Dutton, 1988). By 1980, 47 states had passed domestic violence legislation mandating changes in protective orders, enabling warrantless arrest for misdemeanor assaults, and recognizing a history of abuse and threat as part of a legal

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
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defense for battered women who kill their abusive husbands.1 Police response and arrest procedures changed not only in response to these pressures, but also pursuant to successful litigation by women against police departments for their failure to enforce criminal laws and protect them from violent partners (see, for example, Scott v. Hart , U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, C76-2395; Bruno v. Codd, 47 N.Y. 2d 582, 393 N.E. 2d 976, 419 NYS 2d 901, 1979; and Thurman v. City of Torrington, 595 F. Supp. 1521, 1984).

The array of statutory, procedural, and organizational reforms has covered nearly every aspect of the legal system. Police departments have adopted proarrest or mandatory arrest policies. Domestic violence units were formed in prosecutor's offices, and treatment programs for abusive husbands were launched in probation departments and by community-based groups. Reforms in protective and restraining order legislation enabled emergency, ex parte relief that included no-contact provisions as well as economic and other tangible assistance to battered women. These forms of relief, as well as the application of criminal laws, were extended to women in unmarried cohabiting couples and to divorced and separated women. A small number of jurisdictions have developed coordinated, systemic responses that bring to bear the full range of social controls and victim supports for battered women.

Interventions to control violence against adult intimate partners reflect three separate but related policy goals: criminal punishment and deterrence of batterers, rehabilitation of batterers, and protective interventions designed to ensure the safety and empowerment of victims. Legal institutions have been used to advance each of these goals, but the evaluations of interventions are complicated by the lack of common measures that could assess whether progress in one area helps or impedes the achievement of other policy goals. In addition, the research literature does not include evaluations of general deterrent efforts of these reforms (the extent to which legal interventions reduced the level of domestic violence in a community). The literature examines the effects of legal interventions only on the identified cases to which they apply.

Eight interventions are reviewed in the sections that follow: (1) reporting requirements, (2) protective orders, (3) arrest procedures, (4) treatment for domestic violence offenders, (5) criminal prosecution, (6) specialized courts, (7) systemic approaches, and (8) training for criminal justice personnel. The sections are keyed to the appendix tables that appear at the end of the chapter.

5B-1: Reporting Requirements

Unlike the reporting of child maltreatment, which is mandatory by law in all states, the reporting of domestic violence is often part of the state's injury reporting

1  

The "battered woman's defense" was applied not only in cases in which the woman killed the man during an attack, but also in cases in which the man was not actively threatening or abusing the woman at the time of the incident (Schneider, 1980).

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

requirements and varies by state jurisdiction. As of August 1996, 45 states and the District of Columbia had laws that require health professionals to report, usually to law enforcement officials, certain injuries suspected of being caused by domestic violence (Hyman et al., 1995); 41 states require reporting by health care practitioners when a patient presents an injury that appears to have been caused by a gun, knife, firearm, or other deadly weapon. In 18 states and the District of Columbia, a report is required when the patient's injuries are suspected of having resulted from an illegal act; since battering—the physical or sexual assault of an intimate partner—is considered criminal in all states, this requirement is tantamount to requiring reports for injuries caused by domestic violence. In only five states do the reporting laws specifically and narrowly require the reporting of injuries when domestic violence is suspected.

In 1994, California enacted the first state legislation requiring health care professionals to report domestic violence to legal agencies. More uniform reporting could provide datasets similar to those available for child maltreatment, thereby allowing better tracking of prevalence trends. However, the disadvantages of mandatory reporting discussed above (5A-1) may be even more serious for domestic violence than for child maltreatment. Those who work with battered women argue that mandatory reporting could undermine the autonomy of adult women, prevent them from seeking necessary services, and in some cases put them at increased risk of serious harm.

There have been no evaluations of reporting requirements for domestic violence. In light of the potential dangers to victims, careful evaluation of the new mandatory reporting law in California seems warranted before other states pass similar requirements.

5B-2: Protective Orders

Beginning with the passage of the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act in 1976, every state now provides for protective orders in cases of domestic violence (Klein, undated). Protective orders are civil injunctions that establish restraints against a person accused of threatening or harassing the individual who requests the order. Civil orders of protection (also known as restraining orders) are issued by the courts upon request by a victim of domestic violence; they state that the offender (the "respondent") may not assault her, enter her home, approach her, or have any communication with her for a specified period of time. States typically allow for temporary and permanent protective orders; temporary orders are in effect for a short period of time, often several weeks, and may be issued on an emergency basis without a hearing. A permanent order may be awarded after a hearing; permanent protective orders are often good for one to three years (Klein and Orloff, 1996).

The advantages of protective orders are that they are victim-initiated and timely. They allow a relaxed standard of proof, focus on the victim's protection,

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
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and can prescribe a wide range of specific interventions that address safety and economic well-being. However, only a few studies have examined their effectiveness in reducing domestic violence; the extent to which protective orders are used in conjunction with criminal prosecution and the types of errors that are avoided as well as associated with relaxed evidentiary standards are generally unknown. There are no evaluations in this area that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion.

In the absence of controlled studies, it is not possible to determine the role that protective orders play in discouraging the recurrence of violence. It has been suggested that temporary protective orders are frequently violated and that few sanctions exist for violations (Harrell et al., 1993). Protective orders can be issued by civil or criminal courts, but the large majority are handled by civil courts. The police have a long-standing ambivalence about the priority of enforcing civil remedies in the criminal justice system, and poor coordination of information between the civil and criminal systems may make it difficult for police to know who has a protective order when a "domestic" call is received. One study indicates that protective orders against respondents with a criminal history are likely to be less effective in deterring future violence than those obtained against respondents without such a history (Keilitz et al., 1996), but this study lacks a comparison or control group. Although protective orders are not designed to deter violent behavior, they may play a role in providing security to and building self-esteem for victims (Keilitz et al., 1996). It is uncertain whether protective orders can help deter future violence when combined with criminal prosecution or social interventions, highlighting the need for research experimentation to compare the relative impact of comprehensive legal reform efforts and single law enforcement strategies. Weak enforcement and limited punishment for violations may undermine the utility of the protective order.

The use of electronic devices to monitor compliance with protective orders is a recent innovation in a number of communities. These systems include alarm systems in victims' homes, portable panic buttons that victims can activate when offenders approach, and bracelets worn by the offender that set off alarms if he comes within a specified distance of the victim's home. Electronic systems have the potential to generate a swift response from police in the event of the violation of a protective order. Whether or not these systems increase victim safety has not yet been determined; however, both technical and operation problems have hindered the performance of electronic monitoring in home confinement programs for other crimes.

5B-3: Arrest Procedures

Arrest for domestic violence is perhaps the best-studied intervention for family violence. Many evaluations employ experimental designs, random assignment groups, common measures, and replication studies that represent exemplary

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

methods of evaluation. Table 5B-3 lists eight evaluations of arrest that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion.

