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May 01, 2005

Just a few slaps between friends?

Lynn Sanders: May 1, 2005

Should the state take a special interest in violence between intimates (spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends)? In the Gamecocks and Battered Women discussion, Tad Brennan remarked “I hope we can do it better, but I don't think it helps to suggest that the state get out of it.”

I wonder if the only reason for thinking the state shouldn’t be involved in this area is that feminists insisted that maybe it should be. The thinking can’t possibly be as simple as, anything that a feminist advocated, I must oppose – can it?

There are some good reasons that any liberal (a label that many, many feminists would very vigorously resist, by the way) might consider violence between intimates a concern worthy of heightened state scrutiny. There also should be plenty of feminist qualms about the interventions against DV that feminist advocacy helped produce.

Consider first why state intervention in the problem of DV might be a very easy question for those of us enmeshed in the liberal political tradition. A straightforward, liberal and minimalist answer to the question, when are state actors allowed to interfere in the liberty of citizens? is, when one citizen is physically harming another (drawing blood, leaving bruises, breaking bones). Thus, enlisting state actors to intervene in cases of assault and battery doesn’t generally bother even those most troubled by any exercise of state power.

To extend this argument slightly: if it turns out that some citizens are particularly vulnerable to harm in some domains, then it becomes easier to justify a supervisory or intrusive role for state actors in those domains. This claim, too, enjoys a strong liberal pedigree. Something like it animates all sunshine laws, and it clearly accords with the liberalism Judith Shklar explicated as the liberalism of fear.

Are intimate relationships worthy of the state's special attention? Consider this figure from the Department of Justice:

Intprop_1

It seems simply not a controversial claim to say that women in the United States remain disproportionately vulnerable to violence at the hands of those closest to them. To be sure, women are much less likely than men to be victims of homicide in the first place (men were more than three-quarters of homicide victims in the US between 1976 and 2002).

But, according to data from recent years, when women are victims of homicide, they are killed by a partner about a third of the time. When men die in homicides, they are killed by partners between 3 and four percent of the time. Again, I base these claims on DOJ data. Note too that I focus here only on homicides, but similar gender patterns obtain in non-lethal assaults. Also according to the Department of Justice, “during 1998 women were the victims of intimate partner violence about five times more often than males.” No wonder the President is concerned.

Intimate violence can’t be dismissed as a feminist exaggeration. But this is not to say that some of the interventions initially advocated by feminists and adopted in many American jurisdictions have clearly worked well. Some of the most well-known are called mandatory arrest policies. In general, these policies are designed to take the onus of complaining of violence off the victim and to place it upon law enforcement agents. The DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women encourages efforts by states and municipalities to expand these policies.

A fair assessment of these policies must allow the point raised repeatedly in the Gamecocks discussion, that the dynamics of partner violence are psychologically complex. Part of this complexity is that victims participate in violent relationships through their own violence, through their non-violent provocations, and by staying in relationships. It is an important point that departing a violent, controlling relationship is often the most dangerous time in a battering relationship, because the batterer loses control when the victim leaves. Indeed, homicides occur disproportionately when or after victims leave.

Still, the dangerousness of leaving can’t fully explain why people stay in violent relationships. A few years ago the New York Times magazine published Deborah Sontag’s piece called “Fierce Entanglements” (November 17, 2002), which is a poignant account of the psychological complexity of battering relationships.

Sontag’s article also points up how the state power behind mandatory arrest policies is exercised disproportionately against less privileged citizens. Both from my reading of the studies of these policies and from my own experience working with survivors of domestic violence, I think it is irresponsible not to consider the possibility that such policies might produce especially bad effects for those who are already less well off.

Another qualm is that, in implementation, mandatory arrest policies sometimes treat all parties to violent altercations as equivalent. In one municipality I know of, officers are required to arrest all parties who might be responsible for any signs of injury. So if both parties bear the marks of a fight – if a victim has fought back – both parties are arrested.

