The Anti-Rape and Battered Women’s Movements of the 1970s and 80s
The Oxford Handbook on Feminism and Law in the United States (Deborah L. Brake, Martha Chamallas & Verna Williams, eds., Forthcoming)
28 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 12, 2020
The anti-rape and battered women’s movements of the 1970s and 1980s grew out of the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Early grassroots organizing around responding to rape and domestic violence relied heavily on community-based strategies, including the creation of shelters and safe houses and feminist self-defense classes. Using the new vocabulary of the women’s liberation movement, feminist advocates soon began to highlight the ways existing rape and domestic violence law shored up the patriarchy, characterized women as the property of their fathers and husbands, and enabled the state to sidestep responsibility for violence. Reacting to a legal system whose responses to gender-based violence included official policies of non-interference, skepticism about women’s credibility, and what they saw as inappropriate concern for the privacy of the family, some anti-violence advocates moved away from the grassroots community-based strategies of the early anti-rape and battered women’s movements. Instead, they pushed for greater state intervention in rape and domestic violence via the criminal legal system. But the movement was not united in embracing such strategies. Feminist organizing of the 1970s and 80s around changing rape and domestic violence law reflected the tensions between competing visions of the role of the state in addressing gender-based violence, visions shaped by race, class, and professional status. By the end of the 1980s, culminating in the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, pro-state intervention feminists had successfully implemented their carceral agenda—a policy choice that is being reexamined today.
Keywords: domestic violence, rape, anti-rape, women's liberation, VAWA, women's history
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