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment is one of the first and most widely cited and influential criminal justice experiments in the area of family violence research (Sherman and Berk, 1984a). In that study, street-level police officers' responses to misdemeanor spouse assault were determined by random assignment to one of three treatments: (1) arresting the suspect, (2) ordering one of the parties out of the residence, and (3) advising the couple. Using victim interviews and official records of subsequent police contact, the researchers reported that the prevalence of subsequent offending—including assault, attempted assault, and property damage—was reduced by nearly 50 percent when the suspect was arrested (Sherman and Berk, 1984a:267). It is important to emphasize that only misdemeanor cases were included in the experiment, an eligibility criterion that reduces the generalizability of the experiments to felony cases involving serious assault or rape.

The study findings were widely publicized (Sherman and Cohn, 1989). The U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence endorsed the study's findings and recommended that state and local agencies adopt a policy toward spouse assault (U.S. Attorney General, 1984). Following the attention given to this single study's results, a dramatic change in formal policy consistent with the study's findings was reported by police departments in both large and small U.S. cities (Sherman and Cohn, 1989).

The Minneapolis experiment was a critical event in changing public and scholarly perceptions of nonfelony spouse assault from a family problem amenable to mediation and other informal, nonlegal interventions (Bard and Zacker, 1971) to a violation of the law requiring a formal criminal justice sanction. However, the initial reports of deterrent effects in the Minneapolis experiment were tempered by later criticisms of limitations in the design and claims of the overreach of its conclusions (Binder and Meeker, 1992). Replications of the Minneapolis experiment were conducted in five jurisdictions (see Table 5B-3): Omaha, Nebraska (Dunford et al., 1990); Charlotte, North Carolina (Hirschel and Hutchison, 1992); Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Sherman et al., 1992a); Dade County, Florida (Pate and Hamilton, 1992); and Colorado Springs, Colorado (Berk et al., 1992a). Known collectively as SARP (the Spouse Assault Replication Program), these five studies were designed with features that were intentionally similar: arrest as the selected treatment intervention; common eligibility criteria (misdemeanor cases of domestic violence); the use of victim reports and police reports as measures of outcome; and the use of random assignment. Although execution of each study varied among the five sites, some of which was necessitated by local law, the shared design format and common measures allowed general insights to be drawn from the five jurisdictions.

None of the five replication experiments show that arrest per se works in general to reduce subsequent violence. The findings on the specific deterrent

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

effect of arrest on the prevalence of reoffending—the central finding of the Minneapolis experiment—differ by data source and by site (Garner et al., 1995; Fagan and Browne, 1994). The policy implication of these findings is that arrest of all misdemeanor cases will not on average produce a discernible effect on recidivism. Although it is important to acknowledge a distribution of effects across the five sites, it is not clear whether this distribution is significant.

Conclusions about the ineffectiveness of deterrence based on the police experiments may be limited by the weak "dosage" of punishment in the arrest group—that is, in most cases arrest was the only sanction imposed. Most offenders were not prosecuted once arrested. Few were handcuffed, most spent only a few hours in custody, and only a few were jailed overnight (Sherman, 1992a). In some cases, however, augmentations were included—the Milwaukee group included an arrest-and-hold treatment (regarded as a higher dose than just arrest). The Omaha experiment included an "offender-absent" group: arrests were not made, but warrants were issued for batterers who had fled the scene prior to the arrival of police (Dunford et al., 1990). Felony cases were included in the Omaha offender-absent experiment, which had consistent evidence of deterrence.

The implications of these replication experiments do not imply that arrest is unnecessary. Apart from its effect on recidivism, arrest may serve the public's interest that justice be done, or it may serve as a general deterrent for others in the community—an impact that was not examined in the SARP studies. Furthermore, arrest may have an important effect on certain kinds of people. For example, most of the five SARP studies demonstrated a finding of "conditional deterrence"—that is, arrest and overnight incarceration awaiting arraignment appeared to deter batterers with strong informal social control, but not those who lack such controls. Tests of this hypothesis with data from four of the replications conducted by three independent teams of investigators (Sherman et al., 1992a; Pate and Hamilton, 1992; Berk et al., 1992b) all concluded that employed suspects were deterrable by arrest, whereas unemployed suspects were either less deterred or became more violent after randomly assigned arrest.

The interactions between employment status and arrest are limited by the fact that arrest was not randomly assigned to the employed and unemployed groups; they are also limited by the use of somewhat different measures of repeat offending across sites (Garner et al., 1995). But they were given further support by a reanalysis of the Milwaukee experiment that examined the amount of informal control in the community (Marciniak, 1994). Suspects randomly assigned to arrest in census tracts with low unemployment were deterred by arrest, independent of their individual employment status; suspects in high unemployment areas were more violent following arrest than after a warning.

The conclusion that the deterrent effect of arrest for misdemeanor violence depends on the level of informal social control led to recommendations against mandatory arrest laws that apply to misdemeanors in concentrated poverty areas (Sherman, 1992a), and in favor of community policing policies reached in collaboration

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

with local leaders. Such a proposal, however, does not address the potential general deterrent effects of mandatory arrest policies.

No rigorous tests of the general deterrent effects of arrest, let alone prosecution or sentencing, are available for either misdemeanor or felony domestic violence. Low prosecution rates for misdemeanor arrest—as low as 5 percent in Milwaukee (Sherman, 1992a)—suggest that major increases in prosecution will require a shift in the priorities and resources of local jurisdictions. Whether more court-imposed sanctions in combination with arrest could create general or specific deterrence of domestic violence remains unknown. Most research in this area generally does not examine the effects of different sentences on different types of batterers once domestic violence cases are prosecuted.

Further research on deterrent effects of legal interventions, both general and individual, should be a high priority. The Omaha offender-absent experiment, which remains unreplicated almost a decade after it was first reported, suggests that the use of warrants achieved a deterrent effect for suspects who were absent by the time police arrived, even though deterrence was not indicated by arresting offenders who were still present at the scene (Dunford et al., 1990). The deterrent effects of police intervention were clearer and more consistent across different outcome measures in this experiment than in any of the other conditions, indicating that the continuing threat of legal sanctions may have a stronger deterrent effect than the actual imposition of a sanction through the arrest process. Since almost half of all domestic violence suspects leave the scene before police arrive (Sherman, 1992b), offender-absent policy deserves far more attention. So does the finding that arrest backfires in urban poverty areas, where requests for police responses to domestic violence are heavily concentrated. Domestic violence policies are a critical part of the larger research agenda for such areas, where other kinds of violence are also highly concentrated (Wilson, 1996).