In addition, it is demonstrable that, as implemented, mandatory arrest policies and other anti-DV interventions (for example, programs by prosecutors in some municipalities to encourage victims to testify against batterers) not infrequently “take crucial decisions about prosecuting a case out of these women’s hands” which “serves only to disempower them and to deny their personal agency” as Cathy Young says (this link goes to the original Reason magazine piece from which Mona quoted).

Everyone interested in this question should appreciate how relatively new the “problem” of state intervention in domestic violence is. Although a few states began passing laws against wife-beating in the late nineteenth century, until the 1970s “the American legal system continued to treat wife beating differently from other cases of assault and battery … men who assaulted their wives were often granted formal and informal immunities from prosecution” (Reva Siegel, 105 Yale Law Journal 2118). Feminists started chipping away at state laws and policies that overlooked spousal battery and granted immunity from prosecution for spousal rape only three decades ago. The last state law allowing a marital rape exemption was not eliminated until 1993, so I’m not sure it is possible to grant the wish that “the notion of spousal immunity from assault and battery charges is now long gone.”

The appeal to be lenient with perpetrators now is said to emanate particularly from those victims of DV who feminism prevents from exercising their personal autonomy. What a bizarre state of affairs. But even if flexibility with batterers did grant victims autonomy, why should a liberal state ever overlook or treat more lightly the physical harms perpetrated on any citizen by another?

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Comments

Posted by: quibbler

Just a minor quibble. You write:

Put another way, women are about ten times more likely than men are to have been killed by an intimate.

It would be more accurate to say, "Given that they have been killed by someone, women are about ten times more likely than men are to have been killed by an intimate." But since (as you say) the homicide rate for men is about three times the rate for women, the overall ratio of intimate homicides of women to intimate homicides of men is closer to 3:1. This ratio, not the 10:1 ratio, compares directly with the DOJ's figure of 5:1 as regards non-lethal assaults.

Posted by: quibbler | May 2, 2005 12:42:21 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

As the author of the phrase “the notion of spousal immunity from assault and battery charges is now long gone,” I hereby retract "long." I would note, however, that the issue whether a husband could legally be charged with rape is and has for some time been distinct from whether he could be charged with assault and battery against his spouse.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 2, 2005 8:08:05 AM


Posted by: Lynn Sanders

I made a few changes to the post, including responding to a request to make the graph larger.

There are in fact many interesting connections between spousal rape and other spousal assaults.

1, Historically, it was actually less controversial that a man could be charged with wife-beating than with rape. That is, between approximately 1870 and 1970, wife-beating (as opposed to something like corporal punishment) was not clearly legal in any state but wife-raping was in most.

2, Today, while no state upholds a marital rape exemption any longer, many states still treat sexual assaults by spouses differently than sexual assaults by others, usually by requiring a demonstration of a higher level of violence. So some would say that the marital rape exemption is not only not long gone but also still not gone.

3, In practice, of course hitting is distinct from raping, but of course they often go together.

Posted by: Lynn Sanders | May 2, 2005 8:52:55 AM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

To be clear (from this radical libertarian): if the central (only? ;) ) role of the state is to protect individuals from violence and coercion, that job does not stop at the front door of "the castle." Saying that the state should protect (mostly) women from domestic violence does not imply:

1. Mandatory arrest laws are the right way to do so
2. That every incident of DV should be treated identically to the same act perpetrated between strangers

It's hard for me to imagine anyone calling him or herself a libertarian and not taking domestic violence seriously, although such entities exist. After all, what is libertarianism if not the belief that human relationships - ALL human relationships - should be consensual?

