International Women’s Day Issue (February 17)

You Should Leave Him: Assessing Feminist Responses to Domestic Abuse

One in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Many academics and advocates have developedDomestic Abuse Itheories to explain why these acts of violence occur in such a frequent and widespread manner. Feminists argue that domestic abuse is a byproduct of unequal power relations and socialization. They believe that domestic violence occurs when a man holds the power in a relationship and is socialised to be aggressive, while the woman lacks agency and is socialised to accept victimisation. While they agree on the causes of intimate partner violence, opinions within the feminist movement diverge when it comes to potential solution.

The Prosecutorial Approach

Many women who seek help for domestic abuse are often met with this universal piece of advice: You should leave him. This is the solution offered by feminists such as Carol Wright who argue that the best way to tackle domestic violence is to empower women by granting them “independence” and take power away from men through punishment. She believes that these two measures will destroy the unequal power relationships that cause intimate partner violence to occur. This “prosecutorial approach” is extremely popular and has been adopted by numerous women’s rights organisations who focus their energy on creating fastracks to help battered women obtain divorces and lobbying for mandatory sentencing policies (where abusers are automatically arrested when there is a suspicion of domestic violence).  They believe that only way a women can escape the unequal power relationships that caused her to be aDomestic Abuse IIbused is by leaving the relationship completely and punishing her abuser.

Intersectional challenges

In addition, recent immigrants may also rely on their husbands for visas and will often face deportation if they obtain a divorce. Therefore, for women from these communities, the prosecutorial approach will not always result in female “empowerment” and may actually cause them to become more disenfranchised. However, since their concerns are not shared by the wealthy white women who control most political and media capital, the prosecutorial approach is seen as the de-facto solution to domestic abuse.However, as mentioned by James Mclaren there are many women who choose not to leave or prosecute their abusive partners and there several theories that try to explain this choice. The predominantly wealthy, white feminists who support the prosecutorial approach suggest that the trauma experienced by these women may inhibit them from making sound decisions. Some of them actually accuse these victims of being “cowardly” and “damaging the movement”. However, Miriam Ruttenberg points out that there other considerations at play and argues that these patronizing responses and the prosecutorial approach as a whole are actually part of another exploitative power dynamic: Wealthy white women imposing their opinions on lower income and minority communities. There are many concerns that women from low income or minority backgrounds experience that may make them hesitant to leave abusive partners. For instance, people from impoverished communities tend to be financially dependent on their husbands; something that minority women from patriarchal cultures which eschew female education may also experience. Leaving or arresting their partners may cause these women an immense amount of financial insecurity as they may not have the experience/education needed to support themselves.

Duluth Model

This is why other feminists such as Ellen Pence are trying to push for alternative approaches such as the Duluth model which was employed in the United States. This model focuses on treatment rather than prosecution and tries to implement a series of compulsory counseling sessions for all cases of domestic abuse. While the prosecutorial approach focuses on power relations, the Duluth model looks at how socialisation causes domestic abuse and tries to use therapy to challenge and reverse its effects on the male/female psyche. The abuser and the victim are made aware of the social factors that affect their behavior and look for methods to eradicate and replace those influences. People such as Michael Paymar argue that this method is better than the prosecutorial approach as it is a more sustainable way to tackle domestic violence and addresses the interests of all women.

It is true that there are cases where the victim should leave the relationship. However, before this recommendation is made, it is important to create an infrastructure that will protect women from minority/lower income communities from the aforementioned financial/political insecurity. It is important to make divorce an option for all women before it is touted as the de-facto solution for domestic abuse.

                                                              By Priyanka Radhakrishnan                                                                                                   

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