The difficulty of comparing results across different study designs illustrates several major challenges for family violence research evaluations: (1) maintaining experimental controls in service settings can involve substantial resource commitments by both the research team and the service agency; (2) the vast array and complexity of potential interventions necessitate careful identification of the critical components that warrant experimental analysis; (3) critical components often vary between experimental sites (for example, the length and severity of confinement practices may differ within and between jurisdictions); (4) certain interventions may stimulate different types of follow-up actions (such as the loss of a job or parole violation) that can interact with the arrest event; and (5) variations in the reporting and analysis procedures of individual studies can result in inconsistent reports of program effectiveness (Garner et al., 1995).

Attention to identification of critical components in interventions, common measures, and consistent program and research definitions in study design will improve the ability of the research community to provide more explicit guidance to the policy makers and service providers in designing law enforcement interventions

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

for family violence. The selection of outcomes of interest beyond recidivism rates can provide insights into other dimensions of behavior or service system characteristics that may be directly influenced by arrest policies and practices. Other outcomes that merit consideration in future evaluation studies are the impact of arrest on interactions between victim and offender, the impacts of arrest on others in the household (including children) and in the community, and the cost and unintended consequences of arrest policies. The latter category includes consideration of improper or unwarranted arrests and the likelihood of disproportionate arrests of certain groups of offenders (minority, low-income, unemployed).

5B-4: Court-Mandated Treatment for Domestic Violence Offenders

Mandating batterers to a treatment program in conjunction with other criminal justice sanctions, as a condition of probation or as an alternative to other sanctions, is gaining increasing popularity in courts across the country. Treatment interventions for batterers vary in several respects. They are administered by different service sectors, including probation departments, social service agencies, mental health settings, private agencies, battered women's shelters, and self-help groups. Treatment interventions and settings vary in their underlying assumptions about the causes of intimate violence and their operational characteristics, including the duration, frequency of contacts, skills of the service provider, and the objectives of treatment. Many interventions address anger management or the relationship of power and control to the use of violence; victim safety is often linked to offender's behavioral changes as central components of program development.

The courts generally do not recognize different types of batterers or make efforts to match batterer profiles to specific treatment types (Saunders and Azar, 1989), yet there may be considerable need to address these issues (Andrews et al., 1990). For example, violence toward intimates may be more intractable to treatment interventions for men with longer and more serious histories of intimate violence, men with criminal histories for stranger violence, and men with histories of traumatic exposure to violence as children (Fagan et al., 1984; Hamberger and Hastings, 1989).

There is little experimental or quasi-experimental evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of batterer interventions. Edleson and Tolman (1992) reviewed 19 studies published between 1981 and 1990 and found only one that used an untreated control group. Most studies have no comparison group and, of those that do, most rely on comparisons of program completers with noncompleters, a selection bias that presents serious obstacles to the assessment of treatment effectiveness. Two studies now under way will address the shortcomings of the research; one includes a randomized trial (Davis and Smith, 1995; Gondolf, 1995).

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
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Table 5B-4 lists eight evaluations of treatment interventions that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. In only one study were subjects randomly assigned to treatment or control conditions, but the sample size was very small (Palmer et al., 1992).

Two of the studies compare program completers to program dropouts (Edleson and Grusznski, 1989; Hamberger and Hastings, 1988) and four compare treated groups to nontreated groups (Chen et al., 1989; Dutton, 1986; Harrell, 1992; Palmer et al., 1992). Four of these six studies found significant differences in the rates of repeat domestic violence between those who completed treatment and those who either dropped out or did not receive treatment (Dutton, 1986; Edleson and Grusznski, 1989; Hamberger and Hastings, 1988; Palmer et al., 1992). In the other two, although there were no significant differences, the trend was for a lower rate of repeat domestic violence among treated batterers. Chen et al. (1989) also looked at the rate of being charged for any crime. Although they did not find a significant difference for domestic violence charges, men who were treated had significantly lower rates of being charged for any crime than those who were not treated.

Variations exist in the measurement of recidivism. Of the two studies that found no significant differences due to treatment, one relied solely on police data and the other solely on interview data; there does not appear to be a clear-cut difference between them. However, all the studies cautioned that using only offender self-reports was likely to underestimate the amount and severity of violence.

Several studies looked not only at repeat physical violence, but also at verbal and emotional abuse after treatment. Two found that verbal and emotional abuse continued even though physical violence rates were reduced (Edleson and Grusznski, 1989; Hamberger and Hastings, 1988). In contrast, another study found no significant difference in the reduction of physical violence between batterers in treatment and the control group, but it did find a significant decrease in verbal and emotional abuse by the treatment group (Harrell, 1992).

Because most of the studies did not use a random assignment design, the differences in outcome cannot be definitively attributed to the treatment. Although most of the studies statistically controlled for group differences, there may have been unidentified personality, motivational, or other traits that influenced the rates of repeat domestic violence.

Four studies dealt specifically with groups who had been mandated to treatment by the courts. Two found court-mandated treatment to significantly reduce recidivism rates, and two found no significant difference between treated and nontreated offenders. However, the high dropout rates among those in court-mandated treatment were striking. Between 25 and 37 percent of the offenders mandated to treatment in these studies either never showed up at all or dropped out fairly early in treatment. This rate of attrition is similar to that for batterer treatment in general (33 to 50 percent drop out after the first session) (Feazell et

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

al., 1984). Several of the researchers noted that the criminal justice system imposed few or no sanctions on those who did not fulfill their treatment obligation. This omission of sanctions for noncompleters raises serious questions about victim safety, since battered women are more likely to remain with a batterer who goes to treatment (Gondolf and Fisher, 1988). Court-mandated treatment may give these women a false sense of security.

Concern about the high attrition rates in these programs has fostered interest in examining whether pregroup preparation influences completion rates (Tolman and Bhosley, 1989). There was no significant difference in the percentage of men who went on to join the treatment group by type of pregroup preparation. Furthermore, the attrition rates do not appear to be much different from those achieved by programs with no preparation sessions.

As court-mandated treatment for batterers has become more pervasive, a number of states have set standards for programs, including length of treatment and type of program. Little empirical evidence currently exists to guide this standard setting (Edleson and Syers, 1990). The absence of quasi-experimental studies that can examine the comparative effects of different therapeutic approaches (psychopathology, cognitive-behavioral, and power control) and different types of treatment settings (individual, group, couples) with different types of batterers is a striking omission in the family violence research literature. Although a variety of treatment approaches appear to have positive effects for some batterers, dropout rates remain high and court mandates do not appear to facilitate completion rates for the typical offender. The absence of sanctions for failure to complete treatment is an area that warrants further attention to determine whether the positive effects of treatment are enhanced or restricted when penalties exist for dropping out.

