Lost in Translation: Domestic Violence, ‘The Personal is Political’, and the Criminal Justice System

59 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2010

Date Written: June 29, 2010


Current criminal justice domestic violence policies have been severely criticized by some feminist scholars as undermining victim autonomy. This criticism is puzzling given the fact that these policies were drafted in response to the activism of feminists involved in the women’s liberation movement and that autonomy, or the agency of women, was a key goal of this movement. This apparent paradox can be explained, however, by the fact that activists involved in the early battered women’s movement and actors in the current criminal justice regime speak in two different “languages”. Thus, complete victim autonomy is a concept that got lost in the translation of some of the goals of the early battered women’s movement into criminal justice policy. While this Article acknowledges that victim autonomy is not the chief goal of the criminal justice system, it still urges proponents of current criminal justice policies to take seriously the fact that a high number of victims currently do not want to engage with the criminal justice system. This number is an important metric in analyzing the effectiveness of domestic violence policies. First, it underscores the fact that improvements need to be made in victims’ interactions with the criminal justice system and in the criminal justice system’s response to those victims who do ask for help. Second, it highlights the fact that the criminal justice system is a limited tool in addressing what is a social, political, and economic problem. For this reason, a criminal justice solution should be part of broader domestic violence policies that address the complexity of this issue. The economic disparities that women experience as a class and the intersectionality of race, class, sexuality, and gender are important aspects of a broader approach to the domestic violence problem.

Keywords: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, mandatory arrest policies, feminism, gender, criminal justice, autonomy, agency, women's liberation movement, intersectionality

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Bailey, Kimberly, Lost in Translation: Domestic Violence, ‘The Personal is Political’, and the Criminal Justice System (June 29, 2010). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1632601

Kimberly Bailey (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law ( email )

565 West Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661
United States

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