November 25, 2021: Helmut Rainer (LMU, ifo)
Deterrence or Backlash: The Causal Effect of Arrest on the Dynamics of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is ubiquitous, with millions of women worldwide being repeatedly victimized by their intimate partners. So how should police officers respond to domestic violence incidents in order to maximize the likelihood that battered women will not be victimized again? We develop and apply a novel instrumental variable strategy to explore how arresting batterers is linked to repeat domestic violence. Drawing upon unique and extremely detailed administrative data on hundreds of thousands domestic violence incidents recorded by a major police force in Great Britain, we exploit (i) that the availability and geographical location of patrol officers to assign to respond to an domestic violence incident is "as good as random", and (ii) that patrol officers differ systematically in their propensity to arrest suspected batters. We find that arrest can break cycles of domestic violence, decreasing the probability that victims are revictimized within 12 months by 31 percentage points. Exploiting domestic violence calls initiated by third parties rather than victims, we provide evidence indicating that reductions in domestic violence reporting do not drive the arrest effect. To explain why arrest deters repeat domestic violence, we demonstrate that it paths the way to immediate criminal sanctions against suspected batterers: it increases the likelihood a suspect batterer faces a criminal investigation, is retained in custody during the investigation, and is charged with a crime. In stark contrast to recent calls for a decriminalization of domestic violence, our results suggest that the optimal police response to domestic violence involves a low threshold of tolerance towards batterers.