5B-5:

Criminal Prosecution

Historically, prosecutors, like the police, have been accused of disinterest in family violence cases, failing to file cases presented by the police and discouraging willing victims from pursuing criminal complaints. With the advent of special prosecution units in the early 1980s, an atmosphere and organizational context developed in prosecutors' offices in which spouse assault cases had high status. This created incentives for vigorous prosecution of domestic violence cases and reduced competition with other high-visibility cases in other units for scarce trial and investigative resources (Forst and Hernon, 1985). In addition, some prosecutors adopted no-drop policies that avoided the last-minute withdrawal of charges by victims, practices that frustrated both police and judges. Critics suggested, however, that no-drop policies discouraged some women from use of the legal system to end the violence. Furthermore, the costs associated with no-drop policies and more aggressive discretionary decisions to bring charges remain uncertain.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

Few studies have documented the effects of prosecution on spouse or partner assault. Most studies of prosecution of partner violence have focused on prosecutorial decision making regarding the sorting and selecting of cases for prosecution (e.g., Schmidt and Steury, 1989). One study found subgroup differences similar to those reported by Sherman et al. (1991) for arrests (Fagan, 1989). Men with prior arrest records or lengthy histories of severe violence toward their partners were more likely to reoffend if prosecuted, compared with men who were not prosecuted. Again, evidence of counterdeterrent effects raises serious questions not only about the extent to which legal sanctions could achieve deterrent effects, but also about the interactions of violent men with legal institutions that may produce this effect. The consistent absence of research on the effects of different sentences makes it difficult to assess the impact of court actions on diverse subgroups.

Table 5B-5 lists the only study on prosecution that meets the committee's criteria for inclusion. In the Indianapolis Domestic Violence Prosecution Experiment, the most comprehensive study of prosecution, 678 cases were randomly assigned to one of three recommended prosecution goals representing the judges' traditional response to these cases: diversion to counseling, probation with counseling, and other sentencing such as fines, probation, jail time (Ford and Regoli, 1993). No differences in repeat violence were found for any of the three case disposition practices. The only combination of policy and practice affecting new violence was permitting victims to drop charges and whether or not they did so. Victims who were permitted to drop charges but did not do so were significantly less likely to experience revictimization within 6 months after case closure.

The results of this study suggest small marginal gains in deterrence from the use of the threat of prosecution. However, the results are difficult to interpret due to the small sample sizes. Furthermore, as in the arrest studies, the most serious offenders—those with previous felony convictions or prior convictions of violence against the same victim—were not included. The Indianapolis study, however, does raise the hypothesis that the threat of prosecution, placed in the hands of the victim to use in her efforts to end her partner's violence, may have deterrent effects (Ford, 1991; Ford and Regoli, 1993). When coupled with informal sources of social control, the threat of prosecution may have greater deterrent salience compared with the more typical deterrence model, in which threats are contingent on the dynamics and processes of legal institutions.

5B-6:

Specialized Courts

The creation of specialized courts for spouse and partner assault cases is a response to the devaluation of these cases in regular courts. The ''stream of cases" argument suggests that cases are prioritized for processing and the allocation of punishment resources according to their relative severity compared with other cases in the same context (Emerson, 1983; Jacob, 1983). In this view,

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

domestic violence cases may be assigned a lower priority for prosecution and punishment when placed alongside cases of violence involving strangers.

In the specialized court, intimate violence does not compete with other violence cases. This type of court seeks to reduce the large number of domestic violence cases that are dropped from the legal system because of prosecution difficulties and the reluctance of many complaining witnesses to testify or provide evidence. It also seeks to assign substantive punishment—such as fines, supervised probation, and imprisonment—and broaden the range of sanctions beyond the narrow band of arrest-only cases.

There are no evaluations of specialized courts that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. The use of the experimental protocols in court evaluations is rare, often because of the legal and ethical complications as well as problems in design and methodology (Fagan, 1990). What follows is based on the descriptive literature.

The Dade County (FL) Domestic Violence Court represents an interdisciplinary and integrated system-wide approach in which members of the court, led by the judiciary, work together as a team toward a shared goal of reducing family violence. It is a criminal court with a civil component that can serve as a coordinated, systemic response to the treatment of domestic violence cases in the courts, dealing with misdemeanor cases, civil orders of protection, and violation of civil protection orders. The Dade County Domestic Violence Court has been evaluated using an experimental design; most of the analysis is focused on the role of substance abuse in domestic violence and the effect of a treatment approach that integrates batterer and substance abuse treatment (Goldkamp, 1996).

5B-7: Systemic Approaches

Systemic responses that coordinate criminal justice, social service, and community-based programs have been developed in a few jurisdictions, notably Duluth, Minnesota; Quincy, Massachusetts; and San Francisco. Although these efforts may take many forms, at a minimum they involve efforts to establish communication among criminal justice and social service agencies, the establishment of advocacy services to meet victims' needs, and policies aimed toward more aggressive apprehension and sanctioning of offenders (Worden, 1995). Coordinated community approaches frequently emphasize batterer intervention programs as the appropriate destination for offenders: the criminal justice system's role is to apprehend, supervise, and punish offenders for failure to comply with treatment requirements.

Although there may be many benefits and impacts of coordinated responses, these programs are very difficult to evaluate (see the discussion in Chapter 7). Establishing comparison conditions internally or across communities requires examining the separate components that contribute to the intensity of social control in a community. In this type of analysis, the effects of prosecution or

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

advocacy need to be distinguished from the effects of treatment design or content to identify the critical components that contribute to change in individuals and law enforcement systems.

A broader discussion of service integration and community-charge interventions is included in Chapter 7. In this discussion we review systemic approaches that are focused on and administered by law enforcement agencies.

Table 5B-7 lists two evaluations of coordinated efforts that meet the committee's criteria for inclusion. One study looked primarily at process variables—that is, the impact of coordinated efforts on arrest rates, prosecution rates, and rates of mandated counseling (Gamache et al., 1988). The study found a statistically significant increase in the percentage of calls that resulted in arrest and the percentage of arrests that resulted in prosecution following establishment of a community intervention project in each of three communities. There was also a significant increase in the percentage of men mandated to counseling in each of the communities, indicating that coordination among various parts of the criminal justice and social service systems may increase criminal justice responses to domestic violence. However, as discussed in other sections of this chapter, arrest, prosecution, and treatment do not necessarily ensure a reduction in future violence.

The other study examined the impact of public education and joint police/social worker home visits on recidivism and the use of services (Davis and Taylor, 1995). Residents of public housing projects in three police districts were randomly assigned to receive public education about domestic violence services or to a control group. At 6-month follow-up, no significant differences were observed in the number or severity of victim-reported incidents of repeat violence between the experimental and control groups; however, both of the experimental groups were significantly more likely to call the police for the repeat violence than were control groups.

Systemic approaches designed to increase social controls that will lead to reductions in domestic violence in a community have yet to be tested rigorously in the evaluation literature. Some preliminary but promising evidence suggests that these comprehensive approaches increase law enforcement activity in the area of arrests and prosecutions, but their long-term effects on community safety, recidivism, and deterrence are not yet known.

5B-8: Training for Criminal Justice Personnel

Because the criminal justice and legal systems have tended to avoid involvement in family matters, some interventions have been aimed primarily at mobilizing these systems and overcoming their resistance to involvement in domestic violence. These efforts include legal reforms that allow (or mandate) warrantless arrest (see section 5B-3; Dunford et al., 1990); the training of police, prosecutors, and judges (see Chapter 8); and mandatory reporting laws (see section 5B-1).

