The Community Politics of Domestic Violence
61 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2016
Date Written: December 6, 2016
Gender violence has long been identified as a crisis of epidemic proportions that defies facile solution. Despite decades of law reform, and notwithstanding increased social services and public health interventions, the rates of gender violence have not appreciably declined. The field of domestic violence advocacy is itself in a crisis, and it has been difficult to discern the best way forward. Despite its intellectual and practical engagement, the domestic violence movement seems unable to shift from the neoliberal paradigm that emphasize the features associated with the carceral state while appearing indifferent to the structural sources of domestic violence as a social problem. Reliance on the criminal justice system has tended to fracture the domestic violence movement even as it marginalized itself from disenfranchised populations.
This Article offers a case study of an incident that occurred between the Sheriff of San Francisco and his wife in December 2011 that resulted in domestic-violence related criminal proceedings and additional charges of official misconduct and efforts by the Mayor to remove him from the office of Sheriff. The Sheriff had been recently elected largely as a result of a coalition of marginalized communities, immigrant rights advocates, environmental justice organizations, labor groups, and other progressive organizations. The case reached beyond the courts and city hall into neighborhoods and households, and community meeting places throughout the city. The legal and public citizen commentary offered throughout nine months of proceedings against the Sheriff set in relief the contradictions and tensions emblematic of the crisis that confronts the domestic violence movement. The case provide a unique opportunity to consider the problems of domestic violence anew, a way to interrogate old premises and presumptions, examine prevailing practices, and reconsider responses.
This Article addresses the perils attending over-reliance on criminal justice paradigms as remedy for domestic violence, that –- in fact -– deployment of law enforcement methods has acted not only to diminish the efficacy of domestic violence strategies but also to diminish the relevance of domestic violence advocacy to the social justice movement. To rely on models of victimhood as the means to obtain the intervention of criminal justice remedies implies loss of voice and agency, whereby the interests of the “victim” are preempted in discharge of larger logic of the criminal justice system. That domestic violence advocates identify with criminal justice remedies, moreover, at a time when law enforcement practices are under scrutiny and suspicion within marginalized communities, has acted to deepen the breach between domestic violence advocates and the social justice movement.
The Article offers an opportunity to reconsider the definition of domestic violence as well as the criminal justice and community response to this problem. It seeks to re-engage in dialogue about the private/public dichotomy without returning to a point in time where private abuse between intimate partners can be considered of little or no socio-political or legal import. Domestic violence persists as a manifestation of gender and other forms of inequality and social norms that oppress and repress its victims. But the mainstream responses often accomplish little to eliminate or repair the damage caused by intimate partner violence. The Article reiterates the recommendations scholars have offered in recent years as alternatives to criminal justice remedies and suggests that what is lacking is not prescriptives but rather political will.
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