Should Criminal Charges Be Filed in Domestic Abuse Cases?

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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April 2003

Sometimes criminal charges are filed against an abuser by the police, under the mandatory arrest requirements of the Domestic Abuse Act. Other times, a victim must decide whether to contact law enforcement and file charges against her abuser. Some victims may be afraid to file criminal charges because they are afraid they will be hurt even more by the abuser. Victims of domestic abuse must decide what is safest for them in their own situations.

Some of the good reasons to file charges are:

A victim shows the court she is serious - At hearings to get protection orders or money damages for injuries, the fact that a victim filed criminal charges shows the court that she is serious.

  • Criminal charges can show a history of domestic abuse - The fact that criminal domestic abuse charges were brought against an abuser can be considered by a court in later custody actions involving children of the victim and the abuser.
  • A victim may be eligible for crime victim's compensation - If a crime is reported within 72 hours after it occurs, the victim may be able to get payment for expenses resulting from the criminal act under a program called "Crime Victim Assistance."
  • The abuser will be held accountable for his actions - The abuser may have to spend time in jail and will be ordered to attend a batterers' treatment program.

Some of the drawbacks to filing charges are:

  • Lack of control over proceedings - A victim may not feel she is in control of what happens in the criminal proceedings. This is because the County Attorney who prosecutes the case may want or need to take action which is different than what the victim wants.
  • Confronting the abuser - A victim may have to testify in Court against her abuser. County Attorneys must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that domestic abuse occurred. In most cases, the victim will be the main witness to what happened. Sometimes County Attorneys can call police officers who witnessed abuse, or use 911 emergency calls as evidence, but this type of evidence is not always available.
  • Increased danger - In some circumstances, a victim may believe she is in more danger from her abuser.
Last Review and Update: Apr 23, 2003

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