Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sara Steen

Second Advisor

Amy Wilkins

Third Advisor

Tim Wadsworth

Fourth Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Fifth Advisor

Janet Jacobs


Prior to the 1970s, society viewed intimate partner violence as a "private issue." As society's awareness of intimate partner violence grew, intimate partner violence emerged as an increasingly significant social problem. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, policy reform occurred in the form of mandatory arrest and pro-arrest policies, which offered police officers little discretion. The resulting "must arrest" requirement in mandatory arrest laws significantly impacts the lives of women arrested as perpetrators of intimate partner violence and police officers faced with making arrest decisions. I rely primarily on semi-structured interviews with both groups, supplementing this data with participant observation and official statistics, to examine: (1) how mandatory arrest laws are understood and experienced; (2) what consequences these laws generate; and (3) how the groups negotiate the consequences resulting from the laws. The analysis clearly reflects the pervasive effects of mandatory arrest laws on the daily lives of those most affected by them. The individuals in this study reported constructing, reconstructing, and working to make sense of who they are within the context of these laws. Additionally, this research demonstrates the importance of gender on the experiences of women arrested for a predominately male perpetrated crime as the female defendants in this study faced negotiating the consequences of arrest on their identities as "good women." Finally, this research points to the effectiveness of mandatory arrest laws as a short-term solution, but challenges their effectiveness in the long-term. Respondents from both groups overwhelmingly acknowledged that the challenges and complexities mandatory arrest introduces into relationships dissuades people from contacting police, because, for these people, the costs of arrest under mandatory arrest laws outweigh the benefits. Therefore, while mandatory arrest laws initially appear to decrease offender recidivism, in actuality, these laws prompt a return to re-privatization of intimate partner violence as people choose not to involve the state.

Included in

Sociology Commons