Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Joann Sahl, Can We Forgive Those Who Batter? Proposing an End to the Collateral Consequences of Civil Domestic Violence Cases, 101 Marquette L.Rev. 527 (2016) [WL link]
Domestic violence is the most common tort committed in our country, involving nearly 1.3 million victims. When a domestic violence incident occurs, the press regularly reports it. Highlighted in these articles is the name of the perpetrator.Perpetrators identified as committing an act of domestic violence face public outrage, contempt, and stigma. This is particularly true if a court determines that the act of domestic violence necessitates a civil protection order (CPO) that bars the perpetrator from having any contact with the victim. Nearly 1.2 million people receive a CPO each year. More people use this civil remedy than those who seek a tort remedy, or those who are involved with the criminal justice system.The CPO process, and its related orders, produces real and lasting “prejudicial collateral legal consequences” that extend past the life of the CPO. These consequences can include preventing the perpetrator from finding or keeping employment, obtaining a professional license, or being admitted to an academic institution. The prejudicial legal consequences arise because information about the perpetrator's involvement in a CPO case is not confidential. At least twenty-seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico allow public access to protection order files.This continuing public access to CPO cases, even when there is no active order, means the former batterer is subjected to perpetual prejudicial consequences from the CPO case. To end these ongoing consequences, the courts should allow perpetrators to seal inactive CPO cases from public view. This sealing remedy is necessary to ameliorate the significant economic impact of those consequences. * * *Proposing a remedy to help those once labeled a batterer may ignite controversy. As one author has noted, “[w]orking to improve the conditions abusers face has long been considered taboo in the battered women's movement.” However, the sealing remedy proposed by this article is not at odds with the CPO process and its underlying rationale. A CPO is to provide “a simple, immediate remedy to increase the safety of victims." Once the court, or the victim, determines that the CPO is no longer necessary for the victim's safety, the CPO has achieved its purpose, so the collateral consequences related to the CPO should end as well.
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Corey Rayburn Yung, Is Relying on Title IX a Mistake?, 64 Kansas L.Rev. (2016)
Abstract:This Article attempts to answer an essential question related to Title IX’s role in student sexual assault at universities: is it better to improve and universalize student safety and conduct codes or rely on the new Title IX framework that has emerged? The tentative answer offered is that it is a mistake to solely or primarily depend on Title IX to deter and punish offenders in university sexual assault cases. This conclusion is based upon the uncertainty related to various aspects of Title IX doctrine and the regulatory regime that has emerged to enforce the statute. Consequently, this Article concludes Congress should adopt a basic, uniform student safety and conduct code that will cure many of the shortcomings of a legal regime based entirely upon Title IX. This legislation, unlike proposals aimed at merely strengthening the Title IX framework, might potentially avoid some of the backlash that has emerged in the wake of Title IX’s growing application in student-to-student sexual assault cases at universities while better addressing the issue.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Sarah Lynnda Swan, Between Title IX and the Criminal Law: Bringing Tort Law to the Campus Sexual Assault Debate, 64 Kansas L.Rev. (forthcoming)
In the last few years, campus sexual assault has risen to prominence as a national public concern. As policy-makers scramble to figure out how best to address this problem, the contours of the conversation in scholarship, media articles, and policy-making have devolved into two competing adjudicative frameworks: criminal law or Title IX. In this criminal law versus Title IX debate, two questions dominate. First, who can better adjudicate claims of campus sexual assault: criminal courts using criminal laws, or schools using Title IX? Second, if schools do adjudicate sexual assault claims under Title IX, are students entitled to the same procedural protections as criminal defendants? In this Symposium piece, I argue that this criminal law versus Title IX framing is unduly narrow. It ignores a third, important mode of adjudication for sexual assault claims: tort law. In this essay, I show why tort law has been left out of the campus sexual assault debate, and the potential impact of its inclusion. Incorporating tort law into the campus sexual assault debate has three specific benefits. First, conceptualizing campus sexual assault as a tort reminds us that the same wrong can be legitimately framed and addressed in multiple ways. Second, tort law sets a useful standard for determining the scope of procedural protections in campus sexual assault proceedings. Third, tort law suggests that affirmative consent may be appropriate for campus sexual interactions. Ultimately, bringing tort law into the campus sexual assault debate opens up the vast and fertile ground between the two poles of criminal law and Title IX, and creates a space where better institutional design and a more effective solution to this social problem might be found.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Joanna Kallinosis, Refugee Roulette: A Comparative Analysis of Gender-Related Persecution, 6 DePaul J. Women, Gender & L. (2017)
