Wtf? Moments in DV Research

I spend as much time as I can researching domestic violence; history, trends, policy, outcomes, curriculum, shelter, advocacy, law, and individual cases. And even if there were 80 hours in a day, I still wouldn’t be able to make a level of dent in the information I would like to have. So to save time I follow Twitter, Google alert topics, and Facebook groups dedicated to domestic violence issues where the information comes to me and I can choose what to look into more thoroughly.

There has definitely been times where I have these wtf? moments, and I think they are much different than an aha! moment. The context of wtf? moments are usually around hearing something that turns something I thought I knew completely upside down, and also typically includes a very animated facial expression and head tilt.

The latest wtf? moment happened when I read a series of tweets about a book called Decriminalizing Domestic Violence and a comment by a leader in the field that read, “...and, we shouldn’t coerce victims/survivors into therapy/services/prosecution.” My gut reaction was, wtf? Decriminalize? And also, wtf? I get that we shouldn’t coerce anyone but isn’t therapy, services, and prosecution what we are supposed to do to help victims/survivors? I need to check this out.

The author of Decriminalizing Domestic Violence is Leigh Goodmark, a Professor of Law and Director of the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. The University of California Press has the following synopsis:

“Decriminalizing Domestic Violence asks the crucial, yet often overlooked, question of why and how the criminal legal system became the primary response to intimate partner violence in the United States. It introduces readers, both new and well versed in the subject, to the ways in which the criminal legal system harms rather than helps those who are subjected to abuse and violence in their homes and communities, and shares how it drives, rather than deters, intimate partner violence. The book examines how social, legal, and financial resources are diverted into a criminal legal apparatus that is often unable to deliver justice or safety to victims or to prevent intimate partner violence in the first place. Envisioned for both courses and research topics in domestic violence, family violence, gender and law, and sociology of law, the book challenges readers to understand intimate partner violence not solely, or even primarily, as a criminal law concern but as an economic, public health, community, and human rights problem. It also argues that only by viewing intimate partner violence through these lenses can we develop a balanced policy agenda for addressing it. At a moment when we are examining our national addiction to punishment, Decriminalizing Domestic Violence offers a thoughtful, pragmatic roadmap to real reform.”

I know the criminal justice system is very much lacking in being able to protect domestic violence victims from homicide, that seems like a very obvious fact. We just posted three examples in the last couple of days where victims were murdered after obtaining a protection order, and the October death of Melissa Shoop in Maumee is yet another heavy reminder that protection orders do nothing to protect victims. What I have not considered is throwing out the entire process of arresting domestic violence perpetrators because of that lack protection.

I am also very interested to read about alternatives to offering services and therapy to victims of domestic violence. Are we mistreating survivors by suggesting they attend group sessions or helping them file for divorce? By offering services and therapy are we further victimizing them? That’s the absolute last thing I would ever want to do. I gotta get my hands on this book.

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