Domestic violence advocacy strategies are often grounded
in “equality” or “difference” approaches.
Under an equality approach, the problem of violence against
women is understood as having its roots in differential treatment
of men and women. For example, the legal system inadequately protects
women because it treats stranger violence differently than it
does violence perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner. Advocacy
efforts must focus on ensuring that the legal system treats all
forms of violence equally.
Advocates working under a “difference” approaches,
on the other hand, view violence perpetrated in the family as
different from stranger violence and maintain that any solution
must respond to and account for those differences. The Domestic
Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, for example, has adopted
such an approach. Under this approach,
assaulting your wife is not like assaulting someone in
a bar or at a party or in a social setting where the victim and
offender have no familial or economic or emotional ties to each
other. In a barroom fight, if a victim pursues a conviction by
cooperating with the prosecutor, the case will likely go forward;
if the victim does not want to cooperate and expresses a strong
desire to have the whole case just disappear, it will likely be
dropped. But applying that same standard to domestic assault cases
is problematic for many reasons; most important, it gives the
offender who has control over the victim control over the state’s
From Ellen L. Pence, “Some Thoughts
on Philosophy,” in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic
Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 25, 31 (Melanie F. Shepard
& Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).
Effective domestic violence advocacy may include both approaches.
Making sure that the police respond as quickly to domestic violence
incidents as they do to incidents of stranger violence is critical
to ensuring adequate protection for battered women. However, many
have argued for laws specifically designed to address domestic
violence. Laws that criminalize
domestic violence may be more effective than general laws
that may render this kind of violence invisible. In addition,
general laws rarely provide victims with the special assistance
they need or counter the unique difficulties they face in accessing
the legal system. Advocates should always be aware of the possibility
that any legal reforms that separate domestic violence from general
crimes may ultimately backfire and result in domestic violence
being viewed as a “second class,” less important crime.
Finally, there are other approaches that may be utilized
by domestic violence advocates. Promoting Women in Development,
for example, uses a development approach to domestic violence.
As described in Justice,
Change, and Human Rights: International Research and Responses
to Domestic Violence, domestic violence hinders development
and obstructs women’s full participation in development.