Soft Misogyny: The Subtle Perversion of Domestic Violence 'Reform'

Posted: 6 Feb 2018

See all articles by Justine A. Dunlap

Justine A. Dunlap

University of Massachusetts School of Law

Date Written: 2016


The past two decades have seen many statutory and non-legislative policy changes that were adopted with the purpose of reducing or eliminating intimate terrorism. The author argues that some of these changes were hastily and reactively made, with the result of making the lives of those who live with intimate terrorism more complicated. In worst case scenarios, the state perpetuates and sometimes enhances the abuse perpetrated on survivors and their children.

The author explores a variety of practices such as mandatory arrest, mandatory prosecution, child abuse policies, and child custody statutes that have the potential to inflict new harm on survivors and children. Likewise, the expanding scope of protection order statutes to include non-intimate partner relationships serves to devalue the harm and skew the remedies for intimate terrorism survivors. Ultimately, survivors of intimate terrorism discover that the legal institutions from which they seek help, or which are inserted by others into their lives, undermine the ostensible purpose of safety. The state actions can, in fact, escalate the terrorism and leave the survivor diminished, both legally and personally.

The author questions why, in addition to hasty law-making, so many “well-intended” reforms have gone wrong. She concludes that often “soft misogyny” is to blame and connects this form of misogyny to implicit bias. It is misogyny that occurs unbeknownst to the holder; its hidden nature makes it even more difficult to combat. The author posits that, by naming the soft misogyny, it can be placed out in the open and addressed.

Keywords: Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Misogyny, Soft Misogyny, Implicit Bias, Reform

JEL Classification: K14, K36, K39

Suggested Citation

Dunlap, Justine A., Soft Misogyny: The Subtle Perversion of Domestic Violence 'Reform' (2016). Seton Hall Law Review, Vol. 46, No. 3, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Justine A. Dunlap (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts School of Law ( email )

333 Faunce Corner Rd
N. Dartmouth, MA 02747
United States
508.985.1158 (Phone)
508.985.1115 (Fax)

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