Are Domestic Abusers Terrorists? Rhetoric, Reality, and Asylum Law

46 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2019 Last revised: 11 Jan 2022

See all articles by Natalie Nanasi

Natalie Nanasi

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: 2019


The terms terrorism and terrorist are highly charged but all too often imprecisely utilized in legal, media, and political arenas. The terminology has even entered the field of intimate partner violence, where the phrases terrorism in the home or intimate terrorism have been used to describe domestic abuse. This language has proliferated not only due to identified commonalities between intimate partner abuse and terroristic behaviors but also because of the rhetorical impact of the words in highlighting the gravity of domestic violence. However, expanding the legal framework of terrorism into new areas has potentially serious and far-reaching consequences. It is therefore critical to carefully analyze the impact of reconceptualizing intimate partner abuse as a form of terrorism.

This Article undertakes such an analysis with a focus on asylum law. It ultimately concludes that even though reconceptualizing intimate partner abuse as terrorism in the home may accurately describe the political and societal implications of domestic abuse (as well as the state’s complicity in perpetuating it) and has the potential to expand access to asylum for survivors, the terrorist label should be applied with caution. The decision to designate a violent act a terrorist act is often political in nature, and race and religious affiliation are frequently decisive factors in assigning the label. Moreover, significant criminal and immigration consequences exist for those who are either branded terrorists or those who harbor or materially support terrorists, potentially including survivors themselves. Recognizing these drawbacks, this Article calls for selective and limited use of the intimate terrorism framework –– effectively defining the phenomenon without utilizing the label –– in the asylum law system.

Keywords: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, terrorism, asylum, immigration

Suggested Citation

Nanasi, Natalie, Are Domestic Abusers Terrorists? Rhetoric, Reality, and Asylum Law (2019). 91 Temple Law Review 215 (2019), SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 415, Available at SSRN: or

Natalie Nanasi (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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