Domestic Violence: Personal
Trouble or Public Issue?
A distinction exists between the “personal troubles of milieu” and “public issues of social structure.” Troubles are a private matter, occurring within the character of the individual and in relationships with others. Personal values held by the individual are threatened. Issues are a public matter where some value held in esteem by the public is threatened. Issues are located within the social and historical institutions of a society (Mills, 1959/2000). Problem or issue definition shapes public perception, public policy, and intervention (Cosimo, 1999; Foster-Fishman, Nowell, & Yang, 2007; Olivero, 2010; Stone, 2002, Weiss, 1989). Some interventions are more meaningful depending on whether the focus is on the individual perceived to have a personal trouble or problem, the social structure that fosters social values that support the behavior, or the interaction of both (O’Neill, 2005; Portwood & Heany, 2007). Equally important is to link history and politics, giving a wider context to individuals within society (Brewer, 2003; Mills, 1959/2000).
Vacillation between defining domestic violence as personal trouble or public issue is evident in historical and political efforts to address domestic violence in the United States. It is commonly thought that advocates for battered women identified domestic violence as a public issue in the 1960’s. In fact, there were earlier periods of social reform that addressed domestic violence (Bailey, 2006; Pleck, 1989). The belief that the need to enforce domestic violence laws outweighs the traditional rights of husbands or respect for domestic privacy is