U.S. News

Study shows why domestic violence victims drop charges

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Emotional appeals from their abusers who minimize their own wrongdoing, rather than threats, often lead victims of domestic violence to drop charges, a study found.

In jailhouse phone calls with their victims, abusers minimized the abuse and spoke of depression and loneliness, appealing to the victim’s sympathy, according to the study, which appears in the journal “Social Science & Medicine.”

“The existing belief is that victims recant because the perpetrator threatens her with more violence. But our results suggest something very different,” said Amy Bonomi, lead author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.

“Perpetrators are not threatening the victim, but are using more sophisticated emotional appeals designed to minimize their actions and gain the sympathy of the victim.

Bonomi said the results suggested advocates should counsel victims on the sympathy appeals and minimization techniques that abusive husbands or boyfriends were likely to employ.

“If the victims are prepared, they may be less likely to fall for these techniques and would be more likely to follow through with the prosecution,” Bonomi said.

Researchers listened to conversations between 17 accused male abusers in a Washington state detention facility and their female victims, all of whom decided to withdraw accusations of abuse. The couples knew they were being recorded,

In the initial conversations there would often be a heated argument over events leading to the abuse charge, Bonomi said. The victim would be strong and resist the accused perpetrator’s account of what happened.

Then the perpetrator would minimize the abuse until he persuaded the victim he didn’t deserve a felony charge. He would appeal to her sympathy, saying he was depressed and missed her and their children, Bonomi said.

In one case, the accused perpetrator threatened suicide before the victim promised to help him get out of jail.

In the third stage, the couples bond over their love for each other and the perpetrator gets the victim to recant.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office covers Chicago and surrounding suburbs, said the results of the study did not come as a surprise.

“As a prosecutor you do get frustrated when the victim doesn’t follow through,” Alvarez said. “It could be a threat. Many times, it’s not. Many times it’s the honeymoon -- ‘Let’s get back together, I love you, it won’t happen again’.”

She said some women recant because their abuser is the family breadwinner. Her office now requires prosecutors and investigators for domestic violence cases undergo special training courses, the same as victim advocates receive.

Cynthia Mulford, 48, of Columbus, a survivor of several abusive relationships, said she was afraid of what a man might do to her after she called police. But she said she would often take abusers back after they served time in jail.

“I think I knew they were lying but I got back with them anyway,” Mulford said.

The study was funded by the Criminal Justice Research Center at Ohio State and the Group Health Foundation of Seattle.

Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Jim Leckrone; Editing by Cynthia Johnston