Financial and Career Interests in Domestic Violence Policy

face of a prisoner

Criminal justice agencies have financial interests in domestic violence policy. From 1995 to 2005, the U.S. Congress appropriated $4.3 billion under the Violence Against Women Act to programs addressing violence against women. To receive federal money under the Violence Against Women Act, agencies needed to establish programs showing that they were treating domestic violence as a serious violation of criminal law. Agencies also had to “demonstrate that their laws, policies, or practices and their training programs discourage dual arrests of offender and victim” and “prohibit issuance of mutual restraining orders of protection.” Iin the specific context of an act explicitly directed at domestic violence against women, such policies implicitly identify men as the domestic-violence offenders. Criminal justice agencies have made exaggerated claims about the extent of domestic violence against women. At the level of narrow programmatic financial interests, such claims probably indicate criminal justice agencies attempting to show that they treat domestic violence (against women) as a serious violation of criminal law in order to get federal money under the Violence Against Women Act. Such public claims have the more general public effect of supporting highly disproportionate imprisonment of men.

Policy analysts and scholars have career interests in domestic violence policy. Much of the study of domestic violence is by persons who have specialized in that field and closely related fields. For more than a decade, persons studying domestic violence have viciously attacked each other. Academics typically form scholarly tribes and seek to achieve tribal control of particular scholarly journals to ratify their scholarly expertise. That’s a reasonable reading of the context for journals such as Violence Against Women.

Persons claiming expertise in domestic violence have made the further step of seeking national legislation. A law professor nationally recognized as an expert on battered women has proposed a “battered woman expert statute.” The proposed statute:

would require that anyone testifying on battered women syndrome, battered woman’s experiences, domestic violence, actually have some expertise in the area, be familiar with the literature on domestic violence and its effects on victims as well as the literature on abusers and actively engaged in domestic violence issues through teaching, writing or research.^

Such an initiative highlights both conflicting claims to expertise in domestic violence and career interests in such claims of expertise. Given prevalent gender-profiling men as domestic violence offenders and lack of services for men victims of domestic violence, anti-men domestic violence experts have exerted astonishing power and control over authority on domestic violence.

Unraveling the web of financial interests and conflicting claims to expertise in domestic violence isn’t necessary to recognize highly damaging failures of domestic violence authority. Claims that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women are grotesquely false. Acutely sex-biased concern about domestic violence is sexist. Responding to economic incentives is normal behavior, including for government agencies. Battling over expertise is typical for persons seeking to establish or preserve claims to expertise. Such behavior usually occurs within broad constraints of not appearing ridiculous under public reason, not fundamentally assailing the equal human dignity of a class of persons, and not undermining basic public trust in the fair administration of justice. Such deliberative constraints appear to have little effect on public discourse about domestic violence against women. That deliberative failure is central to the rise of extraordinary U.S. mass incarceration.

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