The adoption of mandatory arrest ordinances across U.S. jurisdictions were intended to ensure that intimate partner violence (IPV) would be seriously addressed by law enforcement. As a result, however, many women with domestic and sexual violence survivorship histories who used or allegedly used force in the presenting incident were arrested, charged with domestic violence related offenses, placed on probation supervision, and court-ordered to services. This turn of events especially placed Black women, Indigenous women, women of color and those of other marginalized identities at increased risk of unjust criminal legal system (CLS) involvement. It also had the unintended collateral consequence of weaponizing women’s survivorship histories through child protective services (CPS) contact. The purpose of this study is to illuminate how women at the intersection of domestic and sexual violence survivorship, as well as IPV perpetration, experienced interactions with responding officers, court processes, probation officers, child protection workers, and anti-violence intervention programming.
Over three years the researcher engaged a diverse sample of 33 women who participated in court- and CPS-ordered anti-violence group intervention. Through 51 in-depth semi-structured ethnographic and multiple go-along interviews, the researcher focused on how the women experienced CLS and CPS’s hegemonic power. Fifteen women identified as African American or Black, 1 as Asian American, 2 as Biracial, 2 as Latina, 1 as Native American, and 12 as White. Three women identified as bisexual, 27 as heterosexual, 2 as lesbian, and 1 as queer. Most women’s income was below $15,000 a year. In-depth interview transcripts, go-along interview notes, and field notes were compiled and analyzed for common themes using Dedoose 8.0.42. Open coding entailed compiling a master list of general deductive and inductive codes as well as evolving themes.
The women described a constellation of factors that contributed to their CLS and CPS entrapment: 1) policies, procedures, and gender dynamics at arrest; 2) emotional labor enacted during interactions with strict probation officers and traumatizing routine drug and alcohol testing procedures; 3) feeling bewildered, silenced, or disbelieved during court processes; 4) encountering child protective services workers’ failure to protect ideology; and 5) anti-violence intervention fees, time to travel to and attend group, lack of childcare, and state surveillance. This combination of complex circumstances acted as a web of power that entangled the women for years. The women accomplished their disentanglement through limited systems support and their own agency. Although mandatory arrest has been blamed for increasing arrests of women with survivorship histories, the web of power demonstrates that circumstances leading to women’s systems entanglement were far more complicated than policy alone. Furthermore, the extent of their entanglement -- disproportionate to the actions, or alleged actions, that resulted in their systems involvement -- often replicated the abuse they suffered in their intimate relationships.
Conclusion and Implications:
Illuminating the extent of women’s systemic entrapment and nuanced efforts to disentangle will inform #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName movement initiatives to reimagine law enforcement relationships with marginalized communities. It will also contribute to social work policy, practice, and research innovations.