The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Anti-Domestic Violence Social Movement and Its Paradoxical Pursuit of Criminalization, 1973-1986

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 1:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Mimi E. Kim, MSW, Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background/Purpose:  The social work field of domestic violence (DV) is among those long engaged with the criminal justice system. Contemporary interventions to DV date back to the early 1970s with the first sociological studies documenting the prevalence of family violence (Gelles, 1974) and the advent of early activism by feminist social movement leaders in the creation of the nation’s first shelters and crisis lines. Failure of the police to provide minimal protections to battered women prompted early demands for law enforcement to take DV seriously. Since that time, violence against women has become identified as a social issue area most aligned with criminalization (Bumiller, 2002; Simon, 2007). With current concerns about the negative social outcomes arising from conditions of mass incarceration, advocates, policymakers and researchers are reinvestigating DV and what has been labeled its “over-reliance” on criminal justice remedies. This research employs a social movement lens to examine how and why the anti-domestic violence social movement pursued criminalization as a dominant strategy and the consequences of this strategy for the field. It also takes an intersectional examination of factors of gender, race and class to see if and how these categories influenced these choices.

Methods: This comparative historical case study examines the formation of the anti-DV movement and emerging social work field from 1973 to 1986. It focuses on two states, California and Minnesota, innovative leaders in the development of DV practice and policy with very different demographic and carceral backgrounds. The study relies primarily upon 55 semi-structured interviews with anti-DV leaders, law enforcement actors and legislators working in or familiar with the activities within these two target states from 1973 to 1986. It also employs extensive archival data including legislative records, social movement ephemera and media to supplement and triangulate data. Data were coded using Dedoose and thematically analyzed to confirm or refute theoretical assumptions and hypotheses and to identify emergent themes.

Results:  Findings focus on three important DV innovations emerging in the 1970s and early 1980s: 1) litigation against the Oakland Police Department (California); 2) creation of the DV victim witness model (California); and 3) development of the Coordinated Community Response (Minnesota). Results show that each of these innovations developed different forms of contestation in order to win favorable criminal justice responses to DV. What social movement theorists have noted as the paradoxical link between social movement success and mass incarceration can be tied to the sequelae following social movement gains. The common trajectories from contestation towards collaboration and from local innovation to replication reveal meso-level processes that explain the unintended domination of criminal justice remedies and institutions within the field of DV.

Implications: This study has important implications at the crossroads of social welfare, criminal justice, social movement and feminist scholarship, particularly given the current trends to resort to criminal legal solutions to social problems. Research findings demonstrate how unintended consequences unfold, thereby illuminating common but overlooked patterns in which social work fields associated with forensics can be dominated by law enforcement values, goals and logics.