Assessing the offending activity of criminal domestic violence suspects: Offense specialization, escalation, and de-escalation evidence from the spouse assault replication program

Alex R. Piquero, Robert Brame, Jeffrey Fagan, Terrie E. Moffitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Objective. Over the past quarter century, intimate partner violence research has occupied an increasingly important position in the research agenda of criminology, public policy, and public health. Yet, a number of questions about the criminal careers of domestic violence offenders remain unresolved. This study attempts to determine (1) the extent to which criminal domestic violence offenders specialize in violence, and (2) whether the severity of an offender's attacks against the same victim increase, decrease, or stay about the same over time. Methods. Data from the Spouse Assault Replication Program (SARP) are used to address two questions corresponding to different features of the criminal careers of domestic violence offenders. Results. The specialization analysis reveals that the majority of domestic violence offenders with prior official criminal records have been involved in nonviolent forms of criminal behavior in addition to domestic violence. The escalation analysis identifies groups of escalators and de-escalators as well as individuals who engage in stable low-level aggression and stable high-level aggression. Conclusions. Few SARP domestic violence offenders have been specializing exclusively in violence. There is also a heterogeneous mix of offenders who escalate and de-escalate the severity of their attacks over the short-term follow-up periods. Few studies have presented data consistent with the present study's findings. A longitudinal analysis of the criminal careers of domestic violence offender subtypes is critical for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-418
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health Reports
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes

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