Having said that, let me risk thread drift by pointing out that, after teaching such issues for 7 or 8 years, the most difficult issues for me as a libertarian are not those involving domestive violence, but those involving children. Of course, that's probably true for many political philosophies, but finding the line between legitimate parental rights and legitimate concerns about the well-being of children is extraordinarily difficult. Yes, the state's job doesn't *stop* at the front door of the castle, but just when and how far it can enter without knocking is tricky indeed.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | May 2, 2005 8:57:58 AM


Posted by: john t

Following Steve Horwitz's post; for a number of years Ive known a women who works in a day care center. One of the things the 4,5, and 6 year olds are taught at the center is how to call the police,911, when they think they've been abused by a parent. It's the 5 yr olds decision and he/she gets to place the call. Imagine the parents {child abuser ?] surprise when the cops come knocking at the door. Hardly a family solidifying experience but maybe the child will get a chance to visit the parent in jail. Living in a state where anything is possible I don't know if this is a state requirement or if it's the brainstorm of the proprietor.

Posted by: john t | May 2, 2005 9:20:30 AM


Posted by: Lynn Sanders

Yes, the issue is just what Steve Horwitz says: "the state's job doesn't *stop* at the front door of the castle, but just when and how far it can enter without knocking is tricky indeed."

Beyond this, I think one of the most fascinating issues emerging in comments on Don's post about South Carolina was the sense that DV laws are somehow more dangerous or volatile than other laws against assault and battery. If Mona called the cops during an assault by her former husband, they arrested him, she decided to press charges for assault and battery and he was convicted, this would also damage his future job and life prospects. But she does not complain about the existence of laws against assault and battery or those who advocate them.

So what makes DV laws distinctive? It is the way that victims who ask for help to prevent further violence then experience a criminal justice apparatus that seems out of control to them and others. Where exactly does this sense come from?

Posted by: Lynn Sanders | May 2, 2005 9:22:01 AM


Posted by: bakho

What makes DV special? Because the individuals involved are governed by a special legal contract called marriage. Or the individuals are connected by children parented jointly that gives the inidividuals unavoidable legal contacts.

It was the "Burning Bed" case in MI that really focused the spotlight on DV, led to the development of DV shelters and changed much of the law. If a woman tries to distance herself from an abuser but cannot and continues to suffer life threatening abuse, is she justified in killing him? Clearly, some intervention is preferable to allowing the situation to escalate to homicide. Early intervention is probably less expensive that allowing the situation to escalate to homicide and conducting a long arduous trial to determine whether or not the homicide was justified. Also, law enforcement officers consider calls to investigate DV among the most dangerous. This is because the individuals are almost always emotional and upset, if not irrational.

Often overlooked in DV is that the perps often are exhibiting irrational behavior or at the very least behaviors that are compulsive and controlling and may be outright psychotic. Since we as a society have poor legal methods for dealing with mentally disturbed people in general, it is not surprising that the brunt of the abuse will fall on individuals most intimately connected with the mentally disturbed.

Our system of democracy works because of respect for rights of other individuals and respect for rule of law. This system requires individuals be rational and responsible. When individuals become irrational or are irresponsible and lack respect for rule of law and individual rights, problems ensue. Loved ones of these individuals may have dysfunctional coping mechanisms and become enablers of bad behavior. Overall, this dysfunction is a drag on society and its resources and can create intergenerational transfer of antisocial behavior. All of this makes law and intervention very sticky. However, people who self identify as abused and their children clearly need societal support and intervention. Society has a vested interest in keeping families functional and not letting them devolve into dysfunction.

Posted by: bakho | May 2, 2005 10:07:57 AM


Posted by: Tad Brennan

Maybe there's a steady-state/transitional-state distinction to be drawn as well.

Some of the difficulties pointed to above will arise in any historical period (e.g. the complex psychological dynamics between spouses, the possibility--which I grant to Mr. Horowitz--that incidences of violence between intimates should not be treated as parallel to the same violence between strangers, and so on).

But part of our thinking about this subject should, I believe, also be focused on the fact that we are in a transitional state with respect both to the laws and to the cultural norms surrounding domestic violence.

In this regard, we might think of a parallel here to issues of race, e.g. race-sensitive admissions policies (or hiring policies).

There was an historical injustice that was not only prejudicial in impact but often prejudicial in design. (In the case of race: discrimination against blacks in admissions and hiring. In the domestic case: discrimination against women in the denying them the legal protection of ordinary A/B laws).

