Domestic violence offenses
Domestic violence is a widespread social problem impacting an estimated 6.2 million women in the United States each year (Department of Justice, 2008). The purpose of this study was to determine the existence, prevalence, and degree of disparity in prosecution and sentencing based on domestic violence status, victim-offender characteristics, and victim-offender relationship. The study specifically looked at cases of assault and battery, which is the most prevalent type of offense in domestic violence (Buzawa, Buzawa, and Stark, 2012; Payne & Wermeling, 2009). This study utilized simple random sampling, involved an archival analysis of court records, and examined a ten-year period (2000-2010) at Salem District Court in Essex County, Massachusetts. This investigation found that the likelihood of a case not being prosecuted was affected by whether or not it was a domestic violence incident. Fifty-five percent of domestic violence cases resulted in dismissal, while only 45% of the non-domestic violence cases were dismissed. If prosecuted, 84% of domestic violence cases resulted in a suspended sentence, while only 21% of the non-domestic violence cases that were charged resulted in a suspended sentence. The results also showed that the degree of social closeness between a victim and offender influences the likelihood that a case will be prosecuted. For instance, an offender who assaults a family member or an acquaintance is more likely to be prosecuted than one who assaults an intimate partner. In addition, among prosecuted cases, domestic violence offenses resulted in shorter sentences and less severe sanctions relative to other offenses. The most significant implication of this study is that domestic violence victims continue to receive unequal treatment by the criminal justice system. Policy makers and those in the advocacy field can utilize this information to improve the prosecutorial and judicial response to domestic violence and to better guide victims through the judicial process.