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An Innovative Examination of How Abusers’ Convince Victims to Recant

Dr. Amy Bonomi and colleagues used audio-recorded telephone conversations between domestic violence perpetrators and victims to answer questions about how and why victims arrive at their decision to recant and/or refuse prosecution efforts.  They conducted a qualitative study involving 17 heterosexual couples, where the male perpetrator was being held in a U.S. detention facility for felony-level domestic violence and made telephone calls to his female victim during the pre-prosecution period.  They used 30 to 192 minutes of conversational data for each couple to examine:  1) processes associated with the victim’s intention to recant; and 2) the couple’s construction of the recantation plan.  Analyses revealed a five-stage process of victim recantation.  The first stage, accusation,  typically began with a heated argument between the parties about the abusive event and their resistance to each other’s accounts.  This was followed in stage 2 by the perpetrator’s minimization of the abuse and appeal to the victim’s sympathy that served to reverse the roles in the couple’s relationship—with the perpetrator presenting himself as the “victim.” Stage 3 involved bonding, that is, the couple invoking images of life without each other.  This stage was followed by solicitation, that is, the perpetrator’s fervent requests begging the victim to recant (stage 4).  Once the victim agreed to recant, the final stage (stage 5) consisted of collusion, that is, the couple collaborated to construct the recantation plan that they would present to the court.  That plan involved their redefinition of the abuse in a manner that absolved the perpetrator.
The five-stage process of recantation identified through the analysis of the audio-taped telephone conversations has been presented to practice and policy makers throughout the U.S. The recantation research has resulted in some counties across the U.S. mandating the recording and use of jail calls in court to improve prosecution of domestic violence cases.
Bonomi AE, Gangamma R, Locke C, Katafiasz H, Martin D. (2011). “Meet me at the hill where we used to park:”  Interpersonal processes associated with victim recantation. [pdf]  Social Science and Medicine, 73, 1054-1061.