Now the major structural--at least legal--sources of those historical injustices has been dismantled.

But not very long dismantled, given a proper historical time-frame for understanding cultures. And the present empirical situation may bear some traces of a hang-over from the older institutions.

Is it sufficient to change the laws so that they are neutral, without weighing any lingering effects from historical injustices? Or ought our laws have a thumb in one pan for a while, in an attempt to even out the previous injustices? Or should our *laws* keep their thumbs off, but our non-legal institutions make some attempt at redress? And if the rationale for redress is our presence in a transitional state, how can we make sure to switch off the mechanisms of redress as we settle into the new steady state?

These are not new thoughts--you've had them all w.r.t. race--and I don't have any new solutions, either about race or about domestic violence.

I just want to suggest that some of our thinking here may be affected by a parallel dynamic, i.e. that we are not asking these questions about domestic violence in an historical vacuum, but rather at a very specific moment when certain historical injustices are either still in place, or have been rolled back only an historical instant ago.

Posted by: Tad Brennan | May 2, 2005 10:43:41 AM


Posted by: Mona

Lynn Sanders writes: If Mona called the cops during an assault by her former husband, they arrested him, she decided to press charges for assault and battery and he was convicted, this would also damage his future job and life prospects. But she does not complain about the existence of laws against assault and battery or those who advocate them.

A/B do not mandate arrest and prosecution for the comparatively mild levels of violence that are most DV incidents. The kernel of traditional wisdom contained in the old ethos of not interfering with what went on behind the doors of the castle, is that human relationships are messy, and state intervention may be counter-productive.

I, too, have been involved in counseling DV victims, as a volunteer some 20 years ago for a DV/rape crisis center. During my 6 wk training session, I was instructed that once a man has hit a woman, it is only the beginning of a spiral into increasing violence that will not end; it will continue to happen, again and again. This is not true.

The "burning bed" cases are a very small sub-set of DV incidents or couples. For many, both parties are involved in the violence, and also, in many instances the hitting is not part of a habitual pattern, but rather, has occurred in the context of marital extremis. As I said in the prior thread, in my own circumstances, in one of two instances in which my spouse hit me *I* initiated the "violence" by throwing the contents of a cup of milk in his face. Had neighbors called the cops (we were screaming rather loudly), I shudder to think what might have happened to both of us under current law.

That all said, I recall one woman I tried to help who was the victim of an actual batterer; I'm not talking about these cases. Her husband regularly landed her in the ER with extensive bruising and broken bones. She wouldn't leave, and no amount of encouragement from me could make her do so. I certainly think that man should have been prosecuted. But he literally terrorized her, and that is not what is going on in most DV incidents.

The law has long made distinctions between first degree murder, and manslaughter committed in the heat of passion, with lesser penalties in the latter case, per the wisdom of our common law tradition. A woman who comes home and finds her spouse in bed with her best friend may grab a handgun and kill both, even if she is otherwise a non-violent person. Similarly, a man who is not the stereotypical wife-beater may hit her in the limited context of severe marital problems. A policy that treats him like Farrah Fawcett's monstrous husband in The Burning Bed is using a sledge hammer on a mosquito; it is treating manslaughter like pre-meditated first degree murder.

To be clear: I emphatically do not think anyone has the right to commit an assault as long as it takes place in their home. The state does properly protect individuals there. But its policies should based on common sense and devoid of ideological theory that depicts any man who ever strikes his wife/girlfriend as a representative of patriarchy attempting to control her. Romantic relationships are for more complex than that.

Passing laws that uniquely sanction people for A/B committed in the home, sanctions that can cost them their livelihood, are misguided at best. Mandatory arrest and prosecution in the context of a deeply troubled marriage can pour flames on the problem, and it is hard to see the benefit when, as is usually true, the violence is of a minor misdemeanor variety.

