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Family violence research has only recently begun to investigate desistance. Recent developments in the study of behaviors other than family violence, such as the use of addictive substances, suggest that common processes can be identified in the cessation of disparate behaviors involving diverse populations and occurring in different settings. Desistance is the outcome of processes that begin with aversive experiences leading to a decision to stop. Desistance apparently follows legal sanctions in nearly three spouse abuse cases in four, but the duration of cessation is unknown beyond short study periods. Batterers with shorter, less severe histories have a higher probability of desisting than batterers with longer, more severe histories. Victim-initiated strategies, including social and legal sanctions plus actions to create aversive experiences from abuse (e.g., divorce and loss of children) and social disclosure, also lead to desistance. Batterers are more resistant to change when they participate in social networks that support and reinforce violence to maintain family dominance. Desistance may also actually be displacement, where a violent spouse locates a new victim.


Criminal Law | Family Law | Juvenile Law | Law | Law and Gender


© 1989 The University of Chicago. Originally published in Crime & Justice, Vol. 11, p. 377, 1989.