Redefining Harm, Reimagining Remedies and Reclaiming Domestic Violence Law

58 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2008 Last revised: 16 Aug 2010

See all articles by Margaret E. Johnson

Margaret E. Johnson

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: 2009


Civil domestic violence laws do not effectively address and redress the harms suffered by women subjected to domestic violence. The Civil Protective Order (“CPO”) laws should offer a remedy for all domestic abuse with an understanding that domestic violence subordinates women. These laws should not remedy only physical violence or criminal acts. All forms of abuse — psychological, emotional, economic, and physical — are interrelated. Not only do these abuses cause severe emotional distress, physical harm, isolation, sustained fear, intimidation, poverty, degradation, humiliation, and coerced loss of autonomy, but, as researchers have demonstrated, most domestic violence is the fundamental operation of systemic oppression through the exertion of power and control. Because CPOs are effective in rebalancing the power in a relationship and decreasing abuse, this remedy should be available to all women subjected to all forms of domestic violence. This Article proposes recrafting the civil law to provide a remedy for all harms of domestic violence and its operation of systemic power and control over women. Re-centering the narrative of domestic violence on this oppression rather than merely physical violence and criminal acts underscores the critical role of women’s agency and autonomy in legally remedying domestic violence. Too often, outside actors choose to save women’s lives to the exclusion of effectuating women’s choices about their abusive relationships.

Keywords: Domestic Violence, Civil Protective Order, Civil Law, Women and the Law, Feminist Legal Theory, Gender and the Law

JEL Classification: K19, K39, K40

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Margaret E., Redefining Harm, Reimagining Remedies and Reclaiming Domestic Violence Law (2009). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 42, 2009, University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-4, Available at SSRN:

Margaret E. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

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