what’s it about?

by mraynes

since i’ve been posting my thesis thoughts, and this project is consuming almost all of my energy, i thought i would do a little write up of what i am actually writing about.

my career experience as well as the concentration of my graduate program has been in domestic violence. since this is my background it only made sense to pick a thesis topic that also focused on domestic violence. i am specifically interested in and will be researching public policy that was crafted to address the problem of violence against women.

as many of you might know, domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (ipv) as it’s called by academics, has always been a major social problem but it was relatively ignored if not outright condoned until about thirty years ago. shelters for battered women started cropping up, second wave feminists started protesting loudly that public officials were not doing anything to protect women and began taking their grievances to the courts. it only took a couple of major court cases where a woman or family sued a a city and its police department for literally sitting back and watching an abuser viscously beat his female partner without intervening for policymakers to decide that something had to be done about this problem. (fyi, the history i provided is very simplistic, here is a more detailed of the battered women’s movement).

society’s way of fixing social problems is to write laws that outlaw or punish certain behavior. the federal government tried to address gender violence in 1994 with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which not only outlawed intimate partner violence but also provided funding for programs to address this problem. additionally, each state has developed its own policy to deal with domestic violence ranging from who can get a protection order to how to classify and charge particular acts of violence.

my thesis looks specifically at mandatory intervention policies and the effects they have on victims and society more generally. mandatory intervention policies are any law that require the criminal justice system to act on behalf of the victim. these include mandatory arrests, mandatory medical reporting and mandatory prosecution. all of these laws force societal institutions to deal with the problem of domestic violence.

except these laws have had serious unintended consequences. here is a breakdown of those unintended consequences:

mandatory arrests

  • increase of victims being arrested
  • police inability to identify primary abuser
  • financial difficulties due to having abuser arrested, making them unable to work
  • fear of retribution from abuser
  • increase of victims refusing to call the police for fear that they or their partner will go to jail
  • disempowerment of victims

mandatory medical reporting

  • confusion in the medical community of what to do with disclosures of intimate partner violence
  • fear of breaking doctor/patient confidentiality
  • victims afraid of seeking medical treatment for fear of police involvement and retribution from abuser
  • disempowerment of victims

mandatory prosecution

  • backlog in criminal courts
  • widespread confusion on the part of victims over the role they are supposed to play in prosecution
  • abuse ceases to be their story and is co-opted by prosecution, victims become a witness and passive participant
  • financial difficulties resulting from prosecution and jail time of abuser
  • increased retribution from abuser
  • useless batterer intervention programs
  • disempowerment of victims

this is just a brief explanation for why these policies are problematic. i should note that i believe the policymakers who put these laws in place were well intentioned and were working off the best research of their day. all policy will have unintended consequences (china’s one child policy, anyone?). it is my goal to add to the body of literature documenting the problems with mandatory intervention policies so that hopefully better laws can be put in place.

i will be addressing the above problems and the bounteous academic research to back them up in a literature review. for my actual thesis research i am designing a instrument to interview executive directors of domestic violence shelters on their experience and opinions of mandatory intervention policies. i am going this route for several reasons. 1) i am only a master’s student and the human research review board will not approve me doing research on victims. 2) there is a pretty significant gap in the literature that deals with the experience and opinions of domestic violence professionals. 3) often times victims are in the middle of a trauma response and all of the ramifications of their experience with the criminal justice system may not yet be apparent. executive directors will be able to provide a more complete picture of the problem gleaned from years of experience working with victims of domestic violence.

my thesis going into this research is that mandatory intervention policies have a negative and disempowering impact on victims in the eyes of executive directors of domestic violence. i will also be presenting some theories based in research on how best to address this problem. i have just under a year to complete this thing. when it’s finished i hope to publish it with my thesis advisor in an academic journal. it could also be the starting point for a future dissertation.

so there you have it–my thesis.