Gender as a Factor in the Response of the Law-
Enforcement System to Violence Against Partners
by Grant A. Brown, D.Phil. (Oxon), LL.B.
…it is the worst oppression, that is done by colour of justice
– Sir Edward Coke
A sign that says “men only” looks very different
on a bathroom door than on a courthouse door.
– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
“Is Parkinson’s the toughest opponent you’ve ever faced, Muhammed?”
someone asked. “Toughest was my first wife,” he said.
– Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammed Ali
A great deal of sociological evidence has been collected in the past three decades on the prevalence of abuse among adult heterosexual partners in domestic relationships of some degree of permanence. Partly as a result of this information, partner abuse has been identified as an important social ill that must be addressed aggressively through public-awareness campaigns, the funding of a broad range of support services, and the re-training of law-enforcement authorities – including police, prosecutors, and judges. However, in at least one important respect, these manifestations of public concern diverge substantially from what the sociological data which ostensibly motivates public policy in this area would indicate: they have been, to date, overwhelmingly gender specific. That is, partner abuse is routinely portrayed and acted upon as though it were almost exclusively about men abusing and victimizing innocent women and, by extention, their children – despite the overwhelming sociological evidence that a significant amount of abuse is also suffered by male partners. The prevailing orientation to the problem is typically supported by little more than speculative, ideological rationalizations of the sociological evidence, if not outright suppression or denial of that evidence. Genuinely gender-inclusive research is needed to test the validity of this orientation, and to determine whether it has had a beneficial or detrimental effect on the administration of justice.
Most previous research on gender differences in the way men and women are treated by the law-enforcement system are limited in one of two respects: Either it relies upon public sources of data which are incomplete and impossible to analyse adequately; or else it focuses on only the police or judges, omitting consideration of the role of prosecutors in the disposition of cases. The present study is unique in that it attempts to shed light on the pivotal role of the prosecutor in partner violence cases, while at the same time subjecting the decisions of local police and judges to further examination based on data not so readily available from public sources. Original data for this study were obtained from two previously untapped sources: from databases for the years 1999 and 2000 compiled by the Edmonton Police Service pursuant to provincial legislation aimed at tracking the police response to partner abuse; and from the “spousal abuse” files in the Edmonton Crown Prosecutor’s Office for the first half of 2001.
This study tends to confirm that men who are accused of partner violence are treated significantly more harshly than women at every step of the law-enforcement system. Men are found to have been charged much more frequently than women, especially in the minor-injury and no-injury categories, compared to what the sociological evidence would indicate is appropriate – and even compared to what the data collected by the police themselves would indicate is appropriate. This is explained in large part by the fact that police are significantly more likely to find a reason not to lay a charge when only the male partner is injured as opposed to when only the female partner is injured. Consequently, among those who were charged with an offence in a dispute between partners, a higher proportion of women than of men were charged with offences involving injury, and with offences involving the use of a weapon. Yet, despite the fact that the men who were charged caused less injury and were less likely to use a weapon, they were nevertheless charged with more offences per incident, and were more likely to have been taken into custody at the time of the incident, compared to female suspects.
Of those charged, men were more likely than women to have been found guilty, at least in part because the charges against women were more likely to have been withdrawn by the prosecutors. And while men and women were equally likely to have received plea bargains, men were significantly more likely than women to have received a term of jail, a conditional sentence, or probation – i.e. the more serious sentencing options – as a result of their plea bargains. Among those found guilty, women were more likely than men to have been intoxicated, to have used a major weapon, to have inflicted a serious injury, to have been separated from their partners at the time of the incident, and to have committed their offence while children were present – all factors supposedly tending to lead to harsher sentences. Guilty men, on the other hand, had longer prior criminal records than guilty women; but they were also more likely to have served time in custody prior to trial. Yet, despite all of this, guilty men were significantly more likely than guilty women to have received a term of jail, a conditional sentence, or probation. Regression analyses reveal that harsher sentencing outcomes were generally more highly associated with being male than with any other factor. The disparities found in this study are cumulative: despite having been treated more harshly at all earlier stages, men on average continued to be treated more harshly at all later stages.
Theory of Flight.
The Heaviside Signal http://www.ivorcatt.com/2604.htm
http://www.ivorcatt.com/1_1.htm figures 4, 5.
 This report is written for a general audience and does not presume any specialized training in sociology, statistics, or Canadian law. Technical terms will be explained in the footnotes when they are first used; however, a few non-standard terms of art must be explained at the start. The focus of this study is on how the law-enforcement system deals with putatively criminal acts between adults in heterosexual relationships of some degree of permanence. Thus the term ‘partner’ includes married and common-law spouses, as well as some couples who might not meet the legal definition of a spouse; but it excludes persons in dating or homosexual relationships. Because of the focus on criminal behaviour, as opposed to abuse more generally, the terms ‘partner violence’ or ‘violence against partners’ is meant to capture any act which could be classified as criminal, whether or not charges were laid and even if the act is not inherently violent (e.g. a non-violent breach of a restraining order). ‘Partner abuse’ is a broader term which includes partner violence as well as non-criminal abusive behaviour between partners. (‘Domestic abuse’ is broader still, and includes abuse of children, elders, and siblings. This is beyond the scope of the present study.)
 The Institutes of the Laws of England, vol. 2, 1628-1641.
 City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. (1985), 473 U.S. 432, 468-69.
 Cam Cole, “Boxing has a funny way of making friends,” National Post, 21 October 2002, A10.