Posted by: Mona | May 2, 2005 11:11:05 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Properly isolated from the clucking over cockfights, the topic of domestic violence illustrates what I think is a fairly fundamental difference between liberal and libertarian thought. We are all agreed that nonconsensual violence, at least among adults (I’ll leave open the question of corporal punishment of children), is a matter about which the state is properly involved. The question remains what the limits of that involvement should be.

My wife was on the board of directors of a safe house for a number of years and I have had some experience advising and counseling the victims of spousal abuse. Neither of us are experts, but our anecdotal experiences have helped to shape our opinions. The fact is, there are no simple answers. For example, we have known women who finally did free themselves from a physically abusive partner only to enter into a relationship with yet another physically abusive partner. We have known women who refused to leave the marital domicile because they feared for the lives of their pets (most safe houses / shelters will not accept pets). We have also known couples who are frankly sadomasochistic and who deliberately return to physical brawling even though they both are strong-willed individuals and have viable options if either chose to separate. Basically, Tolstoy is right: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. How on earth is a statute supposed to deal with all of this?

Others have suggested that not only are CDV laws dangerous in that they do not provide enough police or prosecutorial discretion and can be used or threatened for illegitimate reasons by a disgruntled but non-abused spouse, but also in that they are an attempt superimpose an overly simplistic, ideological agenda. One not be a fan of pater familias and its legal progeny to argue that the law is easily capable of overreacting in the opposite direction.

At the risk of being likened to our friend, Mr. Altman, I suggest that the law does well when it focuses on saving us from the nonconsensual abuses of others but not well at all when it attempts to save us from ourselves. I don’t wonder, like Mr. Altman, why a spouse might ever return to a dangerous home situation, but I do wonder whether after a series of such returns we might not have to reconcile ourselves to the notion that the system can’t be expected to save everyone and that the rest of us should not have to live in the sort of police state that would be required to change that sad fact.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 2, 2005 12:12:53 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Please, Mr. Ridgely, no one is going to mistake you for Rep. Altman.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 2, 2005 12:16:20 PM


Posted by: Lynn Sanders

I'm always intrigued when anyone invokes "common sense" in a political argument. I always wonder who has what sense in common. In a political argument, it may be constructive to take the time to explain exactly what shared intuition one is trying to appeal to.

I usually find something to agree with in Mona's comments, and this latest is no exception. But I think all arguments are more powerful when they resist overgeneralizing from single incidents or personal experience, or at least admit clearly when such references raise further empirical questions. For example, I think the fact that violence between couples often deescalates does not make the claim that murderous endings usually begin with mild violence untrue. The first task seems to me to be careful about establishing incidence or frequency; the second task is then to consider whether even rare events deserve aggressive state responses. Of course we can have arguments regarding both tasks.

It is also interesting who sees ideology where. As a student of feminism and politics, I am fascinated - and I admit not untroubled - by the relatively quick adoption by mainstream politicians of certain radical feminist ideas, especially concerning sexual violence.

I believe that we rather badly misrepresent the nature of these politics when we say things like state policies on DV reflect the feminist view that "any man who ever strikes his wife/girlfriend [is] a representative of patriarchy attempting to control her." While this contains a grain of truth, it misses what is perhaps the most interesting part of the political story here: how quickly the "mainstream," perhaps especially its conservative leaners, has adopted certain feminist positions in many areas. One of these days I'll make a separate post on this. But to suggest what is interesting about these politics, consider not only the links I provided to the Bush White House and Department of Justice but also this one to the State Department's Office on Trafficking in Persons: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/

Posted by: Lynn Sanders | May 2, 2005 12:34:26 PM


Posted by: bakho

I should add to this discussion that bringing in "law enforcement" may not be the most appropriate step. Getting the police and the legal system involved in anything is guaranteed to be intrusive and expensive. It is not guaranteed to produce the desired outcome. As Mona points out, bringing in the cops and the legal system over a small squabble may create more problems than it solves. Perhaps we need to make available a different model and set of resources that couples can use to improve their lives. Wives may be very reluctant to have the sole breadwinner thrown in jail. However, they might be less reluctant to enter into a therapy/anger management program that could improve their lives. DV shelters grew and are supported because of an unmet need that definately helps protect families when violence escalates. We need to be more creative in our solutions to these problems."Book him, Danno." is not the solution to every problem.

