How does the US legal system respond to domestic violence? And how can it be improved?

How does the US legal system respond to domestic violence? What are the problems? How could it be improved? This Public Lecture by Professor Leigh Goodmark discusses these questions.

Professor Goodmark is a lawyer and author who came to Australia in August 2015 to discuss her research and practice experience. Professor Goodmark’s scholarship focuses on

  • legal and justice responses to violence against women
  • reconstructing legal responses to domestic violence, and
  • finding “justice beyond the justice system” for women who struggle to find redress from within the justice system.

In her wide-ranging lecture, she touched on (this list is not comprehensive) —

  • problematic stereotypes of women who experience violence (e.g. ‘battered women syndrome’, ‘trauma bonding’),
  • how the legal system privileges physical abuse and doesn’t sufficiently address psychological abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, social abuse (isolation) and reproductive abuse,
  • the US Government’s ‘Violence Against Women’ Act — its history, outcomes and problems,
  • how all the legal system’s tools are designed with the expectation that the victim wants to separate from the abuser, but it offers nothing to women who want to remain with their partners,
  • mandatory arrest policies (these pertain in some states in the USA) and the harm they have done to women who experience domestic violence,
  • ‘no-drop’ prosecution policies (again, only in some US states) and how they sometimes harm victims
  • ways the legal system could be improved,
  • ways in which, outside the legal system, communities can better hold abusers accountable and better support victims.

To watch Professor Goodmark’s lecture, click here.

Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the Australian Law Reform Commission delivered the opening address at the lecture. An inConversation with Professor Goodmark and Professor Croucher is also available.


Note: this lecture is delivered to a secular audience and I got the impression that Professor Goodmark is not a Christian. I’m only noting this to alert readers to the fact that there were a few places in the lecture where same-sex relationships seemed to be treated as ethically and morally unproblematic. As Christians, we take a different view on the ethics of same-sex relationships from the view taken by the secular community, as I’m sure our readers already are aware.


Representing The Domestic Violence Survivor: Critical Legal Issues; Effective Safety Strategies. by Garry Goldstein, J.D., and Elizabeth Lui, J.D. Recommended resource for lawyers who are representing domestic abuse victims.

10 thoughts on “How does the US legal system respond to domestic violence? And how can it be improved?”

  1. Prof Leigh Goodmark is a talented speaker and addressed many important issues / changes that need to happen in the legal system re DA! Thanks for sharing this, Barb!

  2. The justice (for abusers’) system is totally bankrupt of the true nature of abuse and all its forms.

    Fixing it—they all need a heart transplant so they can come to understand the evil behind it.

    If they say their personal opinions don’t sway them, they are lying.

    Bottom line: Money talks and abusers walk.

  3. I’m curious about the term ‘reproductive abuse’. Is this in reference to things like pressuring the wife into an abortion, or a quiverfull husband preventing his wife from using birth control, or (God forbid) raping her not just to terrify her, but get her pregnant so she won’t leave? All of the above?

    1. Yes, it would include all the above. It might also include things like the abuser insisting the wife use the Pill although she wanted to use or switch for a time to an IUD. And the abuser refusing to take any responsiblity for birth control on himself (refusing to use condoms) while expecting her to use birth control methods even if they give her side effects — and if she fell pregnant, him blaming her for that even though of course he had a part in bringing the pregnancy about.

      This brings to mind one of the stories we’ve heard on this blog. The abuser insisted the couple have lots of children, but when they DID have lots of kids and the wife eventually decided to leave the abuser, he claimed that it had been her who wanted all those kids, not him.

    2. Makes me think about how my ex accuses me of “forcing” him to get a vasectomy where due to family history for me, a tubal was not a good medical choice. He refused often to give me the time to put in a sponge. I couldn’t take the pill. And he refused to use condoms…so well, vasectomy is the only viable alternative if you don’t want more kids.

      1. I didn’t want to take the pill thinking it aborted babies and not always preventing pregnancy. I also had taken it in the past and ended up not wanting to because of side effects, cysts etc. My h wanted me to take the pill. I explained why I didn’t think it a good idea etc. He didn’t want children. I had changed my mind and did but realized it a dead end with him. I bought a BIG box of condoms for him. He refused to use them. After a year or so they expired. I threw them away. He would rather use the back door or not at all. I was against the back door method. It hurt. In anger he would use the standard method. When I became pregnant he resolved to have another as quick as possible and said he agreed to having them. When I needed help, his response was he didn’t want children. So I was on my own. I always thought he would come around. Dumb of me in so many ways. More children came. By surprise. He ignored me for months. I actually thought I would abort at one point because of how angry etc he was.

        He wanted a vasectomy. At first I didn’t think he should because of several people that told us how convicted they were after and then undid it. But after the first two children I agreed he should. We went to the doctor. Asked questions etc. Then he wouldn’t do it. Or use condoms. I guess I should have looked into an iud or something else for myself. The sponges were no longer available. The other type had a waiting period which he wouldn’t do or would use as a time problem. So the last two children he figured was my fault my problem. A hysterectomy solved those problems, sort of. The excuse of not wanting to because I’d become pregnant was no longer available anyways. When I was pregnant he said I don’t like pregnant women. And how he preferred men’s company.

        He was using porn through the first two children at least. So I don’t think it would have mattered what the scenario was…it would have been a lot of avoiding me etc.

      2. Thank you for sharing all that, HisBanner. I am so sorry for that a complicated saga you were put through by that selfish cruel man!

        Yes, the back door method hurts. It is unnatural. God didn’t make our bodies for that. Well done to you for resisting it. 🙂

  4. Although it’s really good that she honors the victim’s wishes for non-legal interventions, I felt like some of her recommendations were under the assumption that we can make abusers change. However, if we assume that most won’t change then are her recommendations unsafe?

    Also, when she said it’s “sometimes not harmful to children” I would have said “sometimes not as harmful as being forced to live with strangers”. Abuse is never “not harmful” but it is not always clear when the trauma of staying is worse than the trauma of foster care.

    It’s also interesting that she focused on cases where the children were removed from both parents inappropriately, which is a contrast to many ACFJ posts about custody being given to both parents inappropriately. On the surface it sounds like talking about 2 different legal systems, but in actuality it’s one very inconstant legal system. 😦 😦 Both scenarios result in the non-abusive parent losing full custody. 😦 😦

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