Study Finds Link Between Abuse Victims’ Deaths, Abuser Arrests

A study released Monday that followed up on a 1980s report about mandatory domestic violence arrest policies in Milwaukee found an increased death rate among victims when suspects were arrested, rather than merely warned, by police.

“The foundational question being begged by this research is an important and understudied one: Is the criminal justice system the best societal response to non-felonious domestic assault?” Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said Monday.

Researchers highlighted the findings that victims were 64% more likely to have died of all causes, such as heart disease, cancer or other illness, if their partner was arrested rather than warned, and noted that among African-American victims, arrest increased early mortality by 98% while white victims saw mortality increased from arrest by 9%.

Victim advocates in Wisconsin, however, described the study as “flawed” for attempting to apply old data to present-day policies.

“Thankfully for victims of domestic violence, we don’t live in the 1980s anymore,” representatives with End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin said in a written statement. “Twenty-five-year-old data cannot be used to conclude that domestic violence arrests are dangerous to victims.”


Follow-up to ’80s study

The study was a follow-up to the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment from 1987-1989 and undertaken by the same primary researcher, Lawrence W. Sherman, a University of Maryland professor and director of Cambridge University’s Police Executive Program. The 2014 study was co-authored by Heather M. Harris from the University of Maryland and will be published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology.

Sherman acknowledged that a problem with examining long-term effects is that societies don’t stay the same and conditions can change, but he said he hopes the research prompts more attention about whether these policies are good for victims and if so, which victims.


Those facts raise interesting questions but do not lead to clear conclusions, Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, a research and health policy institute, said Monday.

“The point is you can’t conclude anything from these data,” said Zuckerman, who has a doctorate in psychology. “It raises interesting questions, but it doesn’t give you any answers. What you’d really want to look at is what’s happening to the victims after their abuser is arrested that might make matters worse for them instead of better.”


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