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

New laws and policies are likely to have little impact on practice unless police officers, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice personnel are aware of them and are trained to implement them. Many jurisdictions have instituted some form of training on domestic violence for certain professionals. Training frequently includes information on the prevalence of family violence, on the dynamics of family violence (such as why women stay with an abusive spouse), and on local policies and resources.

There are no evaluations of the effectiveness of different training programs (Worden, 1995).

Elder Abuse Interventions

Legal responses to elder abuse have developed more slowly and are narrower in scope than responses to other forms of family violence. Laws that provide specific penalties for elder abuse and neglect that are separate from laws prohibiting their underlying crimes (such as assault) have only recently been enacted (Tatara, 1995). These statutes generally either follow the model of a state's child abuse statute and apply it to the elderly, or simply provide for an enhanced penalty if a crime is committed against an elderly person.

Jurisprudential reforms similar to those developed for spouse assault (e.g., warrantless arrests for misdemeanor assaults) and child abuse (e.g., procedures for child testimony) have not been forthcoming in the area of elder abuse. Moreover, there has been no pressure of increased caseloads to generate these reforms, and limited advocacy compared with the aggressive lobbying by feminist groups on behalf of battered women and child welfare advocates for abused children. Similar to the situation with regard to domestic violence cases over two decades ago, only the most serious cases are brought to the attention of criminal justice agencies, despite the modification of reporting laws to provide notice to law enforcement when cases of elder abuse are substantiated by adult protective services workers. Elder abuse cases remain the most hidden of all family violence, at least in terms of their presence in criminal court dockets. Their presence in civil court dockets is also limited to cases involving guardianship or court-ordered services in which abuse is alleged.

The role of the legal system in dealing with elder abuse increased during the 1980s (Anetzberger, 1995). Following the pattern set by responses to child abuse, mandatory reporting laws were passed in some states to bring abused elders and their abusers to the attention of appropriate authorities, often adult protective services agencies. In addition, some states have passed laws that increase the penalties for crimes against the elderly. However, criminal prosecution of elder abuse remains rare (Korbin et al., 1991).

Unlike child abuse, elder abuse often includes financial exploitation, which can include outright theft of an elderly person's property, coerced or involuntary transfer of property, and improper use of joint tenancies, powers of attorney, or

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

joint signatories on bank accounts. Some interventions specifically pertain to financial abuse and others to all types of elder abuse.

Five legal interventions for elder abuse are discussed in the sections below: (1) reporting requirements, (2) protective orders, (3) education and legal counseling, (4) guardians and conservators, and (5) arrest, prosecution, and other litigation. The committee found no evaluations of interventions for elder abuse that meet its criteria for inclusion. The sections that follow are based on descriptive literature.

5C-1: Reporting Requirements

Mandatory or voluntary reporting of elder abuse is specified in 42 states and the District of Columbia (Wolf, 1996). Studies in this area have examined variations in reporting practices and compared the effectiveness of voluntary and mandatory reporting systems (Alliance Elder Abuse Project, 1981; Wolf et al., 1984; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991b). A study by the General Accounting Office reported the view of supporters of mandatory reporting that legal requirements are necessary to encourage reporting practices and to remove impediments, such as fear of lawsuits, that might deter reports of elder abuse. The report also reported the view of proponents of voluntary reporting that legal requirements are not necessary because other factors, such as public education, prevention efforts, and caregiver relationships, will promote reporting practices. The General Accounting Office concluded that reporting laws, whether mandatory or voluntary, are not considered as effective as a high level of public and professional awareness in identifying, preventing, and treating elder abuse.

The states of Illinois and Pennsylvania have adopted voluntary reporting practices combined with emphasis on public and professional education (Illinois Department on Aging, 1990; Pennsylvania Attorney General's Task Force, 1988). One researcher observed that increasing the knowledge and understanding of providers of human services for the aging who are at risk of abuse or neglect, rather than reporting requirements, would contribute more effectively to the identification, treatment, and prevention of elder abuse (Wolf, 1996).

5C-2:

Protective Orders

Most states have civil processes for separating older persons who are victims of physical abuse from abusers other than spouses (Eisenberg, 1991). In cases of physical abuse by a spouse, orders of protection are available to elderly victims under domestic violence provisions (see section 5B-2). Some states have adapted protective orders to also cover cases of financial abuse. For example, Illinois amended its Domestic Violence Act to allow prompt intervention in cases involving financial abuse of an elderly person in the same manner as physical abuse has been dealt with.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

There have been no studies evaluating the effectiveness of orders of protection in ensuring the safety of victims of elder abuse. Findings from the limited research on orders of protection in cases of domestic violence are not encouraging. Victims of elder abuse also face additional difficulties that may make them reluctant to seek an order of protection (Eisenberg, 1991). First, if the elderly victim is physically dependent on the abuser, removing the abuser from the home or ordering no contact with the victim may result in the need for the elderly victim to be placed in a long-term care facility. Second, if the victim does not own the home, such as when an elderly person resides with a son or daughter, questions may arise about whether the elderly victim has a right to stay in that home.

5C-3: Education and Legal Counseling

Educating older people about their legal rights to privacy, autonomy, control of assets, medical and personal decision making, and freedom from abuse is thought to be one important means of preventing elder abuse. For competent elderly persons, the provision of information about their legal rights and the possible consequences of such actions as property transfers and granting powers of attorney may be sufficient to prevent financial abuse by a family member or caregiver. Anecdotal evidence from a legal clinic in Illinois suggests that legal counseling may help the elderly person make informed decisions independent of the influence of family members or caregivers who are trying to exploit them (Eisenberg, 1991). Legal assistance can also help the elderly person to place assets outside the reach of third parties. For example, signatories on bank accounts can be changed, accounts can be consolidated under the elderly person's name, and existing powers of attorney can be revoked. An attorney may also provide referrals to appropriate social services that can provide support to the elderly person.

The situation becomes more complicated if the elderly abused person is not competent to make decisions regarding personal care and property and did not make previous arrangements through a durable power of attorney or living trust. In such cases, a substitute decision maker must be appointed before any informal or formal legal remedies can be pursued.

Although anecdotal evidence suggests that legal counseling and other legal remedies may prevent abuse and improve the lot of the elderly victim of financial abuse, there have been no rigorous evaluations of these interventions.

5C-4:

Guardians and Conservators

In order to protect the person or property of an incapacitated elderly person, it is common for the court to appoint a substitute decision maker. Although the term varies from state to state, guardian often refers to someone authorized to

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

make decisions about personal care, such as housing or health care; conservator often refers to someone authorized to make decisions about property.

