In Pursuit of Economic Justice: The Political Economy of Domestic Violence Laws and Policies

70 Pages Posted: 3 May 2019

See all articles by Deborah M. Weissman

Deborah M. Weissman

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: April 26, 2019


Violence experienced within the family — perhaps the most intimate of all social arrangements — causes devastating consequences. Recent phenomena, including accounts of perpetrators of mass shootings with a history of domestic violence and the #MeToo movement, have called new attention to the costs and consequences of violence against women. Intimate violence wreaks havoc extending beyond the private spaces of the household, thereupon to lay bare the structural shortcomings of public institutions.

The act of domestic violence enters the public imagination principally as an offense of physical abuse. It is more complicated. In fact, intimate partner violence (IPV) is often exercised as an act of coercion by abusers who engage in strategies to interfere with their partners’ ability to engage productively in the workplace and deny them control over economic resources, that is, to deny them agency. Certainly, awareness of the insidious facets of economic coercion of IPV has expanded in recent years. However, attention to the efficacy of legal and policy responses to the economic consequences of such abuse has not received commensurate attention. Federal and state laws designed to address economic abuse are applied haphazardly if at all. The laws themselves, moreover, are ill-suited to address the structural issues that contribute to domestic violence in the first place. Similarly, “economic justice initiatives” promoted by anti-violence advocates to “respond to, address, and prevent financial abuse” related to domestic violence fall far short of their intended goals. The primary programmatic focus of the “economic justice initiatives” tend to privilege personal financial literacy as a means to repair consumer credit and enhance victims’ capacities to bank and save as a strategy of economic independence. These programs ignore the overarching neoliberal underpinnings of the political economy that burden victims with the costs of their own remediation through practices designed to benefit financial markets.

The recent attention to remediating domestic violence including economic abuse sets in relief the need to introduce analyses of political economy into law practices and advocacy strategies. This article provides such analysis and considers how legal remedies and advocacy strategies that address economic abuse are constrained and shaped market forces. It argues that without an understanding of political economy, programmatic “advances” may in fact exacerbate the economic circumstances of victims as well as abusers. Those whose lives are shattered by domestic violence should not be subjected to a remediation paradigm more suited for those who possess political and financial power than those who do not.

Suggested Citation

Weissman, Deborah M., In Pursuit of Economic Justice: The Political Economy of Domestic Violence Laws and Policies (April 26, 2019). Utah Law Review, Vol. 0b, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Deborah M. Weissman (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

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