The Pedagogy of Domestic Violence Law: Situating Domestic Violence Work in Law Schools, Adding the Lenses of Race and Class
Sarah M. Buel
Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 11, p. 309, 2003
Increasingly, domestic violence victims are turning to the courts for protection, too often with poor results. Many lawyers view the relevance and scholarship of domestic violence law as prosaic, although it is an issue of profound social significance, and will impact their professional and personal lives. It is not surprising then that many attorneys, ignorant of domestic violence issues, mishandle the full spectrum of its legal applications. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence reports that, overwhelmingly, the technical assistance calls they receive indicate that abuse victims are not receiving adequate representation. States’ gender bias reports, including The Gender Bias Task Force of Texas, Final Report, verify that improper handling, at all levels of the legal system, can be traced to attorneys’ lack of knowledge about domestic violence. Deficient education on the issue can have catastrophic consequences for the parties involved. A Maryland battered woman was murdered by her partner after a judge denied her a protective order. In another case, a judge gave custody to a father who had not only battered the child’s mother, but also had a conviction for his previous wife’s murder.4 In Austin, Texas, a battering father was convicted of molesting his own child, as well as several of those in his wife’s day care center, yet a judge gave him custody of all three of the couple’s children. The legal and social challenges faced by battered women must inform the scholarship and pedagogy of law. Some students, like some lawyers, find it uncomfortable to hear details of abuse, as so often victims live with such unimaginable terror, the likes of which lawyers and courts have no concept. Batterers subject victims to a degrading regimen of humiliation, shame and loss of esteem, often demanding total obedience.10 In addition to the emotional abuse, American women are in nine times more danger of physical abuse in their own homes than they are in the street. Sadly, the legacy of this violence is often passed from one generation to the next. Frequently overlooked, but critical to address throughout the academy’s efforts, is a fundamental understanding of the ways in which race and class impact ethical practice, in part by impeding access to legal remedies. Weaving themes of domestic violence, race and class together, we can offer an expansive menu of options, hoping to ultimately reach every law student. It is likely that among our own law students exists the same proportion of victims and offenders as in the larger community.
Currently, there is little recognition of this phenomenon, and few, if any, coordinated interventions with those involved. Thus, our concerted efforts will undoubtedly increase the safety of our law students, as well as that of the survivors we serve. Law schools, bar associations, law firms and foundations should also be encouraged to fund student and attorney practice of domestic violence law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 45
Keywords: domestic violence, law school, law students
Date posted: July 24, 2010
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