Traditionally, the assignment of a guardian for an elderly person was tantamount to declaring that person incompetent and leaving him or her no right to make decisions about personal or property matters. Although there are those for whom this level of guardianship is necessary, many elderly persons have difficulties in handling only specific areas of their lives. Guardianship and conservatorship policies have been criticized for lack of due process provisions, unnecessary and inappropriate loss of basic civil liberties, and inadequate standards, regulation, and oversight of surrogate decision makers (Wilber, 1991). To overcome some of these criticisms, states have moved toward the availability of limited guardians or conservators with authority to make decisions only on matters beyond the elderly person's ability to decide. In many states, the elderly person retains all rights not specifically removed by the court and given to the guardian (Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Inc., 1987).

It seems logical to assume that the appointment of a guardian or conservator is a useful remedy in instances of abuse or neglect of an incompetent elderly person. However, there is also the potential for abuse by the guardian or conservator. There have been no evaluations of the impact on elder abuse of appointing guardians or conservators. Nor have there been evaluations comparing the impact of general guardianship or conservatorship to that of more limited forms of surrogate decision-making power.

5C-5: Arrest, Prosecution, and Other Litigations

Most states do not keep arrest statistics for elder abuse, and very few such offenders are prosecuted (Tatara, 1995). There have been no studies of arrest or prosecution of elder abuse. Recent training programs have emerged for police, prosecutors, and bank employees to enhance their ability to detect and respond appropriately to elder abuse and exploitation.

Litigation to redress financial abuse is often a measure of last resort. An abused elderly person may be reluctant to pursue litigation against a family member. Courts, lawyers, and litigation can be intimidating and may frighten an elderly abused person. Court costs and legal fees can be prohibitively expensive. Finally, remedies to undo financial abuse are not straightforward and, in most states, must be borrowed from other areas of law that may not be familiar to many lawyers and judges (Eisenberg, 1991). In the early 1990s, states began passing legislation specifically aimed at remedies for financial abuse of the elderly, which may make it easier to successfully bring suit against a perpetrator of financial abuse.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

Conclusions

The most extensive area of study in evaluation of law enforcement interventions for family violence is the field of domestic violence. The most rigorous evaluation studies in this area focus on arrest policies and practices. Although arrest remains the most common and most studied form of law enforcement intervention in family violence cases (especially in the area of domestic violence), it is important to note that few arrests are made for any form of family violence given the reported prevalence. Prosecution remains the exception, and only a few cases receive substantive punishment. The broad array of existing interventions — including the use of mandatory reporting systems, protective orders, prosecution, specialized procedural and broad-based systemic reforms in the juvenile and domestic violence courts — has not received rigorous attention in the research literature and the effects are generally unknown.

Evaluations of legal interventions for family violence generally focus on the impact of the intervention on recidivism. Important outcomes in other domains, such as victim and community safety, offender health or well-being, level of family functioning, and the rights of those charged are generally unexamined. Local variations in reporting and law enforcement practices often inhibit the use of common measures in cross-site research studies, and rigorous efforts to impose systematic data collection practices can inhibit collaborative efforts between researchers and law enforcement officials. Even in such areas as the evaluation of spouse assault arrest policies, in which a number of replication studies have been conducted, consistent findings remain elusive because of significant variation in study design and outcome measures. The impact of these interventions on family violence remains poorly understood.

Despite these limitations, some tentative conclusions can be drawn from the research reviewed in this chapter:

  • State reporting systems constitute an intervention that affects the largest number of children and families in the area of family violence. The passage of mandatory reporting laws for child and elder abuse has been followed by increased reports of abuse and neglect. However, mandatory reporting systems have not been studied rigorously to determine whether the costs associated with administering a large investigative process have improved access to services or increased the safety and well-being of children or the elderly and their families. The comparative rate of errors in mandatory and voluntary reporting systems, in terms of both false positives and false negatives, remains uncertain.
  • None of the five spouse arrest replication experiments reviewed show that arrest in the absence of other sanctions works in general to reduce subsequent violence by the offender. Some research studies suggest that arrest may be a deterrent for employed and married individuals (people who have a stake in social conformity) and may lead to an escalation of violence among those who do
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
  • not, but this hypothesis has not been tested by specifically examining the impact of arrest on groups that differ in social and economic status.
  • The continuing threat of legal sanctions may have a stronger deterrent effect in the area of domestic violence than the actual imposition of a sanction through the arrest process. This finding deserves further attention in future research studies and offender-absent policies, since almost half of all domestic violence suspects leave the scene before police arrive. The interaction of arrest policies with individual and community factors is another intriguing area of research that warrants further investigation not only in family violence studies, but also in studies of the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions in family interactions in different types of neighborhoods.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that specialized units and comprehensive reforms in police departments, prosecutors' offices, and specialized courts have improved the experiences of abused children and women. Some research suggests that protective orders may be an effective deterrent of future domestic violence when they are combined with the prosecution of violations, suggesting that comprehensive legal reforms are needed rather than relying on a single strategy.
  • Court-mandated treatment is becoming increasingly prevalent in the area of domestic violence, but the effectiveness of batterer treatment has not been examined in rigorous scientific studies. Batterer treatment programs may be helpful but require further effort to enforce referrals, to establish penalties for failure to comply with program requirements, to develop program components that can address the needs of different types of batterers, and to consider the unintended results that may be a consequence of the treatment program.
  • The absence of strong theory and common measures to guide the development of family violence treatment regimens, the heterogeneity of offenders (including patterns of offending and readiness to change) who are the subjects of protective orders or treatment, and low rates of attendance, completion, and enforcement are persistent problems that affect both the evaluation of the batterer treatment interventions and efforts to reduce the violence. A few studies suggest that court oversight does appear to increase treatment completion rates, which may enhance victim safety in the area of domestic violence, but it has not yet led to a discernible effect on recidivism rates in general.
  • Evaluations of legal interventions for elder abuse are virtually nonexistent. Many have been modeled on experiences with child abuse that may not be applicable to adults. Building evaluation components into elder abuse interventions as they are established could greatly improve the knowledge base in this area.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

TABLE 5A-3 Quasi-Experimental Evaluations of Court-Mandated Treatment for Child Abuse Offenders

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

Court-mandated treatment for child abuse offenders.

Irueste-Montes and Montes, 1988

N(X) = 35/24

N(O) = 30/18

Behavioral observations of parent-child dyads

Treated families in both mandatory and voluntary participation groups significantly increased their use of praise and descriptive praise with their children and significantly reduced their use of criticism. All subjects continued to attend to their children's annoying behaviors. Results of this comparison indicate that court-mandated treatment does not necessarily render abusive and neglectful parents less amenable to treatment.

3 years

Court-mandated family treatment program emphasizing child management skills.

Wolfe et al., 1980

N(X) = 25

N(O) = 46

Completion of treatment

Court-ordered participants were five times more likely to complete treatment than voluntary participants.

