Rethinking a New Domestic Violence Pedagogy

Race & Social Justice Law Review, 2014, Forthcoming

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2426803

29 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2014

See all articles by Deborah M. Weissman

Deborah M. Weissman

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: April 19, 2014


It has been several decades since a cohort of academics and advocates have articulated their concerns about the emerging patterns of response to gender-based violence that failed to serve adequately the needs of communities of color, the poor, immigrants, the disabled, and LGBTQ persons. Social justice advocates have observed that domestic violence law reform has resulted in an expanded oppressive police presence that “decimate[s] poor communities and communities of color,” increased the rate of incarceration, and further impaired the ability of communities to develop internal means of social control. The resort to arrests, prosecution, and punishment as a means to respond to domestic violence has largely ignored the problem of racism and abusive practices emblematic of the criminal justice system.

This essay seeks to contribute to the rethinking of paradigms of responses to domestic violence. It argues for the need to reconsider the pedagogy of domestic violence and expand the curricular content and advocacy skills as a matter of domestic violence law, that is, to reconsider what legal skills and knowledge are required of the “domestic violence bar.” In keeping with social justice principles that were and ought to remain the core of domestic violence work, anti-domestic violence advocates must contest the oppressive nature of the criminal justice system, most notably to challenge biased and punitive police and prosecutorial practices. They must act to dismantle identified barriers that prevent victims of domestic violence from seeking remedies and services in ways that shift the paradigm of what it means to “do” domestic violence law.

This essay focuses on particular strategies by which to redirect domestic violence law practice, without which the now well-developed critique about the barriers to legal remedies will be rendered ineffectual. It argues that domestic violence law must incorporate challenges to racist and exclusionary practices that occur both within and beyond the context of specific incidents of gender-based violence. Lawyers concerned with mitigating domestic violence are obligated to contest such rights violations regardless of whether they are committed by the state or nonprofit organizations. Domestic violence lawyers should include in their arsenal of legal tools, legal strategies to end racial profiling and challenge the failure of the courts as well as domestic violence programs to comply with the Americans with Disability Act, Title VI, and other civil rights laws. When victims of domestic violence are excluded from or otherwise treated discriminatorily at shelter programs because of practices that violate their civil rights, domestic violence lawyers must be disposed to redress such grievances. Law students and lawyers planning to practice domestic violence law must become experts in these fields, in addition to developing a thorough foundation in the basic field of domestic violence law.

Suggested Citation

Weissman, Deborah M., Rethinking a New Domestic Violence Pedagogy (April 19, 2014). Race & Social Justice Law Review, 2014, Forthcoming ; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2426803. Available at SSRN:

Deborah M. Weissman (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-5108 (Phone)
919-962-1277 (Fax)

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