Posted by: bakho | May 2, 2005 12:45:14 PM


Posted by: Bret

From this post by Lynn Sanders and the previous "gamecocks and battered women" post by Don Herzog, I'm hypothesizing that both posters would agree with the following statement:

A potential weakening of the institution of marriage and a possible reduction in the number of children being born would be a small price to pay for any State interventions that reduced the injuries to and death of women.
Who could argue with that? I'm mean "why should a liberal state ever overlook or treat more lightly the physical harms perpetrated on any citizen by another?"

Lynn Sanders' graph is very powerful. I was hoping to add another graph along the same lines to this comment, but the comment engine here filters such things out (which is probably, in general, a good thing). My graph showed the percentage of men and women that are seriously injured or die due to childbirth. The lines on my graph are very steady, with women bearing one-hundred percent of the injuries and death, and men zero-percent. Note that more women die from childbirth than are murdered "by intimates". I'm not sure if the liberal state should punish the new-borns (the little parasites), or the husband for getting the women pregnant, but clearly if the state outlawed sex (and artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization), we could save the lives of a lot of women. Oh, you say the women want to get pregnant? Well, just like the battered woman who wants to return to her husband, it's clearly the job of the State to prevent such irrational behavior.

Note to Liberals who apparently have no sense of humor: the previous few sentences are purposefully absurd in order to create humor, sorry if you don't get it. But there are some points buried in the absurdity:

1. DV laws may have unintended consequences such as weakening marriage and reducing birth rates, competing consquences also important to the State and society, that the State needs to balance with the protection of its citizens. Of course, the Left may consider both of those consequences to be additional benefits (and perhaps they are even "intended" consequences). After all fewer children are "better for the planet" according to most liberals, and weakening the institution of marriage will likely result in more people being part of the Liberal demographic and therefore voting for Liberal candidates.
2. Each relationship within each subculture is extremely complex and unique and one-size-fits-all type laws, such as the proposed DV laws, are often very poor approaches to solve problems such as these.
3. Perhaps those on the Left should open their homes to battered women to give them a place to go so that returning to the spouse isn't their best opportunity. As an aside, this reminds me of a friend who visited India, and though far to the Left of any of the posters on the site, came back with a completely different view of child labor. He noticed while he was there, that the eight year olds who didn't work, also didn't eat and were therefore severely malnourished and they often died. He decided at that point, that child labor, as horrible as it is, was better than the alternative. Perhaps a similar line of reasoning applies to battered spouses?
I'm not going to pretend that I know the solution either. Indeed, there may not really be a best approach. It may just be that love and life are rough games - everybody gets hurt and everybody dies from them eventually.

Posted by: Bret | May 2, 2005 1:14:50 PM


Posted by: Bret

"Please, Mr. Ridgely, no one is going to mistake you for Rep. Altman."

And all this time I thought the "A" in D.A. stood for Altman!

Posted by: Bret | May 2, 2005 1:28:12 PM


Posted by: Mona

Lynn writes: But I think all arguments are more powerful when they resist overgeneralizing from single incidents or personal experience, or at least admit clearly when such references raise further empirical questions.

Well, as I said in the thread below, I'm reluctant to draw on situations I know of from professional experience, and so illustrated my points with my own. Frankly, I suspect many in or following these discussions have similar tales to tell. Further, I linked to and quoted from Cathy Young's piece that includes discussion of scholars offering empirically based arguments supporting my own position.

You also say:For example, I think the fact that violence between couples often deescalates does not make the claim that murderous endings usually begin with mild violence untrue.

Of course. But as D.A. Ridgely declares, I do not want to live in a police state in order to prevent such unhappy outcomes. Most instances of DV, by far, do not end up in murder or serious injury.

