Battered Women and the State: The Struggle for the Future of Domestic Violence Policy

84 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2006 Last revised: 17 Sep 2015

See all articles by Emily J. Sack

Emily J. Sack

Roger Williams University School of Law


This Article examines the fundamental tensions that exist within current domestic violence law and policy, which may destroy the progress made over the past twenty years in developing an effective response to domestic violence. The implementation of aggressive criminal domestic violence laws has long been opposed by some battered women's advocates, who believe that such heavy reliance on state intervention results in domestic violence victims' loss of decision-making autonomy. The advocates' critique is rooted in strong concern for domestic violence victims, and many of their concerns have been borne out. However, a different and dangerous strain of criticism has recently made its way into the popular culture, espoused by men's rights advocates, conservative feminists, and others who have resisted changes in the law that treat domestic violence seriously. These critics argue that women are as violent as men in intimate relationships, so that the focus of attention on female victims is misplaced. Some posit that domestic violence is caused by the psychological dynamic between two violent partners.

This Article argues that by criticizing current criminal justice laws, but failing to articulate a viable alternative, battered women's advocates have sent mixed messages about the necessity of public attention to domestic violence. Supporters of the current policies are also at fault for failing to address the valid criticisms of these advocates. This have left room for the growing influence of the violent women and private family matter theories of domestic violence in the popular culture and among policy makers. This Article argues that the supporters of aggressive state intervention and the battered women advocates who criticize this involvement must work together to confront the problems in current criminal justice laws, without abandoning them altogether. The Article proposes several concrete strategies to begin this work. Unless this effort begins soon, the future of domestic violence policy will be its very old past, when domestic violence was not a matter of public concern, and battered women were buried out of sight, without alternatives for safety.

Keywords: Domestic Violance, Family Law, Criminal Law

Suggested Citation

Sack, Emily, Battered Women and the State: The Struggle for the Future of Domestic Violence Policy. Wisconsin Law Review, p. 1657, 2004, Roger Williams Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 35, Available at SSRN:

Emily Sack (Contact Author)

Roger Williams University School of Law ( email )

10 Metacom Avenue
Bristol, RI 02809
United States

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