 

SOURCE: Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence Interventions, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

TABLE 5A-4 Quasi-Experimental Evaluations of Treatment for Sexual Abuse Offenders

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

In-patient, multimodal treatment for incest offenders and pedophiliacs consisting of group psychotherapy, social skills training, anger management, human sexuality education, psychodrama, films discussing victims, and stress inoculation.

Lang et al., 1988

N(incest offenders) = 29 N(pedophiles) = 22

Phallometric monitoring of sexual arousal patterns, recidivism data from law enforcement and clinics, psychometric assessments of mood states (anger, suspicion, anxiety, etc.)

Incest offenders showed improvement on 16 of 19 measures and showed more significant improvements on 5 measures compared with pedophiles. After a 3-year follow-up, two (7%) incest offenders and four (18%) pedophilic men reoffended according to law enforcement reports and community and outpatient clinic intake data.

Minimum of 6 months

3-year follow-up

Modification of sexual preference through electrical aversion, masturbatory reconditioning, and self-administration of smelling salts contingent on sexual thoughts about children.

Marshall and Barbaree, 1988

N(X) = 68

N(O) = 58

Sexual preference as measured by plethysmography, official recidivism data

Treated patients had lower recidivism rates than untreated patients, although recidivism for all patients increased over longer follow-up periods. Younger offenders and offenders who had engaged in genital-genital contact were most likely to reoffend.

Treatment group includes incest offenders as well as nonfamilial molesters; recidivism data reported separately for incest offenders

 

SOURCE: Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence Interventions, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

TABLE 5B-3 Quasi-Experimental Evaluations of Arrest Procedures

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

One of four police dispositions: arrest coupled with protective order, protective order with crisis counseling of offender, protective order only; mediation.

Berk et al., 1992a

N = 1,658

Police records and victim interviews

Results support evidence for a deterrent effect of arrest among ''good risk" offenders who presumably have more to lose from being arrested. The balance of evidence is more equivocal for a "labeling effect" in which arrest increases the likelihood of new violence.

randomly assigned to one of four treatments

Follow-up at 6 months after entering study

One of three police dispositions: mediation, separation, or arrest.

Dunford et al., 1990

N(mediation) = 91/85 N(separation) = 89/80 N(arrest) = 83/77

Police records, including court appearances and convictions, Conflict Tactics Scales completed by husbands and wives

No differences by disposition were found in prevalence or frequency of repeat offending.

Victims interviewed 6 months postintervention

On-scene warrantless arrest.

Ford and Regoli, 1993

N = 188/106

Recidivism rates: characteristics of violent incidents (severity, frequency, and length of time between the old and new incidents); all data gathered from victim interviews, official records, police records, complaints to court

Policy alternatives to traditional sentencing do not appear more effective in protecting victims 6 months following case settlement. When defendants are arrested under a warrant and their victims are permitted to drop charges and choose not to, those women are significantly more likely to be safe from continuing violence.

Victims interviewed 6 months postintervention

One of three police responses: advising/separation, citation to the offender, arrest.

Hirschel and Hutchinson, 1992

N = 573

Arrest recidivism self-report of subsequent violence by victim

Arrest of misdemeanor spouse abusers does not appear to be a more effective deterrent to repeat abuse than other police responses.

Arrest or nonarrest.

Pate and Hamilton, 1992

N = 815

Interviews with victims conducted immediately after the presenting incident and again 6 months afterward.

Overall, formal arrest has no effect on occurrence of a subsequent assault. Arrest does have a statistically significant deterrent effect among employed suspects, whereas arrest leads to a significant increase in subsequent assaults among unemployed suspects.

Victims interviewed 6 months postintervention

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size; Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

Mediation or arrest.

Sherman and Berk, 1984a

N = 314/161

Police reports of subsequent violence, interviews with victims

Arrested suspects manifested significantly less subsequent violence than those who were ordered to leave. The victim report data show that the arrested subjects manifested significantly less subsequent violence than those who were advised.

Victims interviewed 6 months postintervention

One of three police responses: short arrest, full arrest, and mediation.

Sherman et al., 1992b

N = 1,200/563

"Hotline" reports called in to local battered women's shelter by police encountering a case of domestic battery, arrests for repeat violence, offense reports of repeat violence, two interviews conducted with victim

Results show no evidence of an overall long-term deterrent effect of arrest. The initial deterrent effects observed for up to 30 days disappear. By 1 year later, short arrest alone, and short and full arrest combined, produce an escalation effect. Arrest has different effects on different types of offenders.

Victims interviewed 6 months postintervention

One of three police responses: arrest, citation, or no action.

Steinman 1988, 1990

N(X) = 49/48

N(O) = 168/156

Conflict Tactics Scales, victim interviews, police and court records of repeat violence

Compared with no action, arresting and citing offenders produced more abuse in baseline cases and less when tied to other sanctions. Court sanctions coordinated with arrest policies did not lower abuse directly, but they transformed arrest and, to a smaller effect, citations into deterrents.

12- to 24-month follow-up

 

SOURCE: Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence and Interventions, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

TABLE 5B-4 Quasi-Experimental Evaluations of Court-Mandated Treatment for Domestic Violence Offenders

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

Court-mandated batterer treatment.

Chen et al., 1989

N(court-referred abuses) = 120 (12% attended no sessions, 63% attended more than three-fourths of the sessions) N(nonreferred abuses) = 101

Recidivism reports and a weighted offense scale to measure recharging on any offense, with violent offenses given more weight

Results indicate that the relationship between attendance and recidivism is not linear. Clients who attended 75% of the treatment sessions or more showed decreased recidivism; others showed no impact.

8 2-hour sessions

Court-mandated batterer treatment.

Dutton, 1986

N(X) = 50

N(O) = 50

Police records, including court appearances and convictions; Conflict Tactics Scales completed by husbands and wives

Program completers had a 4% recidivism rate 3 years posttreatment according to police records. Conflict Tactics Scales scores reported by both treated husbands and wives showed significant posttreatment decreases from pretreatment levels. Rates of verbal aggression also decreased posttreatment.

3 hours per week for 16 weeks

Follow-up ranged between 6 months and 3 years postintervention

Orientation groups, therapeutic treatment groups, and follow-up self-help group for batterers.

Edleson and Grusznski, 1989

Study One N(program completers) = 32; 27 of their female partners were interviewed N(noncompleters) = 31; 30 of their female partners were interviewed

Interview with female partners, modified Conflict Tactics Scales

Approximately two-thirds of the men who completed treatment were found to be nonviolent 6-10 months postintervention. Slightly more than one-half of the men who received some treatment but did not complete the program were reported as nonviolent postintervention.

Study Three: N(program completers) = 112; 84 of their female partners were interviewed N(noncompleters) = 47; 37 of their female partners were interviewed

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

 

Edleson and Grusznski, 1989 (continued)

Therapy groups met 2.5 hours twice a week for 8 weeks. Self-help follow-up groups met 2.5 hours per week for an indefinite period.

 

 

Follow-up interviews about 1 year after intake.

