Unintended Consequences of Constructing Criminal Justice as a Dominant Paradigm in Understanding and Intervening in Intimate Partner Violence

By Cramer, Elizabeth P. | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Unintended Consequences of Constructing Criminal Justice as a Dominant Paradigm in Understanding and Intervening in Intimate Partner Violence


Cramer, Elizabeth P., Women's Studies Quarterly


One in three women in the United States will experience physical or sexual abuse by an intimate partner during the course of her lifetime (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1999). Women who are not directly victimized by their partners may be indirectly affected by intimate partner violence (IPV) when their parents, children, coworkers, or friends are being abused. Feminists pushed the issue of IPV into the national spotlight by framing it as a social problem requiring intervention rather than a private trouble to be handled by the family.

When communities agreed that IPV was indeed a public issue, not just a family (private) matter, formal systems were established to respond to IPV Shelters for battered women emerged in the mid 1970s (Schechter, 1982). Feminists pushed for the police and the courts to treat IPV as a crime rather than a family feud. Thus, mandatory arrest ordinances were passed in communities across the country and courts adopted aggressive prosecution methods, including "no drop" policies and subpoenaing victims as witnesses in trials regardless of whether they wanted to testify (Mederos & Perilla, 2003). Batterer intervention programs (BIPs) developed with a variety of clinical perspectives for "treating" batterers and the courts began to refer persons convicted of domestic assault to BIPs, sometimes in lieu of jail time (Mederos, 1999). In addition to formulating a criminal justice response to IPV, clinical models for understanding and serving victims/survivors1 emerged, including Lenore Walker's battered woman syndrome (Walker, 1984) and survivor therapy model (Walker & Holland, 1994). The medical/public health field began publishing books and journal articles about IPV as a major cause of injury to women and a public health crisis (Campbell & Humpheys, 1984; Rounsaville & Weisman, 1978). Instruments such as the Abuse Assessment Screen were developed for medical professionals to assess IPV (McFarlane, Greenberg, Weltge, & Watson, 1995; McFarlane, Parker, Soeken, & Bullock, 1992).

While the development and enhancement of these systems indicated a more serious and formal response to IPV, concerns emerged about a lack of coordination among the various responders and ineffective or potentially damaging responses to victims. These problematic responses included high rates of "dual" arrests (when both the victim and offender are arrested) and ineffective monitoring of domestic assault offenders while they were on probation (Pence, 1999). Therefore, communities developed councils and task forces to enact a coordinated community response to IPV; these collaborations are often referred to as coordinated community response initiatives (CCRIs). CCRIs often include representatives from law enforcement and the court system (e.g., magistrates, prosecutors, judges, and staff from victim-witness agencies), programs serving battered women, BIPs, public schools, youth-service agencies, community mental health, housing and development, substance-abuse treatment programs, private practice, social services/child protective services, hospitals/clinics, public health departments, and universities. In some communities, concerned citizens and battered/formerly battered women2 also sit on the coordinating councils. CCRIs have differing goals depending on locality; however, typical aims are to advocate for mandatory arrest policies and/or monitor existing arrest policies, institute aggressive prosecution methods focused on the safety of the victim/survivor, monitor court sentencing and community corrections for the offender, establish and/or monitor BIPs (some communities have state standards/certification for BIPs), and collaborate with battered women's advocates (Mederos & Perilla, 2003).

In a relatively short time, a private family matter turned into a significant societal problem that required the creation and maintenance of a number of new systems and the modification of policies and practices of some existing systems. …

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