Coercive Feminism

Posted: 6 Dec 2014

See all articles by Tara Urs

Tara Urs

King County Department of Public Defense

Date Written: December 4, 2014


In 2008, the United Nations (U.N.) began the UNiTE campaign, an effort to bring modern, aggressive domestic violence policy — essentially, American domestic violence policy — to the developing world. The campaign encourages member states to authorize protection orders, mandatory arrests, and no-drop prosecution, and to prohibit mediation between the abuser and the victim. This approach, however, exports elements of the American system that have engendered much criticism at home.

Some recent American feminist scholarship has argued that criminal interventions, like mandatory arrest policies and no-drop prosecutions, undermine a woman’s ability to make deeply personal decisions about her own life. In America, police, prosecutors, and judges are empowered to decide whether a woman must leave her spouse, whether she must testify against him in open court, and whether he must be excluded from their shared home. The United Nations has embraced this Western approach even though the flaws in American domestic violence policy are becoming increasingly apparent.

Despite the UN’s endorsement, increasing the scope of criminal law enforcement remains problematic, particularly in places where police and courts operate as agents of an authoritarian government. In addition, as the UN’s policy seeks to supplant local, traditional practices, it reinforces the notion that Third World women are helpless victims of their culture. As international advocates press for the intensification of efforts to combat domestic violence, this article suggests that it is time to reconsider some of the basic assumptions of that work. The American response to domestic violence is not ideal for everyone. It is probably not even ideal for us.

Keywords: domestic violence, human rights, Cambodia, culture, restorative justice, feminism, law and feminism

Suggested Citation

Urs, Tara, Coercive Feminism (December 4, 2014). Available at SSRN:

Tara Urs (Contact Author)

King County Department of Public Defense ( email )

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