Constrained Choice: Mothers, The State, and Domestic Violence

26 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2015

Date Written: June 1, 2015


Mothers who are the victims of domestic violence face unique challenges in their quest for safety. The legal response to domestic violence requires that mothers respond to abuse in specific state-sanctioned manners. However, when mothers respond accordingly, such as by reporting abuse and leaving the abusive relationship, their safety and the safety of their children is not guaranteed. Moreover, by responding in state-sanctioned manners, mothers risk a host of negative consequences including increased threat to their immediate and long-term safety, the loss of their children, undesired financial, health, and social consequences, and criminal prosecution. On the other hand, when mothers respond to abuse in unsanctioned manners, such as by staying in abusive relationships, they face similarly hostile consequences including continued abuse, the loss of their children, and criminal prosecution. Thus, regardless of how mothers respond to domestic violence, they risk being harmed by their abuser and the state. As a result battered mothers’ choices are significantly constrained.

Though the legal response to domestic violence has improved dramatically over the past few decades, reforms are still needed. The state should sanction a broader range of maternal responses to domestic violence and accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to private family violence. In addition to increasing victim safety, implementation of these reforms would increase respect for maternal autonomy and demonstrate the state’s true commitment to protecting women and children from domestic violence.

Keywords: mothers, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, private family violence, children, criminal law, gender, feminist legal theory, public-private dichotomy, families, criminal law, family law, constitutional law, child custody, divorce, self-defense

Suggested Citation

Kitchen, Rona Kaufman, Constrained Choice: Mothers, The State, and Domestic Violence (June 1, 2015). Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 4, 2015, Duquesne University School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-03, Available at SSRN:

Rona Kaufman Kitchen (Contact Author)

Duquesne University - School of Law ( email )

600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
United States

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