To draw on the events involved in one divorce case I handled back in the day (and what I report was all a matter of public record). She was totally irresponsible with money. All their credit cards were maxed out, and she had repeatedly overdrawn the checking account causing them to be charged with hundreds of dollars in bouncing check fees and the need to redeem checks from various creditors, with added penalties.

When yet another overdraft notice came to the home, a fight ensued, and he ended up pushing her and pinning her to the wall as he yelled at her. She called the police and he was charged with DV.

Granted, he was my client and my sympathies were with him, but independent of that, I found this situation galling. It enabled her to parade as the state-identified "victim" and him as the bad guy, when she was destroying them financially and driving him mad.

My client got diverted to anger mgmt classes, which neither he nor I felt he needed; what he needed was to finally be divorced from her.

Lynn asked in her initial post: I wonder if the only reason for thinking the state shouldn’t be involved in this area is that feminists insisted that maybe it should be. The thinking can’t possibly be as simple as, anything that a feminist advocated, I must oppose – can it?

The simple thinking, in my view, is the feminist ideology driving current DV policy. It does not comport with human reality, and rather is driven by an ideology in which all men who even once hit, slap or push, purportedly do so to control women with violence and threats of same.

You also write: if it turns out that some citizens are particularly vulnerable to harm in some domains, then it becomes easier to justify a supervisory or intrusive role for state actors in those domains. This claim, too, enjoys a strong liberal pedigree. I react to that kind of sentiment with visceral contempt, I can't help it, I really do. Women are infantilized as passive actors unable to make their own choices under such theory, and I find that appalling.

Women who want help leaving an actual batterer should have it, and I've given my time to programs providing it. But women who do not want to prosecute a spouse for minor assaults committed during marital discord, should also have their wishes respected. Further, I would advocate that prosecutors have great discretion not to prosecute when the context is two people contributing to a dysfunctional relationship, where only one crossed the line and slapped or pushed.

Finally, I'm a Camille Paglia feminist. Like her, I strongly reject reducing women as a class to victim status both because I personally find it demeaning, and because I dislike the policy results.

Posted by: Mona | May 2, 2005 1:29:06 PM


Posted by: Will

Lynn wrote:
1, Historically, it was actually less controversial that a man could be charged with wife-beating than with rape. That is, between approximately 1870 and 1970, wife-beating (as opposed to something like corporal punishment) was not clearly legal in any state but wife-raping was in most.

2, Today, while no state upholds a marital rape exemption any longer, many states still treat sexual assaults by spouses differently than sexual assaults by others, usually by requiring a demonstration of a higher level of violence. So some would say that the marital rape exemption is not only not long gone but also still not gone.

I volunteer to be the first to play the ignorant sexist in these comments. Marital-rape?!? How is the state going to know if any rape occurred in the 99.9999999% of cases where there were no witnesses and no video evidence? A medical examination might show evidence of rough sex, but how will the sheriff know if it was consensual? So, yes I would like a special and very demanding standard for the state to be able to convict someone of rape in the context of marriage.

Posted by: Will | May 2, 2005 3:00:25 PM


Posted by: Achillea

I know it's a hot button for a lot of people, but it seems to me everyone would be better served by kicking gender to the curb on this. I'm a feminist, but I'm a 'humanist' first. The genitalia of someone getting pounded on by a domestic partner really, honestly, doesn't matter to me, and I don't see why the law should care, either. To paraphrase Tad over on gamecocks, laws against lynching aren't there (or shouldn't be there) just to protect blacks (or whatever the current PC term is).

With the feminism vs. chivalry argument thus dispensed with, the issue comes down to 'what are the responsibilities of the state toward those in abusive domestic situations?' In the case of minors, who are supposed to be protected by somebody, matters are more clear cut. Adults -- leaving aside for the moment the elderly, crippled, mentally-impaired, and/or others entirely or largely dependent upon caretakers -- are a different kettle of fish. It's part of the state's job to protect its citizens from injury, either by outside forces or other citizens. However, I don't see it as part of the state's job to protect citizens from injury by themselves. So I find myself with one foot in Mona's camp and one in Mr. Ridgely's. The state should provide the means for those in abusive relationships to either end them (via divorce, incarceration of the abuser, etc.) or end the abusive aspect (therapy, counseling, etc.). If an abusee opts not to avail him- or herself of them, well, there's only so many times you can wave the moth away from the flame.

