The transformation from
victim to survivor.


An inside look at best practices at
a major Baltimore medical center.

Law Enforcement

Ride with officers in Duluth, MN, Baltimore, MD and the Bronx, NY.


Conversations with battered
women's movement leaders.

Key Questions

Domestic Violence Issues for Class Discussion

Underlying Cause of Domestic Violence: Patriarchal Culture?

In the early 1980s, Ellen Pence, Michael Paymar and other activists in Duluth, MN developed an approach to domestic violence based on the idea that it is the patriarchal values of our society that cause so many men to batter women.  In their view,  men batter women because men feel a sense of entitlement to power and control over women, a sense of entitlement that is inextricably connected with a range of abusive tactics ultimately derived from violence.   Pence, Paymar and their colleagues based their concepts on what they heard from battered women, rather than beginning from an abstract theoretical perspective.   Their “wheel of Power and Control” has become a worldwide symbol of domestic violence, a tool that can be found in any shelter anywhere in the world.

Some academics have criticize the patriarchal model.   They argue that cultural values don’t cause men to hit women — they emphasize the role of individual psychology and the impact of socioeconomic factors such as poverty and education.    Many studies have appeared in academic journals looking at the causes of domestic violence and at the effectiveness of programs, such as batterer intervention groups.    Some controversial studies have presented evidence suggesting that women tend to initiate domestic violence just as frequently as men.

Men’s rights groups have formed in many states, and these groups lobby against domestic violence policies and programs, particularly the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

Key question:  Is domestic violence caused by the patriarchal values of our culture, or is domestic violence caused by individual socioeconomic and/or psychological factors (e.g. substance abuse, mental illness, unemployment)?

Key question:  Based on your personal observations, what is the difference between men’s violence against women and women’s violence against men?  Do men initiate all or most violence in a relationship?  Do women imitate violence, or do most women resort to violence only in self defense?

Criminalization of Domestic Violence — Does Arrest Solve the Problem?

Before the 1970s, domestic violence was not considered a crime.  It was considered a private family matter, largely beyond the scope of police intervention, except in the most serious cases. The Duluth founders and other battered women’s activists first focused on the legal system as a way to reform society’s response to domestic violence.   Duluth was one of the first jurisdictions to experiment with “mandatory arrest,” a policy that required police officers to make an arrest in certain predefined situations where domestic violence incidents occurred.   Today mandatory arrest policies apply in most jurisdictions, and the arrest rate for domestic violence crimes has remained at much higher levels than before mandatory arrest.

Proponents of mandatory arrest claim the policies have been a great success, pointing to sharp reductions in the incident rate of domestic violence crimes over the past 30 years.  Critics allege that criminalization does not address the causes of domestic violence, that it has been discriminatory against African Americans because police tend to arrest black suspects more frequently, and that mandatory arrest has the unintended consequence of deterring spouses from reporting abusive spouses.  Some critics advocate alternative approaches, such as restorative justice, as an alternative to arrest and prosecution.

Key question:  Should the police be required to arrest a perpetrator of domestic violence?

Kim’s Choice: To Stay with Josh, or to Leave?

A surprising development at the end of the film has Kim’s reconciling with Josh and Josh’s moving back into the new house with his family.   Although it’s a sensitive topic, most domestic violence advocates would tend to encourage a survivor of battering to end an abusive relationship and move on.   Critics of this advocacy position argue that it would be better help families stay together, and further argue that since most women end up staying in relationships, focusing on how to do that better would be more socially useful.

Key question:  Why do you think Kim really got back together with Josh?  Is she making a mistake?

The state of feminism and the battered women’s movement

The battered women’s movement has its roots in the social activism and feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.  In the years since, the status of women has changed, with tangible changes in women’s cultural, social and economic status. Is the perspective of the battered women’s movement still relevant today?  Is domestic violence a dated issue?  Some have noted that troubling increases in teen dating violence, and changes in cultural perceptions of women, show that the world is moving away from the values and viewpoints shaped 30 years or more ago.

Key question:  What is the meaning of “feminism” in today’s society?   Is it an outmoded concern from 30 years ago, or is the role of women still an issue requiring social and political change?

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