Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Domestic Violence Arrests Actually May Feed Abuse

I've written before about the "law of unforeseen consequences," when a well-meaning law or policy actually works out to the detriment of those involved.

We see that again in a provocative New York Times Op Ed Page article that ran yesterday by Radha Iyengar, a fellow in health policy research at Harvard. The writer points out that mandatory arrest laws adopted by 22 states and the District of Columbia in calls to police about domestic violence actually seem to have increased the dangers to battered spouses.

The reason, according to a study Iyengar conducted, is that, knowing their mates will certainly be arrested, the afflicted spouses often hold back on making such calls. This may in the end expose them to greater danger.

Her finding is that homicides within intimate relationships have actually increased in the states that have adopted the mandatory laws since they first came into vogue in 1984.

"I recently conducted my own study of mandatory arrest laws by comparing the rates of murders by intimate partners before and after the laws went into affect," Iyengar writes. "Intimate partner homicides have generally decreased in the past 20 years, perhaps because greater awareness of the problem of domestic violence has led to the creation of more resources for victims. But in states with mandatory arrest laws the homicides are about 50% higher today than they are in the states without the laws."

It is not only fear that their spouses will be arrested that may hold back abuse reporting, Iyengar finds. "In some cases, victims may favor an arrest, but fear that their abusers will be quicly released. And many victims may avoid calling the police for fear that they too will be arrested for physically defending themselves. The possibility of such 'dual arrests' is most worrisome for victims who have children at home."

Significantly, the researcher found that mandatory arrests laws in cases of abuse reported outside intimate relationships, such as teachers reporting indications of abuse they have noted when the children come to school, do not have the adverse consequences of the laws governing intimate partnerships. The teachers don't have incentives such as trying to avoid arrests.

Iyengar says her study shows police do not like the mandatory arrest laws in some instances, because they believe they should have the discretion to decide whether or not to make an arrest.

The Iyengar findings seem to indicate that these laws are worth reviewing. Legislatures may act with all good intentions, as I'm sure they also have with mandatory sentencing laws that lose sight of the forests for the trees.

It pays to be more careful. I believe this article has done a public service.


The death of longtime KTLA anchor Hal Fishman yesterday brought forth a great many heartfelt tributes from watchers and professional journalists alike. Nearly 4,000 watchers submitted comments on his passing, and the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, in a statement recorded by LA Observed called Fishman "an icon in Los Angeles news. His depth of knowledge and presence was unparalleled...An important, irrepressable voice."

My blog of Jan. 28, 2005 complimenting Fishman's broadcasts, which showed up 11th on a list of Google stories about Fishman yesterday, drew 300 hits on this blog yesterday alone, another indication of the esteem in which Fishman was held.

It is particularly noteworthy that the 75-year-old newsman, dying of colon cancer, managed to broadcast through the week before he died. It reminds me of Paul Weeks, writing a last column when he was on his death bed. Such wonderful journalists do not give up easily, and it shows that journalism is not the disreputable profession that some ideologues say it is.

May Fishman rest in peace. He gave so many of us not only an incisive newscast. His professionalism was an inspiration.



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