Term Paper: Intimate Violence

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Intimate Violence

Victimology 3365

This paper gives an overview intimate violence: its impact upon women and children and the means within the court systems to address the crime. It examines why the court system has had so much difficulty in protecting women from intimate violence, and ways to address this deficit.

To cope with domestic violence, the court has viewed intimate violence as a crime, but family courts' emphasis on parents cooperation has led them to insufficiently regard the seriousness of domestic abuse and its impact upon families -- even going so far as to penalize women who bring charges against their spouses.

Intimate violence and victims

Intimate violence can encompass physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. A spouse, lover, boyfriend, or ex-girlfriend is all capable of committing an act of violence against an intimately-known partner or acquaintance. Intimate violence does not discriminate; a man or woman is capable of being the batterer, although a disproportionate number of women are victims. Children exposed to intimate partner violence can suffer physical trauma if they are 'caught in the crossfire,' and even when they are not actually abused, they can suffer grave psychological consequences. While growing awareness of the extent of the problem has lead to stricter laws to protect the lives of the victims, the legal system still falls short in many respects. "Family law is, perhaps more than any other area of the law, a reflection of some of society's most intimate and volatile beliefs" and the court system remains change-resistant to a great degree (Farney & Valente 2003: 36). The nature of family law "owes as much too societal assumptions as it does to the expression of substantive legal rights and protections" (Farney & Valente 2003: 36). These assumptions, often based upon patriarchal norms, can be very hurtful to women.


When one imagines the face of an attacker, usually the image that is conjured up is the face of a stranger. However, "domestic violence is the single major cause of injury to women, more than muggings and car accidents combined" and "50% of all women murdered in the United States are killed by a spouse or an acquaintance" (Statistics, 2011, the Riley Center). Although it is difficult to estimate the full extent to which battery occurs, one national survey estimated that nearly 60% of all marriages within the United States contain some form of abuse (Statistics, 2011, the Riley Center). Estimates of national prevalence run as high 1/4 to 1/3 of all intimate relationships, including same-sex as well as heterosexual partnerships. In approximately 95% of all heterosexual, abusive relationships, the male is the aggressor (Myths about domestic violence, 2011, the Riley Center). Although children are not always the victims of physical abuse in domestic violence, they are almost always the witness when one parent is being battered by another.

The fact that children are not always the direct victims of violence has often resulted in a paradox of the court system: namely abusive fathers may retain custodial rights, simply because they were not physically abusive towards their children. This discounts the emotional abuse suffered by children when they witness their mother's suffering. "The core values underpinning family law -- particularly as it addresses child custody and visitation -- too often are at odds with the safety needs of victims of domestic violence" because family law is focused upon reordering the family and showing justice to all of its members while domestic violence law looks upon the law from a criminal justice perspective (Farney & Valente 2003: 35).

Fundamentally, domestic violence laws attempt to protect women from their abusers. In contrast, family law places the best interest of the children first, which is presumed to mean contact between the child and his or her parents, regardless of the parents' relationship -- even if it is abusive. This prioritization must change, many experts believe. For example 'stay away' court orders may conflict with custodial agreements. "Family law, on the other hand, sees two intimate partners who need to modify, dissolve, or otherwise regulate their relationship with each other through cooperative acts that will resolve their conflicts" rather than a criminal and a victim, one of which who is engaging in abusive conduct (Farney & Valente 2003: 39). The focus in family court is on facilitating cooperation, while quite often in domestic abuse situations, total, court-mandated separation is the only way to prevent males from using threats and other forms of physical and psychological manipulation to retain control over his spouse or girlfriend. But some family law judges may see a mother's request for mandated separation as a strategy to improve her positioning during the divorce rather than a genuine attempt to protect herself. This type of judgment empowers the abuser.

The assumption in family court is one of equality and the need to show fairness to the two partners as the best thing for the child. There is even something called the 'friendly parent' doctrine: "custody should be awarded to the parent most likely to foster the child's relationship with the other parent, i.e., the 'friendly parent'" (Dore 2006: 41). However, when one of the partners has committed a crime, such an assumption is untenable and hurtful. The stress of the 'friendly parent' doctrine is upon preserving custody for both parents, but it can penalize women who attempt to keep their children away from fathers who have enacted a physical or psychological toll upon the relationship. According to one family law attorney, Richard Ducote: "no woman...can safely walk into any family court in the country and not face a grave risk of losing custody to the abuser for the sole reason that she dared to present the evidence to the judge and ask that the child be protected" or herself (Dore 2003: 47). Women who try to use the law to protect themselves and their children against abusers may be viewed as vengeful rather than protective. This fear can lead many women to underreport abuse when undergoing divorce proceedings.

Thus, there are profound legal disincentives that discourage women from reporting domestic abuse. This is even more manifest when emotional, rather than physical tools of manipulation are used by males. Emotional abuse can include criticism, insults to friends or family; mandates to avoid associating with friends or family (isolating the woman); attempting to make the woman economically dependent by prohibiting her from working; threatening to take the woman's children away from or used threats of abuse (What is emotional abuse, 2011, Find Counseling). Women must be made aware that there are legal means to protect themselves against their abusers, such as retraining orders, but family law must also grow more responsive so that women do not have a perceived conflict between their rights as mothers and their right to live free from fear.

However, it should be noted that there have been major changes in domestic violence legislation that have improved women's ability to find redress in the court system overall. For example, the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) extended additional protections to domestic violence victims in 1994. Now, certain crimes pertaining to domestic violence can be prosecuted by the Department of Justice when they occur across state lines. It became a federal crime to "injure, harass, or intimidate that person's intimate partner when in the course of or as a result of such travel the defendant intentionally commits a violent crime and thereby causes bodily injury" (Groban 2011). It was also deemed a federal crime to use force, coercion, duress, or fraud against a domestic partner, to violate a legitimate restraining order across state lines, or to engage in interstate stalking. It is also a federal crime to use a firearm when engaging in abusive, stalking, or harassing behavior (Groban 2011).

The passage of the VAWA was considered a victory in light of the fact that a century before, the question of whether 'wife beating' was a crime was still debated in many legal arenas. Admittedly, the law only affects interstate cases of domestic abuse, and the nation still remains a patchwork of statutes, and what constitutes a domestic violence offence can vary from state to state. Still, federal prosecutions of some domestic violence cases have been successful. For example, according to 18 U.S.C. §2261(a) (2):"it is a federal crime to force or coerce an 'intimate partner' to cross state lines if the force or coercion leads to physical harm to the victim" (Groban 2011). In the United States v. Christopher Bailey (S.D. West Virginia), after battering his wife, Bailey locked her inside the trunk of his car and drove her from West Virginia to Kentucky. "Several days later he brought her to a hospital in Kentucky. Because of the delay in treatment, Sonya Bailey is now in a permanent vegetative state. Bailey was convicted of kidnapping and interstate domestic violence and is now serving a life sentence" (Groban 2011).

Some states have also taken up the lead and extended even more protections to domestic violence victims. This seems… [END OF PREVIEW]

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