February 2011 Bar Bulletin
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February 2011 Bar Bulletin


Increasing Arrests Turn Tables on Domestic-Abuse Victims

By Jenny Anderson


He was strangling me. I scratched his face while I was struggling to get away. I ran upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom with the phone to call the police. When the police got there, he told them that I had assaulted him. They believed him since he had marks and I didn’t, so they arrested me.

He was following me around the house, berating me and calling me names. Everywhere I went, he followed me. He was criticizing everything I did. Finally, he said something nasty about my family and I snapped. I turned and slapped him across the face. He immediately ran to call the police, telling them that I hit him “out of nowhere,” and I was arrested.

These are classic examples of an increasingly common, under-recognized phenomenon: victims of domestic violence being arrested for crimes against their batterers (“victim-defendants”). These women1 have frequently not called the police themselves when being assaulted. Even if there is a history of the true batterer being arrested, law enforcement and prosecutors rarely check arrest records of a person they have determined to be a crime victim. This contributes to a lack of understanding of the context in which the violence took place, which is critical in making fair arrest and charging decisions.

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that women use intimate-partner violence for significantly different reasons than men. Men frequently use violence in the context of power, control and intimidation, while women report using violence in self-defense (or defense of children and/or pets) or retaliation.

According to the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence (KCCADV) Victim-Defendant Report,2 published in 2003, there is an increasing awareness of the effect of officers’ failure to identify the context of intimate-partner violence, including endangering victims and empowering perpetrators of ongoing violence.

Of course, the act of slapping or scratching an intimate partner fits the definition of a crime of domestic violence under Washington law. In the first case, most will see a clear case of self-defense. The second case, however, is a little less clear-cut.

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