'Law and Justice are Not Always the Same': Creating Community-Based Justice Forums for People Subjected to Intimate Partner Abuse
59 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2014 Last revised: 7 Oct 2015
Date Written: 2015
What constitutes justice in cases involving intimate partner abuse has historically been determined not by the person subjected to abuse, but rather an actor within the legal system — a police officer, a prosecutor, an advocate, or a judge — and those individuals most often define justice in terms of what the legal system has to offer. People subjected to abuse may conceive of justice quite differently, however, in ways that the legal system is not well suited to address. For people subjected to abuse who are interested in punishment, whose goals are congruent with the legal system’s goals of safety and accountability (as defined by the state), and who are willing to use state based systems, society offers a response: the criminal justice system. Imperfect though that response might be, in theory it meets the justice needs of some people subjected to abuse. For people who are more interested in healing and are willing to work through state systems, society also offers a response, albeit a more limited one: restorative justice. But for those who are not interested in a state-based response, little by way of justice exists for people subjected to abuse. This article seeks to fill that void by suggesting the development of community based forums to deliver justice. In her 2003 article, Battering, Forgiveness and Redemption, law professor Brenda Smith suggested a number of alternative models that might be used to address intimate partner abuse. Building on her work, and recognizing that there are parallels between the experiences of people seeking justice for violations of human rights and people subjected to intimate partner abuse, this article borrows from the structures used to find justice after atrocity, including truth commissions and community-based courts, to flesh out what community-based justice forums to address intimate partner abuse might look like. The article imagines how international human rights processes might productively inform efforts to create new alternatives for finding individualized justice, voice, validation and vindication outside of the criminal justice system and considers the crucial questions that such a radical reimagining of justice provision raises — about the role of the state, the problems of gendered justice, the existence of community, and the provision of resources.
Keywords: abuse, conflict, women
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