Domestic Violence, Character, and Social Change in the Welfare Reform Debate

58 Pages Posted: 23 May 2011 Last revised: 25 May 2012

See all articles by Joan S. Meier

Joan S. Meier

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: April 20, 1997


This article addresses the recently discovered connection between domestic violence and welfare “dependency.” Empirical research among welfare populations shows that over 50% of women receiving welfare are or have recently been battered, and that partner abuse is a major reason for the continuing poverty of many women.

The question the author asks and begins to answer is why this connection has not previously been identified or publicized by either the battered women’s movement or the anti-poverty movement, and what the challenge may be to both movements as they attempt to address it in the context of welfare reform. The author argues that the connection has not been previously addressed because of the somewhat conflicting ideologies underlying both movements. The battered women’s movement is defined in part by its strong moral denunciation of male abusers and assertion of the victimization of women by men. The anti-poverty movement is reluctant to demonize half of the poor population, particularly in light of the conservative welfare reformers’ emphasis on “character” as the main cause of poverty. The article argues that we must — and can — find a way to synthesize the feminist emphasis on interpersonal justice and morality with the anti-poverty movement’s recognition of the larger social causes of poverty. The perspectives of both movements must be enlarged o recognize the multiple layers of victimization by which poor women and men endure; and both movements will be revitalized by this cross-fertilization.

Keywords: domestic violence, welfare

JEL Classification: I30

Suggested Citation

Meier, Joan S., Domestic Violence, Character, and Social Change in the Welfare Reform Debate (April 20, 1997). Law and Policy, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 657-731, April 1997; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 568; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 568. Available at SSRN:

Joan S. Meier (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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