Posted by: Achillea | May 2, 2005 4:12:49 PM


Posted by: ya hozna

Wife/spousal abuse is a real problem, especially among working class couples. Yet along with legitimate concerns and rights to restraining orders, etc. there is the de rigeur feminist hysteria. At least in California, DAs, judges and most cops are now very much in favor of wives and women, and many women use this to their advantage in custody disputes, divorce etc. Simply being branded the ex-hubby/lover means that you most likely have cops tailing you and a restraining order (on DOJ file) which may or may not have been justified. Ex-hubby generally loses at least physical custody rights to his children just by being suspected of concern and skepticism of his wife and her new bf (or gf). And though this may come as a surprise, women and ex-wives do tell lies about DV, and judges, believing these lies, or "erroring on side of conservativism" issue restraining orders on no evidence, no hearing, no proof. A dad who wants to check on his kids on friday night when ex-mummy is out at the disco may be arrested for simply driving down the street. SO while Miss Sanders does raise a legitimate issue (blue collar guys who like to tweak speed have no problem beating the s*** out of wifey, though she usually goes back to the guy), feminist hysteria also has its victims--the decent ex-husbands and fathers who are now shut out of their kids' lives.

Posted by: ya hozna | May 2, 2005 6:14:14 PM


Posted by: neal

Per capita pregnant black female homicides are seven times higher than white women.

It seems simply not a controversial claim to say that pregnant black women in the United States remain disproportionately vulnerable to violence at the hands of those closest to them. To be sure, female blacks as a percentage of black murders are less likely to be murdered than female whites as a percentage of white murders.

Posted by: neal | May 3, 2005 1:17:12 AM


Posted by: peter

It started out as a thread on DV, and is becoming a thread on the limits of effective government intervention. So to push the discussion further, maybe we can say that

1) it would be a better value to the couple, and to society, to push dv's into a therapeutic, rather than the meat-grinder criminal justice, system. There are exceptions, might be fewer exceptions than we think.

2) liberals should be hugely warry of any extension of the criminal justice system, especially into a privacy area. In fact, any system that mandates a punishment prior to due process should have their hair raised on end; its a system begging to be extended and abused.

3) there is a big gap between a liberal sense of the strengthening of individual rights and liberties, and hard-core feminist strengthing of women's power through increasing the power of the state. Not all feminists are there, but its those feminists the Right use to demonize feminist thought and philosophy.

Posted by: peter | May 3, 2005 7:01:12 AM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

I was once asked to teach a class at an all girls school on chess. I refused. Why?...any allegation of misconduct on my part would probably result in basically the destruction of my life. Same with DV. An allegation might force me into some sort of compulsory counseling (to avoid jail or fines or protracted criminal proceedings). The kind of mindset that endorses or embraces government involvment without a commitment to the presumption of innocence is inviting abuse.

For example, a friend of mine innocently took some pictures of his young daughter in the bathtub and sent the film (this was before the age of digital photography) in for processing. He was subjected to an extended investigation by social workers and police. All without ANY formal allegation of impropriety. The thinly veiled threat of prosecution is a powerful tool.

I have no idea what the ideal solution might be but I would be extremely wary of the idea that more laws will have a net positive effect.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | May 3, 2005 9:40:31 AM


Posted by: Untenured Militia Member

I should have thought the solution was obvious: provide firearms and training to women at public expense. That way you can have the result we all want without the state intrusively supervising domestic relations. It's analogous to welfare reform, and similarly empowering.

Posted by: Untenured Militia Member | May 16, 2005 11:11:56 PM


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