Individuals – Davis & Medina-Ariza (2001)

Study Reference:

Davis, R. C., & Medina-Ariza, J. (2001). Results from an elder abuse prevention experiment in New York City. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Individuals; Focused; Proactive; Very rigorous; Backfire effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study examined an Elder Abuse Prevention Experiment on the incidence of elder abuse in public housing units in New York City. The intervention consisted either of public education (e.g., posters, leaflets, presentations on elderly abuse, legal rights of victims, and assistance available), home visits at houses of elderly by a police officer and domestic violence counselor, or both. Victims were encouraged during home visits to call the police if repeat violence occurred. In the few cases in which the abusers were present, the police officer made it clear to them that police would monitor the household.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Thirty of 60 public housing projects were randomly assigned to receive public education, after which residents reporting elder abuse were assigned by lottery either receive a home visit or a normal police follow up (an initial police patrol response and a generic letter that offered assistance but did not contain specific information on elder abuse). To track new abuse, the researchers examined police records for any new complaints of elder abuse by victims during the year after the initial incident, and also conducted victim interview 6 months and 12 months after the initial incident.

What were the key findings?

Households that received both interventions called the police significantly more often, and also reported significantly higher levels of physical abuse to the interviewer than households that received neither or only one of the intervention. In addition, households that received home visit only also called the police significantly more often than households not receiving any intervention, but they did not report more abuse to interviewers. The interventions were also found to be difficult to implement.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors suggested that the most plausible explanation of these unexpected results is that the combined intervention incited abusers rather than deterring them. They argue that further investigation is needed, as discontinuing these intervention is difficult due to society’s preference for intervention on behalf of abuse victims.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?