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Autonomy Feminism: An Anti-Essentialist Critique of Mandatory Interventions in Domestic Violence Cases


Leigh Goodmark


University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

March 5, 2009

Florida State University Law Review, 2009

Abstract:     
In the 1970s and 80s, feminists led the way in crafting and advocating for policies to address domestic violence in the United States - and those feminists got it wrong. Desperate to find some way to force police to treat assaults against spouses as they would strangers, the battered women's movement seized on the idea of mandatory arrest - relieving police of discretion and requiring them to make arrests whenever probable cause existed. But mandatory arrest also removed discretion from the women that the policy purported to serve, a trend that has come to characterize domestic violence law and policy. Later policy choices, like no drop prosecution and bans on mediating in domestic violence cases, are similarly marked by their denial of decisionmaking to women who have been battered. Domestic violence law and policy prioritizes the goals of policy makers and battered women's advocates - safety and batterer accountability - over the goals of individual women looking for ways to address the violence in their relationships. The shift of decisionmaking authority has profoundly negative implications for the autonomy of women who have been battered and reflects the influence of dominance feminism on the battered women's movement. This article argues that the time has come to shift the lens through which we view domestic violence law and policy from dominance feminism to anti-essentialist feminism, allowing us to see how problematic mandatory policies are and helping us to craft domestic violence law and policy that honors the goals and priorities of women who have been battered.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 75

Keywords: Family law, women, domestic violence, feminist theory

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Date posted: April 1, 2009 ; Last revised: December 17, 2009

Suggested Citation

Goodmark, Leigh, Autonomy Feminism: An Anti-Essentialist Critique of Mandatory Interventions in Domestic Violence Cases (March 5, 2009). Florida State University Law Review, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1354047

Contact Information

Leigh Goodmark (Contact Author)
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )
500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States
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