Negotiating Domestic Violence: Police, Criminal Justice, and Victims

By Carolyn Hoyle | Go to book overview

8
Interrogating the Role of the Victim

Feminists in the 1970s, on recognizing the enormity of the problem of domestic violence, were outraged at the state's apparent lack of interest. However they were concerned not only, or even primarily, with the inadequate response of the criminal justice system, but with the causes of domestic violence--the unequal power relations between men and women, and women's political and economic subordination. Their main goal was empowerment, encouraging women to work collectively to take control of their own lives and to avoid further victimization-- hence the establishment of refuges run by women for women. Whilst some campaigns centred around legal reform, emphasizing, in particular, that domestic violence is a criminal rather than a private or a civil matter, the law was not the only institution which pressure groups attempted to reform.

Throughout the 1980s, however, the original aims of the women's movement receded. Although some 'grass-roots activists' continued to lobby for the broader agenda of women's rights, many critics focused on the criminal justice system. This shift in attention, from the wider issues to the rules and operation of the justice system, and in particular the police, is understandable. After all, it is easier to fight for specific law reforms than to tackle the fundamental basis of a patriarchal social order.

Campaigns were thus centred around 'improving' the police response, which soon came to mean more police powers, with the goal of higher arrest and prosecution rates. In the United States women's advocates used litigation, legislation, and research to press for the increased use of arrest. Approaches predicated on the assumption that crime could be reduced by arrest and sentencing policies aimed at deterring potential offenders began to be widely approved.

Many feminist writers and activists who had normally aligned themselves with progressive groups on the left, fighting for

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