Domestic Violence: Credible Threats and the Use of Services as Signals

Economics Discussion Paper No. 95-02

Posted: 9 Apr 1997

See all articles by Amy Farmer

Amy Farmer

University of Arkansas - Department of Economics

Jill Tiefenthaler

Colgate University

Date Written: January 1995


Previous work on domestic violence has focused on the woman's threat point to leave violent relationships, and the impact of variables such as income on this threat point. She has a credible threat to leave if her utility outside the relationship is at least as great as that achieved by staying. This paper considers the possibility that her threat point is known only to her, and, therefore, she may have strategic incentives to signal that she will leave when in fact she may or may not. This strategic interaction is modeled in a game-theoretic sorting model in which she may bluff and he may or may not call her bluff. Services such as police intervention, shelters, and counseling may provide her with a signaling mechanism, and the model illustrates that the use of such signals may improve her situation even if she returns to the relationship. Thus, measuring the success of services by only the number of women who leave violent relationships may underestimate their value by ignoring the benefits offered to women who stay in their relationships. This model provides a rational explanation for why many battered women use services and/or call the police only to return to their relationships after a few days or weeks. In addition, the model illustrates that the overall power of women in the economy can provide external benefits for all women, regardless of their particular situation.

JEL Classification: C78, J12, K42, J16

Suggested Citation

Farmer, Amy and Tiefenthaler, Jill, Domestic Violence: Credible Threats and the Use of Services as Signals (January 1995). Economics Discussion Paper No. 95-02, Available at SSRN:

Amy Farmer

University of Arkansas - Department of Economics ( email )

Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States
501-575-6093 (Phone)
501-575-3241 (Fax)

Jill Tiefenthaler (Contact Author)

Colgate University ( email )

13 Oak Drive
Hamilton, NY 13346
United States
315-824-7523 (Phone)
315-824-7033 (Fax)

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