Interview Questions for Victims of Domestic Violence
Editor’s Note: This article is part of In Public Safety’s October focus on domestic violence awareness
By Gary Minor, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Beginning in the mid-1980s, states nationwide began changing domestic violence laws and the criminal justice community began treating domestic violence on the same level as violence involving strangers.
[Related Article: What Does Domestic Violence Look Like?]
Legislative changes were largely based on the results of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment (MDVE), which tested the impacts of mandatory arrests in cases involving intimate partners. The MDVE found that persons who were arrested were violent at a lower rate than those who were dealt with in other ways, thus this experiment led to the development of pro-arrest policies.
In passing such laws, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) developed model operating procedures for law enforcement response to domestic violence and resource guidelines.
Part of this model policy is a list of questions for law enforcement officers to ask of potential victims and witnesses. When questioning the victim, first, the officer should focus on who, what, where, when, and how. This will develop probable cause for an arrest.
Here are some of the questions police should ask potential victims during a domestic violence call:
- Who called the police?
- Can you tell me why you called the police for help or why you think the police were called (if the caller was someone other than the victim)?
- Are you hurt?
- Are you feeling any soreness, tenderness, or pain anywhere on your body (visible or covered areas)?
- It looks like someone hit you; can you tell me what happened?
- Have you been struck, hit, or injured in some other way?
- Where on your body were you hit?
- Who hit you?
- What did this person hit you with?
- How were you hit? Was an object or weapon used (e.g. a shoe, a knife, a gun, a telephone, a fist)?
- Were you hit with an open or closed hand?
- Has this person ever hit or hurt you before?
- How many times were you hit?
- Has anything been broken or damaged (i.e. phone ripped out of the wall)?
- Has anything been thrown directly at you or near you?
- Are you pregnant?
The second set of questions focus on the victim’s fear. Officers need to determine how fearful the victim is of the abuser. The best way to determine this is to ask open-ended questions that allow the victim to talk at length about the incident. These answers will show the victim’s fear of the abuser and provide justification for that fear.
In addition, responses can be the basis for a domestic violence protection order. These statements can also provide the judge with the authority to stop any visitation with children.
- What happened?
- What did you feel was going to happen?
- Describe how (abuser) was acting? What was said to you?
- What did (abuser) do or say to make you feel afraid?
- Were any threats made against you? Against your children or other family members? What were these threats?’
- What are your fears or concerns if the suspect is arrested? Have any statements or threats been made to you by the suspect when you have sought assistance?
These questions provide a two-fold approach to investigating domestic violence cases. In addition to providing the basic facts of the incident, responses also provide the police and courts objective reasoning behind the victim’s fear of the abuser.
About the Author: Gary Minor teaches criminal justice courses at American Military University. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Police Science and Administration with a minor in pre-law from Washington State University and his MBA in Information Systems at City University in Washington. After completing his MBA, he attended Seattle University School of Law and obtained his Juris Doctorate of law. He also obtained his police executive certification, a requirement to be a police chief executive of a law enforcement agency in Washington. His academic interests include police executive management, law and justice, juvenile justice and ethics in law enforcement. Professor Minor has significant executive experience, having served as a Chief of Police, President of the Snohomish County Police and Sheriff’s association and the South Snohomish County Police Advisory committee. He also served two terms as the Chairman of the Board for Emergency Services Coordinating Agency (ESCA), a FEMA affiliate.