In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Police Responses to Intimate Partner Violence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Police Attitudes, Discretion, and IPV
  • IPV Victims’ Experiences and Perceptions of the Police
  • The Arrest Decision
  • Police Risk Assessment
  • The Influence of Race, Class, and Sexuality on the Policing of IPV

Criminology Police Responses to Intimate Partner Violence
Amanda Robinson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0252


The main objective of the feminist-led campaigning and activism of the 1970s was to get intimate partner violence (IPV, also known as domestic violence, domestic abuse, wife assault, spousal assault) perceived and dealt with as a crime, like any other type of violence. Then and now, the enforcement of the law by police on behalf of victims is believed to send a message that IPV is a crime that will not be tolerated by society. Until the 1980s, official police training and policy guidance commonly portrayed IPV incidents as a breakdown in family relationships, often involving no criminal offenses, and with the stated aim of police attendance being to restore the peace. Research into policing IPV began to document officers’ lack of understanding about IPV in general as well as their lack of empathy, respect, and professionalism toward IPV victims as individuals in need of police assistance. Research with victims revealed that their needs were often not being met by the police and criminal justice system responses. During the 1990s, this situation began to change, with police being called to provide a more interventionist approach (i.e., to stop ignoring, trivializing, and minimizing IPV) to more effectively prevent IPV and reduce its harmful consequences. Following field experiments that identified the deterrent value of arrest, expectations of police began to shift toward a presumption of more positive action at the scene, namely making arrests but also more proactively undertaking tasks such as assessing risks, providing referrals and advice, liaising with other agencies, and safeguarding children. A concerted agenda of reform and improvement of the police in the early 21st century has led to some significant changes in policy and practice. Police are expected to make professional, effective, and sustained contributions to multiagency partnerships or coordinated community responses to address IPV, which are now commonplace. Despite clear indications of progress, however, an indefensible culture of negligence by some police in how they deal with IPV remains apparent.

General Overviews

Research has identified many complex and multifaceted challenges with policing intimate partner violence. Hirschel, et al. 1992 traces the historical roots underpinning many of these challenges. A significant and seemingly intractable issue illustrated in detail by many works, including Bourlet 1990; Edwards 1989; and Hanmer, et al. 1989, is the negative impact of the police occupational culture on the policing of IPV, and particularly how it can shape officers’ interactions with victims. Later research, in works such as Hoyle 1998, built on this evidence to show how policing as part of an adversarial criminal justice system often produces processes and outcomes that can be fundamentally incompatible with meeting the needs of victims. More detailed and comprehensive guidance now frames the policing of IPV in most countries (see Richards, et al. 2008 for the UK example). Buzawa, et al. 2017 demonstrates the expansive range of relevant research literature that is now available to aid understanding of the policing of IPV, and, in so doing, the authors highlight the importance of police working in partnership with other agencies to address IPV.

  • Bourlet, A. 1990. Police intervention in marital violence. Milton Keynes, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    An early empirical investigation of the policing of IPV in the United Kingdom, written by an experienced police officer. It offers a wide-ranging and insightful view of policing as it was conceptualized and delivered at that time.

  • Buzawa, E. S., C. G. Buzawa, and E. D. Stark. 2017. Responding to domestic violence: The integration of criminal justice and human services. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The latest edition of this book provides a comprehensive account of the current state of knowledge about various agency responses to IPV (a significant section of this and earlier editions is devoted to the police). A valuable resource for learning more about any aspect of the police response to IPV.

  • Edwards, S. 1989. Policing “domestic” violence: Women, the law and the state. London: SAGE.

    This mixed methods study (involving interviews, observations, and analysis of records in two British police forces) highlights how the masculine ethos of policing can promote the trivialization of IPV by officers. In contrast to street crime and public order offenses, police tend to underenforce the law when responding to IPV, resulting in little protection and little justice for victims.

  • Hanmer, J., J. Radford, and E. Stanko. 1989. Women, policing and male violence. London: Routledge.

    This edited collection includes research findings from England, the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States. A common theme is how the police occupational culture often subverts well-intentioned policy initiatives.

  • Hirschel, J. D., I. W. Hutchinson, C. W. Dean, and A. M. Mills. 1992. Review essay on the law enforcement response to spouse abuse: Past, present, and future. Justice Quarterly 9.2: 247–283.

    A critical review of the research literature that offers a long-term view (going back to Roman law) of the legal foundations for the policing of IPV, how this has changed over time, and what challenges remain.

  • Hoyle, C. 1998. Negotiating domestic violence: Police, criminal justice and victims. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A large amount of empirical information from one British police force (including interviews with victims, police, and offenders) is used to detail the decision-making processes of officers as well as how cases are subsequently handled by prosecutors. A landmark study that offers a nuanced and empirically robust analysis of why it is so difficult for the criminal justice system to meet the needs of victims.

  • Richards, L., S. Letchford, and S. Stratton. 2008. Policing domestic violence. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A practical book particularly relevant for practitioners working in the United Kingdom, it provides a thorough overview of all aspects of policing IPV, underpinned by empirical research and scholarship on IPV. A comprehensive and readable resource on the contemporary British context.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.