Arrests for intimate partner violence in female detention patients


Arrests for intimate partner violence in female detention patientsB

To the Editor,

intimate partner violence remains an epidemic in the United States. Approximately 5.3 million IPV incidents occur each year, and most of these victims are women. Intimate partner violence incidents result annually in 2 million injuries and 1300 deaths [1]. With the increased awareness of IPV, there has been a subsequent increase in law enforcement involvement. Ninety-three percent of large local police agencies and 77% of sheriff’s departments reported having a written policy concerning domestic disturbances [1]. In addition, warrentless arrests in probable cause situations are currently permitted in most states [1].

However, policies favoring mandatory arrest for IPV have increased not only the arrest of the alleged perpetrator, but also the co-arrest of the alleged victim [2]. Although there are protocols for investigating an IPV incident and determining who is the primary aggressor, the situation can be confusing to a third party and police often arrest both parties. A study in Alaska demonstrated that police could not determine the aggressor in 12% of cases; in these instances, both parties were arrested 43% of the time [3]. Busch and Rosenberg [4] also reported that women were more likely than men to report victimization at the time of their arrest (24% vs 7%).

Our objective was to determine the frequency of co- arrests among female detention patients in an urban emergency department (ED). Our hospital is the only level 1 trauma center in the city, with an annual volume of 105000 visits. In addition, we serve the city and county law enforcement agencies, which bring all detained patients needing urgent or emergent medical treatment to our ED. We conducted a prospective chart audit over a 6-month period from November 2003 to April 2004. Interns who staffed the Detention section of the ED were instructed to fill out a standardized abstraction form on every female detention patient aged 18 years or older regardless of chief complaint. The abstraction form included information about the chief complaint and the situation of the arrest, as well as the

B Presented at the Southeastern Regional SAEM Meeting, March 2004.

location and type of injury on the body, ancillary studies performed, and procedures performed. This study was approved by our university’s institutional review board.

A total of 40 female detention patients were enrolled during the study period. Of these patients, 19 (47.5%) presented after an assault. Sixteen of these assaults were reported as IPV-related; of these, 10 (62%) stated that both they and their partner were arrested. In 6 cases, only the woman was arrested. Of the 16 IPV-related assaults, 11 patients had x-rays performed and 4 patients required laceration repair. Social work was consulted to see the patient in only 5 (31%) of cases.

One prior study demonstrated that an arrest for IPV decreases repeat IPV offenses, at least in the short term [5]. However, no study has examined what the effect on repeat IPV will be when both the victim and the perpetrator are arrested. The deterrent effect might be removed because perpetrators can play on a victim’s fear of arrest. In addition, police are more likely to be involved with IPV assaults in which the participants are unmarried, of lower educational status, and of minority race [5]. Saunders et al [6] found that officers who believed that IPV was justified in cases of infidelity were more likely to arrest the victim in a hypothetical situation [6]. Thus, a co-arrest policy will likely place a higher and unequal burden on certain women. In our study, 62% of women arrested in an IPV situation were co- arrests, and the majority had injuries significant enough to require ancillary studies or procedures. The long-term effect on these women, many (although not all) of whom can be assumed to be victims, has not been realized yet. Future research should focus not only on further delineating the problem, but also on the recidivism rate and subsequent Morbidity and mortality rates of couples involved in co-arrest for IPV.


  1. Zawitz M, Klaus P, Bachman R, et al. Violence between intimates. Washington (DC)7 Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice; 1994 [Selected Findings Report, NCJ 149259].
  2. Hamberger LK, Potente T. Counseling heterosexual women arrested for domestic violence: implications for theory and practice. Violence Vict 1994;9:125 – 37.
  3. Longoria CD. Implementation of police domestic violence policy. Alaska Justice Forum 1995;11:1 – 7.

0735-6757/$ – see front matter D 2005 doi:10.1016/j.ajem.2004.09.032

Correspondence 97

  1. Busch A, Rosenberg M. Comparing women and men arrested for domestic violence: a preliminary report. J Fam Violence 2004;19:49 – 57.
  2. Sherman L, Berk R. The specific deterrent effects of arrest for Domestic assault. Am Sociol Rev 1984;49:261 – 71.
  3. Saunders DG. The tendency to arrest victims of domestic violence. J Interpers Violence 1995;10:147 – 58.

Debra Houry MD, MPH Arthur Kellermann MD, MPH Department of Emergency Medicine Emory University School of Medicine

Atlanta, GA 30303, USA

Center for Injury Control Rollins School of Public Health Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

E-mail address: [email protected]

Laurie Bay, MD Jennifer Maddox, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine Emory University School of Medicine

Atlanta, GA 30303, USA

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