Rethinking Civil Rights and Gender Violence

14 Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 43 (2013)

37 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2012 Last revised: 10 Apr 2013

Date Written: July 1, 2012


Advocacy seeking justice for survivors of domestic and sexual violence historically has invoked civil rights laws and rhetoric to advance legal remedies and public policy reform. Even though two widely critiqued United States Supreme Court decisions have limited the reach of those civil rights approaches, neither decision precludes new civil-rights-based remedies for gender violence. Indeed, a civil rights frame has enduring potential to support needed reform by challenging structural inequalities that continue to inform and drive gender violence. Nevertheless, no public outcry has coalesced in the United States demanding a civil rights-based enforcement scheme, either to seek a refashioned remedy against private individual perpetrators or to ensure state accountability for law enforcement responses to gender-based violence.

This article considers potential civil rights remedies that would address structural and systemic inequalities related to gender violence. It focuses on one area of potential reform: law enforcement accountability. The article urges a shift that views law enforcement accountability for gender violence on the same continuum as other forms of law enforcement misconduct. Popular understandings of police misconduct typically involve over-enforcement, while cases involving gender violence typically involve under-enforcement. However, both categories involve misuse of authority and should be thought of in tandem. This shift can reinvigorate existing strategies and can generate new approaches to both law and policy. The article makes recommendations that would contribute to a new generation of progressive reform that advances the principles of equality and liberty for which civil rights long has stood.

Keywords: discrimination, gender violence, sex discrimination, gender equality

Suggested Citation

Goldscheid, Julie, Rethinking Civil Rights and Gender Violence (July 1, 2012). 14 Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 43 (2013). Available at SSRN: or

Julie Goldscheid (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square Room 6-306
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States
718-340-4507 (Phone)
718-340-4275 (Fax)

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