Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: December 2010

5 - Using Public Health to Reform the Legal and Justice Response to Domestic Violence



The model of abuse that guides society's understanding and response to domestic violence has failed us. Based on a straightforward analogy between domestic violence and assault, this model identifies the seriousness of a partner's acts according to legal degrees of criminal abuse: according to how much violence is involved and the degree of injury inflicted. No matter how well intended, application of this model to protect women and their children has been disastrous for all concerned. This is because the phenomenon that advocates and policy makers are trying to manage and for which millions of primarily female victims and their children seek help annually has little in common with the types of assault the paradigm describes. For a way out of this morass, I turn to public health.

Society's response to violence against women in families and relationships has been revolutionized since the first battered women shelters opened in the early l970s. The material foundation of this revolution is women's increasing importance to the economy worldwide and their corresponding attainment of formal legal equality. On the ground, the revolution has been characterized by a vast array of legal reforms and the adoption of public policies designed to support the basic goals of women's advocacy groups worldwide – enhanced safety and support for victims and accountability for offenders. These changes are supported by the development of a vast knowledge base documenting the extent, seriousness, dynamic and, context of violence against women in relationships.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Berk, Sara Fenstermaker & Loseke, Donileen R., “Handling” Family Violence: Situational Determinants of Police Arrests in Domestic Disturbances. 15 Law & Soc'y Rev., 317, 317–346 (1980)
Chaney, Carol Kennedy & Saltzstein, Grace Hall, Democratic Control and Bureaucratic Responsiveness: The Police and Domestic Violence, 42 American Journal of Political Science745, 750–751 (1998)
Ammons, Linda, Discretionary Justice: A Legal and Policy Analysis of a Governor's Use of the Clemency Power in the Cases of Incarcerated Battered Women, 3 J.L.& Pol'y1, 30 (1994)
Stark, Evan, The Battered Mother in the Child Protective Service Caseload: Developing an Appropriate Response, 23 Women's Rts. L. Rep. 107, 107–131 (2002)
Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy, Prevalence and Consequences of Male-to-Female and Female-to-Male Intimate Partner Violence as Measured by the National Violence Against Women Survey, 6 Violence Against Women142 (2000)
Schafer, John et al., Rates of Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, 88 American J. Public Health1702, 1702–1704 (1998)
DeKeseredy, Walter S., Current Controversies on Defining Nonlethal Violence Against Women in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships: Empirical Implications, 6 Violence Against Women72 (2000)
Tolman, Richard M., The Development of a Measure of Psychological Maltreatment of Women by their Male Partners, 4 Violence & Victim159, 159–177 (1989)
Piispa, Minna, Complexity of Patterns of Violence against Women in Heterosexual Partnerships, 8 Violence Against Women873 (2002)