Victim Recantation

Dr. Amy Bonomi has collaborated with a number of university faculty to analyze the strategies abusers use to make victims recant. Browse this page for her recent and past work on the subject. 

Featured Study: "Meet me at the hill where we used to park: Interpersonal processes associated with victim recantation"

Project Details

Project Duration: 2008-2011
Lead Investigator: Dr. Amy Bonomi

Our study used live telephone conversations between domestic violence perpetrators and victims to answer novel questions about how and why victims arrive at their decision to recant and/or refuse prosecution efforts. From October 2008 to June 2011, we conducted a qualitative study involving 25 heterosexual couples, where the male perpetrator was being held in a Detention Facility (in the U.S.) for felony-level domestic violence and made telephone calls to his female victim during the pre-prosecution period.

Data Analysis

The graphic below, Fig. 1, presents the conceptual framework that emerged from the analysis of the data to answer two research questions (processes associated with the victim’s intention to recant and the couple’s construction of the recantation plan). Each section describes how couples moved through the recantation process.
We labeled the segments in Fig. 1 with numerical values to aid readers in moving through the various sections. However couples did not necessarily move through the phases linearly; for example, while resistance of each other’s accounts of what happened during the abuse event is listed in segment 1, the couple might have continually resisted each other’s accounts in some fashion up until their final construction of the recantation plan.
Step 1:Couple discusses the abuse event with mutual blame and resistance of each other's accounts. The victim's agency is "up" Predominant emotions: Anger, blame, regret. Step 2: Perpetrator minimizes the abuse and blames the victim to "lessen the crime's severity" and the victim's agency erodes. Perpetrator uses sympathy appeals to become the "victim" soothes perpetrator. Predominant emotions: Anger, sadness, guilt, regret. Step 3: Couple invokes images of life alone, bonds over love, memories and dreams and position themselves against others who "don't understand them." Predominant emotions: Sadness, regret, relief to be connecting over "common ground." Step 4: Perpetrator asks the victim to recant and she complies. Perpetrator reinforces instructions through sympathy appeals and minimization. Predominant emotions: Relief, anger and sadness. Step 5: The End: Couple constructs the recantation plan by redefining the abuse to protect the perpetrator, blaming the State, and giving each other instructions. Couple's agency is "up" Predominant emotions: Relief, excitement, hope.

Summary of Findings

Reconstruction

Once the victim arrived at her decision to recant, the couple constructed the recantation plan by redefining the abuse event to protect the perpetrator.

Identify Strategies

In the context of ongoing interactions, strategies perpetrators used included sympathy appeals and minimization to persuade their victim and preserve their relationship.

Accountability

Practitioners must double their efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, and efforts made to link victims to trusted advocates who can help them defend against perpetrators’ sophisticated techniques.

Related Publications

  • Bonomi AE, Martin D.  Domestic abusers: Expert triangulators, New victim advocacy models to buffer against it. In press, Journal of Family Violence. doi:10.1007/s10896-020-00156-2
  • Bonomi AE, Martin D. Jail calls: What do kids have to do with it? Journal of Family Violence February 2018, 33(2): 99–102. doi:10.1007/s10896-017-9919-2
  • Bonomi AE, Gangamma R, Locke C, Katafiasz H, Martin D.  “Meet me at the hill where we used to park:”  Interpersonal processes associated with victim recantation.  Social Science and Medicine 2011;73:1054-1061.  doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.07.005
  • Nemeth J, Bonomi AE, Lee M, Ludwin J.  Sexual infidelity as trigger for intimate partner violence.  Journal of Women’s Health 2012; 21(9):942-9.  doi: 10.1089/jwh.2011.3328
  • Bonomi A, Martin, D, Gangamma R, Grabmeier J. New insights on the process of victim recantation. Domestic Violence Report 2013; 18(4): 49-51.
  • Research Team

    Bonomi, Amy E., Ph.D., M.P.H.

    Curriculum Vitae About Amy Bonomi is director of MSU’s Children and Youth Institute, co-administrator of the Women’s Leadership Institute, and faculty member in the Research Consortium on Gender-based Violence. Trained...

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