Matt McIrvin's Steam-Operated World of Yesteryear

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Why should domestic violence be punished more severely than any other kind of violence - or more correctly, why should any other kind of violence be punished *less* severely? I'm not keen on this whole "the same act is punished differently depending on who the victim is" thing, and if that weren't an issue, then it would be that much less necessary to even ask the question of what counts as "domestic" violence.

I believe these sorts of laws are designed to try address specific sorts of problems, where the standard laws are not considered to provide enough protection or deterrent.

why should any other kind of violence be punished *less* severely?

Because not all violence is equivalent. A guy with a habit of violence against his wife or children is a very different thing from two guys slugging it out in a bar over a pool game, which is again different from assault and robbery. The differences between the situations and their consequences call for different handling, and the law is finally starting to recognize this.

I feel it should be punished more severely because the aggressor in a domestic violence incident has a fiduciary duty to their spouse, one that is absent in many cases of assault. To me, it's not increasing the punishment because of "who the victim is" but because of "what relationship the actor had to the victim."

I was looking for examples in the Texas Penal Code, and I came across two good examples that fall clearly on either side in theft:

An offense... is increased to the next higher category of offense if ...:
(1) the actor was a public servant at the time of the offense and the property appropriated came into the actor's custody, possession, or control by virtue of his status as a public servant; ... or
(3) the owner of the property appropriated was at the time of the offense an elderly individual.

To me, the justification for increased punishment in domestic violence is more like (1) than like (3).

(recommenting to correct formatting)

I would have said both those reasons were at work here. I don't have a clue where to find statistics to support or refute this, but anecdotally I'd say that, even in couples where power is otherwise more or less equal, when one beats or stabs or shoots the other it's almost always the man. It's not just a matter of abusing someone's trust as in (1), it's also systematic victimization of a class as in (3).

Actually in a surprisingly high number of domestic violence cases the woman initiates the incidents, and then comes off worse. The woman is usually smaller and so is more likely to suffer injury. This Home Office Study has some informative statistics.

From said document:

Of the BCS [British Crime Survey] sample that were, or had been married, 18% of women and 13% of men said they had been assaulted by a current or ex-spouse at some time. For frightening threats, the figures were 13% and 5% respectively.

The thread on Scalzi's blog goes into that question, actually; one of the points made is that the laws were a response to a traditional reluctance on the part of police to intervene in domestic violence.

In addition to what everyone else said, there's the simple matter that domestic violence is less likely to be reported than other violence, and thus, the punishment needs to be higher, or else a simple calculation of the expected value of the punishment for any single act is lower for domestic violence as compared to other forms of violence.


You really have to make that kind of calculation if you want to use the punishment as a deterrent. If you can punch person A and get one year in jail with 50% probability, or punch person B and get one year in jail with 10% probability, that really doesn't put person B in a very good position.

Oh boy, I am seriously disgusted by this.

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