How do mandatory arrest laws affect domestic violence survivors from immigrant and Black communities?

Mandatory arrest laws and no-drop prosecution have been adopted by 48 states and the District of Columbia to combat domestic violence in our communities. These policies require law enforcement to make an arrest and prosecutors to prosecute domestic violence cases when reported. The arrest and case can occur regardless of whether or not the survivor requests it.

Usually, these warrantless arrest laws are triggered when a survivor or a witness calls the police to report a domestic violence incident. Simply put, mandatory arrest laws authorize law enforcement to make arrests in misdemeanor domestic violence incidents where probable cause is present. Probable cause can be a survivor showing injury, a perpetrator violating a no-contact order, a perpetrator using or threatening to use a weapon, etc. The threshold of probable cause is determined at the discretion of the police, most of the time with no physical evidence. 

Domestic violence complexities make it challenging to determine an intervention method that is equally beneficial to all survivors regardless of race, gender, class, or immigration status. Unfortunately, studies show that while mandatory arrest laws help some women, they create even greater problems for other women, particularly in communities of color and immigrant communities.

For example, mandatory arrest policies contribute to the fact that many domestic violence incidents go underreported or unreported in Black communities and immigrant communities. Black women refrain from reporting their abuse due to the fear of law enforcement or being responsible for sending Black men and boys to prison. Similarly, immigrant women rarely report their abuse in fear of disclosing their immigration status and facing deportation. Immigrant women are also vulnerable to threats of deportation or disclosing document status by abusers if they were to get law enforcement involved. 

Mandatory arrest policies also present financial burdens for many survivors. If the police are called too many times, women risk losing their housing or children to the foster care system. Many of these women do not have the financial resources to find adequate housing, fight court cases or hire lawyers in custody battles. Furthermore, many survivors are financially dependent on their abuser. Arresting their abuser against the survivor’s wishes could take away valuable income from the household and support from the community. This is especially true for immigrant women who have an immigration status dependent on their partner’s status.  

Findings show that mandatory arrest laws are not a preferred method of intervention by survivors because it does not accommodate their economic and safety concerns. In some major cities with large Black or immigrant populations, mandatory arrest laws increased recidivism and placed Black women at a greater risk for future violence. Not to mention, the presence of law enforcement or being in jail for even a short amount of time can agitate an abuser to the point where they take drastic measures to maintain power and control over a survivor. In Massachusetts, the maximum sentencing for misdemeanor domestic violence cases is 2.5 years, and research shows that arrests typically do not deter an abuser from committing future violence. Additionally, aggressive law enforcement policies can put unwanted state control over survivors while desperately seeking autonomy and freedom from their abusers.

It is important to remember that abusive relationships deny women power and control over their lives. Mandatory arrest policies momentarily take power away from the abuser but give it to the state. The current framework of these laws is geared more towards punishing the abuser instead of providing support for the survivor. 

It is vital that domestic violence intervention methods put survivors in the center by focusing on policy changes that empower survivors to move forward. It includes not only getting justice for the survivor but also meeting their economic, physical, and emotional needs as well by: supporting survivors in finding housing, education, and job opportunities; providing survivors trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive mental health services; and educating our community on knowing the signs and supporting survivors in any way that we can. 

A world free of violence against women means allowing women to heal and grow. State intervention is necessary, but creating survivor-centric and trauma-informed policies to help survivors empower themselves to live safe and healthy lives is vital. 


Broidy, Lisa, et al. Deterring Future Incidents of Intimate Partner Violence: Does Type of Formal Intervention Matter? Violence Against Women 2016, Vol. 22(9) 1113–1133. Sage Publications, 2016.

Coker, Donna. “Mandatory Policies Can Be a Threat to Women.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Sept. 2014. 

“Domestic Violence in Communities of Color: Facts and Stats Collection.” Women of Color Network, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 

Nash, Shondrah Tarrezz (2005). Through Black Eyes: African American Women’s Construction of Their Experiences With Intimate Male Partner Violence. Violence Against Women, 11, 1427. Sage Publications.

Ruttenberg, Miriam H. “A Feminist Critique of Mandatory Arrest: An Analysis of Race and Gender in Domestic Violence Policy.” Journal of Gender and the Law, vol. 2, no. 17, 1994. 

Speed, Shannon. “A Dreadful Mosaic: Rethinking Gender Violence through the Lives of Indigenous Women Migrants.” Gendered Perspectives on International Development Special Issue: Anthropological Approaches to Gender-based Violence and Human Rights. No. 304. June 2014.

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