This article explores the neglected question of why victims of domestic violence call the police, and how useful the police response is to them. We found that many women do not seek criminal sanctions because sanctions are unlikely to help to end the violence. This calls into question the value, to victims, of mandatory arrest policies which require prosecution decisions to be based on evidential concerns alone. These policies are based (naively, we argue) on assumptions about the interests of victims. Policies which give effect to victim preferences are also naive in ignoring the circumstances which shape victim preferences. We therefore argue for an approach which would empower victims to make choices which are less coerced (by their circumstances) than is usual at present. Elements of this approach can be found in the practices of some domestic violence units.