Three treatment modalities were explored: a self-help model, an education model, and a combined model of group work; each was offered in 12 and 32 sessions to batterers.

Edleson and Syers, 1990

N(X) = 283/70 12 weeks of one 2.25-hour session per week; or 16 weeks of two 2.25-hour sessions per week

Reports of repeat partner violence, incidence and severity, use of threats of violence as reported by partner or batterer if partner not available

Two-thirds of the men who completed the intervention programs who could be located at follow-up were found to be nonviolent. Short-term, relatively structured group treatment tended to produce the most successful results. Men's involvement with the courts and lack of prior mental health treatment predicted lower levels of violence at the 18-month follow-up.

6- and 18-month follow-up

Cognitive behavioral skills training program for male spouse abusers with three components: cognitive restructuring, communication/assertiveness, and active-coping relaxation.

Hamberger and Hastings, 1988

N(X) = 71/32 N(noncompleters) = 36

Physical violence recidivism as reported by batterer or partner on Conflict Tactics Scales, and official police records of calls and arrests

Results showed significant decreases in occurrence of violent behaviors after treatment and up to 1-year follow-up in subjects (32) completing the intervention. Compared with program dropouts (36), completers showed a lower rate of physical violence recidivism over the 1-year follow-up period. There was evidence of continued psychological abuse among completers in some cases.

3 weeks of psychometric evaluation and 12 weeks of 2.5 hours of weekly group therapy

1-year follow-up

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

Court-mandated, cognitive-behavioral batterer treatment offered by three organizations: a nonprofit association, a church sponsored agency, and a feminist organization.

Harrell, 1992

N(nonprofit) = 43 N(church) = 51 N(feminist) = 13 25% did not complete assigned treatment

N(0) = 86

Data gathered from victim and offender interviews: reports of severe violence, physical aggression, threats of violence, psychological abuse

Treatment did not appear to reduce the prevalence or incidence of abuse. There were no significant differences between treated offenders and those not ordered to treatment in the cessation of severe violence or threats of violence. In both groups, 80-85% abstained from severe violence during the treatment period. A significantly smaller proportion of offenders in treatment abstained from physical aggression: 57% for treated offenders versus 88% for nontreated offenders.

Nonprofit: 12 weekly group sessions of 1 to 1.5 hours Church: individual intake session followed by eight group sessions of 1 to 1.5 hours Feminist: minimum of 12 weekly group sessions of 1.5 hours 4- to 6-month postintervention follow-up

Court-managed batterer treatment in a psychoeducational, unstructured group.

Palmer et al., 1992

N(X) = 30/17 N(O) = 28/15

Subject and partner reports and police reports of repeated violence against partners, Basic Personality Inventory

Recidivism rates based on police reports were found to be lower for the treatment group than for the control group. They were also found to be lower for men initially exhibiting greater depression. Short, unstructured treatment intervention seemed to have long-term benefits.

10 weekly 1.5 hour sessions

1-year follow-up

Group preparation for men about to enter batterer treatment group.

Tolman and Bhosley, 1989

N(T×1) = 44/16 N(T×2) = 68/34

Rate of joining the treatment group after completing the orientation; rate of attendance at batterer treatment group after completing the orientation.

The intensive workshop format resulted in significantly fewer dropouts from the ongoing group prior to completion of four sessions. The impact of the intensive workshop may diminish over time.

T×1 = maximum of four group sessions, 1 hour each

T×2 = intensive pre-groupworkshop,

12 hours over 2 days

 

SOURCE: Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence and Interventions, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×
Complete table on previous page.
Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
×

TABLE 5B-5 Quasi-Experimental Evaluations of Criminal Prosecution

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

Prosecution options: diversion to counseling, probation with counseling, other sentencing, drop permitted.

Ford and Regoli, 1993

N(diversion) = 112/84 N(probation) = 116/74 N(other) = 112/83

N(drop permitted) = 112

Repeat violence, severity and frequency of violence, time to reoffense, data collected from victim interviews, offender interviews, and police records

Policy alternatives to traditional sentencing do not appear more effective in protecting victims 6 months following case settlement. When defendants are arrested under a warrant and their victims are permitted to drop charges and choose not to, those women are significantly more likely to experience less violence.

Follow-up 6 months after settlement of case

 

SOURCE: Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence Interventions, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998.

TABLE 5B-7 Quasi-Experimental Evaluations of Systemic Approaches

Intervention

Citation

Initial/Final Sample Size Duration of Intervention Follow-up

Data Collection

Results

Home follow-up visits by social workers and police; public education.

Davis and Taylor, 1995

N(X) = 436/414

Victims' self-reports of violence (modification of Straus' weighing system), police records, awareness and use of domestic violence services

Results indicate no effects of home visits or public education on the number or severity of violent incidents as reported by victims. Data did indicate significant increases in reports of violence to the police as a function of both home visit and public education interventions.

72% of victims were interviewed at 6 months postintervention

Implementation of coordinated police, judicial, and social service response.

Gamache et al., 1988

Three communities

Arrest data, rate of prosecution, number of convicted batterers mandated to counseling

Community intervention projects had a significant impact on both police and judicial responses to woman battering.

 

SOURCE: Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence Interventions, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998.

Suggested Citation:"5 LEGAL INTERVENTIONS." Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 1998. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5285.
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Reports of mistreated children, domestic violence, and abuse of elderly persons continue to strain the capacity of police, courts, social services agencies, and medical centers. At the same time, myriad treatment and prevention programs are providing services to victims and offenders. Although limited research knowledge exists regarding the effectiveness of these programs, such information is often scattered, inaccessible, and difficult to obtain.

Violence in Families takes the first hard look at the successes and failures of family violence interventions. It offers recommendations to guide services, programs, policy, and research on victim support and assistance, treatments and penalties for offenders, and law enforcement. Included is an analysis of more than 100 evaluation studies on the outcomes of different kinds of programs and services.

Violence in Families provides the most comprehensive review on the topic to date. It explores the scope and complexity of family violence, including identification of the multiple types of victims and offenders, who require different approaches to intervention. The book outlines new strategies that offer promising approaches for service providers and researchers and for improving the evaluation of prevention and treatment services. Violence in Families discusses issues that underlie all types of family violence, such as the tension between family support and the protection of children, risk factors that contribute to violent behavior in families, and the balance between family privacy and community interventions.

The core of the book is a research-based review of interventions used in three institutional sectors--social services, health, and law enforcement settings--and how to measure their effectiveness in combating maltreatment of children, domestic violence, and abuse of the elderly. Among the questions explored by the committee: Does the child protective services system work? Does the threat of arrest deter batterers? The volume discusses the strength of the evidence and highlights emerging links among interventions in different institutional settings.

Thorough, readable, and well organized, Violence in Families synthesizes what is known and outlines what needs to be discovered. This volume will be of great interest to policymakers, social services providers, health care professionals, police and court officials, victim advocates, researchers, and concerned individuals.

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