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Arrest in Domestic Violence Cases Linked to Early Death in Victims

Arrest in Domestic Violence Cases Linked to Early Death in VictimsNew research has found that domestic violence victims whose partners were arrested were 64 percent more likely to die early — and not from violence, but from common causes of death, such as heart disease and cancer.

According to the new study, for African-American victims, arrest increased early mortality by a staggering 98 percent. In white victims, mortality was increased just nine percent.

The research also found that employed victims suffered the worst effects of their partners’ arrests. Employed black victims with arrested partners suffered a death rate over four times higher than those whose partner received a warning at the scene. No such link was found in white victims, according to the researchers.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, the majority of victim deaths following the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment were not murders, accidents, or suicides. The victims died from common causes of death such as heart disease, cancer, and other internal illnesses.

Previous studies have shown post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) to be prevalent in victims of domestic violence, and that low but chronic PTSS has been linked to premature death from coronary heart disease and other health problems.

“The impact of seeing a partner arrested could create a traumatic event for the victim, one that raises their risk of death. An arrest may cause more trauma in concentrated black poverty areas than in white working-class neighborhoods, for reasons not yet understood,” the researchers said.

The exact cause of the surprising results remains a “medical mystery,” says Professor Lawrence Sherman from Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, who conducted the study with his colleague Heather M. Harris from the University of Maryland.

“Whatever the explanation, the effects of mandatory arrest poses a challenge to policies that have ‘been on the books’ in most U.S. states and across the UK for decades,” the researchers said.

“The evidence shows that black women are dying at a much higher rate than white women from a policy that was intended to protect all victims of domestic violence, regardless of race,” says Sherman. “It is now clear that a pro-arrest policy has failed to protect victims, and that a robust review of these policies is urgently needed.”

The Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment took place between 1987 and 1988, with support from the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the US Department of Justice. Sherman, who led the study from the University of Maryland, described it as “arguably the most rigorous test ever conducted of the effects of arrest.”

The experiment included 1,125 victims of domestic violence whose average age was 30. Each case was the subject of an equal probability “lottery” of random assignment. That meant two-thirds of the suspects were arrested with immediate jailing. One-third received a warning at the scene with no arrest.

During 2012 and 2013, Sherman and Harris searched state and national records for the names of every one of the victims.

The record search showed that a total of 91 victims had died. Of these, 70 had been in the group whose partners were arrested, compared to 21 whose partners had been warned. This translated into 93 deaths per 1,000 victims in the arrest group, versus 57 deaths per 1,000 in the warning group.

For the 791 black victims (who were 70 percent of the sample), the rates were 98 per 1,000 for arrest, versus 50 per 1,000 for the warned group.

“These differences are too large to be due to chance,” Sherman says. “They are also too large to be ignored.”

Source: University of Cambridge

Jack Dagley Photography /

Arrest in Domestic Violence Cases Linked to Early Death in Victims

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Arrest in Domestic Violence Cases Linked to Early Death in Victims. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Mar 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.