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Domestic violence victims are both similar to and strikingly different from other victims of violent crime. Thus they require all the information, assistance, and input that facilitates the committed, informed participation of other victims and witnesses, but beyond these, they require enhanced protection and advocacy.
Battered women are often similar to other victims of violent crime in that they want perpetrators to stop their conduct, to pay dues for the crimes committed, and to compensate victims for the losses sustained as a result of their criminal conduct. They are also similar to other crime victims in that they have interests in justice that may differ from the interests of the justice system. They may want privacy or anonymity in the prosecution process, whereas the criminal justice system values public accountability. They may want speedy disposition, whereas the justice system labors at a snail's pace. They may want input in decisions about plea negotiations and sentencing, whereas the justice system concludes that this inclusiveness precludes the expeditious handling of criminal cases, unduly interferes with prosecutorial discretion, or intrudes on the rights of defendants. They may want sentences for perpetrators that are specifically crafted to protect victims, whereas courts may focus on offender rehabilitation and ignore victim safety.
What is also true about battered women, as it is of other victims of violent crime, is that they are not all cut from the same cloth and do not all want the same outcomes. Battered women have varied interests in participation in the prosecution process and in outcomes. There is no profile of a battered woman witness that fits all or most battered women.
BARRIERS TO VICTIM PARTICIPATION IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Although each battered woman's experience should be recognized as unique, there are many commonalities among battered women victim-witnesses. Perhaps the most critical commonality is that battered women confront significant barriers to safe and effective participation as victim-witnesses in the criminal justice process.
RECIDIVISM AND RETALIATION
Like other victims of violent crime, battered women fear retaliation. Fully 50% of all victims of violent crime report being fearful that perpetrators will seek reprisal if victims participate in prosecution. Like other victim-witnesses who are threatened by the perpetrator (or his agent) during the pendency of prosecution, they are twice as likely to resist participation in prosecution as are those not threatened (Davis, Smith, & Henley, 1990).
The National Crime Survey (NCS) from 1978 to 1982 showed that an estimated 32% of battered women were revictimized within 6 months after the assault that gave rise to criminal justice intervention. They were victimized an average of three times each. In contrast, the 1982 NCS data on violence committed by strangers showed that only 13% of the victims of stranger-committed crimes were subsequently assaulted during a 6-month period. Unlike domestic violence victims, victims of stranger-committed crime were assaulted only once during that period (Langan & Innes, 1986).
There are many reasons why battered women appear to be at elevated risk for retaliatory violence. Most other victims of violent crime are not in a relationship with the defendant and are not living with (or did not formerly reside with) the defendant. Most have not previously suffered attacks or sustained injury at the hands of the defendant. Most have not been held hostage by the defendant or experienced his terroristic threats, targeted graphically at the victim or members of her family. Most other victim-witnesses are not economically dependent on the defendant during the pendency of prosecution, and, potentially, thereafter. Most will not be compelled into continuing contact with the defendant during the criminal process and after disposition because of shared parenthood. Most other victims of crime are not integrally interconnected with the criminal assailant. Most other victims of crime are not at elevated risk of violent assault after intervention by the criminal justice system. However, battered women are most often killed when attempting to seek legal redress or when leaving an abusive relationship (Browne, 1987; Sonkin, Martin, & Walker, 1985).
Criminal justice system personnel too often believe that battered women will be safer and less exposed to life-jeopardizing violence once they are separated from the offender and once prosecution has commenced. Quite to the contrary, evidence of the gravity of violence inflicted after separation of the couple is substantial. Batterers may, in fact, escalate their violence to coerce a battered woman into "reconciliation," to retaliate for the battered woman's participation in the prosecution process, or to coerce her into seeking termination of the prosecution. If the batterer cannot "recapture" the battered woman as his ally, he may seek retribution for her desertion and for her disloyalty in exposing him to criminal consequences. Although not all batterers engage in escalated violence during the pendency of prosecution, as many as half threaten retaliatory violence (Davis et al., 1990), and at least 30% of batterers may inflict further assaults during the predisposition phase of prosecution (Goldsmith, 1991).
A battered woman whose prior attempts to seek prosecution or civil protection orders, only to have the perpetrator escalate his violence, may be unwilling to face the risk that prosecution will further endanger rather than protect her (Family …