This essay examines the existing law regarding gender related persecution and the burden imposed on female asylum applicants to fit their claims within the circumscribed notion of a refugee within Immigration law of the United States of America. Such difficulties are contrasted with the Canadian Immigration system, where women enjoy greater freedom in the interpretation of requisites necessary to be granted asylum. Section I of this essay explores the problems women face in gaining asylum in the United States. Section II of this essay will analyze the conflicting claims and claimants. Section III of this essay will explore past trends in asylum law; discuss the framework for evaluating asylum claims under current US asylum law; analyze the competing judicial interpretations of asylum law and discuss the inconsistency of judicial decisions. Section IV of this essay will discuss the projection of future trends. Section V of this essay will propose an amendment to the Refugee Act to include a Sixth category of gender or sexual persecution.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Blaine Bookey, Gender-Based Asylum Post-Matter of A-R-C-G: Evolving Standards and Fair Application of the Law, 22 Southwestern J. Int'l Law 1 (2016)
I do not mean to diminish the importance of the A-R-C-G- precedent, a long-awaited and hard-fought victory. Issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board), the decision constitutes binding precedent for immigration judges (and asylum officers) across the country who often have the final word in these life or death matters because adverse decisions are not often appealed, and if appealed, the vast majority are upheld. For thirteen years, from the vacating of the well-known and controversial Matter of R-A- decision denying asylum to a domestic violence survivor in 2001, to the issuance of the A-R-CG- decision in 2014, immigration judges and asylum officers adjudicated domestic violence asylum claims without the benefit of jurisprudential (or regulatory) guidance.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Channel Fitch, Teri Platt & Michelle Wilson, Black Women and the Criminal Justice System: The Politics of Processing Sexual Assault Cases
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 3.7% of reported sexual assault instances are tried in court and only 2% result in a conviction. Despite evidence that most victims of sexual assault are children, multi-racial women, and black women, the majority of cases that are tried are those where the victims were white women. This paper will examine cases where black women are the victims in order to understand why these instances do not result in convictions. Our argument is that socioeconomic factors may make it more difficult for black women to navigate the process. We will explore this by analyzing each phase of the process to identify complexities in the system that may prevent these cases from concluding in court. The purpose of this paper is to provide insight into the experiences of black women in the criminal justice system and recommend procedural reforms that will result in an increase in reports and convictions.
Erin Sheley, Victim Impact Statements and Expressive Punishment in the Age of Social Media, Wake Forest L. Rev. (forthcoming)
Victim impact statements (VIS) are long-disfavored among legal commentators for allegedly injecting unnecessary, negative emotion into sentencing at the expense of the defendant, with ambiguous informational benefits to the sentencing body. Most traditional arguments both for and against VIS turn on purely retributive or utilitarian grounds. This essay takes up the Stanford sexual assault victim’s statement to propose an expressive framework for understanding the function of VIS, which resolves much of the theoretical confusion surrounding the traditional justifications. I show how the expressive goals of criminal punishment have long been distorted by the mediation of traditional news reporting. I then analyze the legal relevance of the particular criminological values expressed in the Stanford statement to show how unmediated victim narratives may counterbalance media distortion, particularly in the age of social media transmission. I conclude that the criminal justice system better serves its expressive function by formally incorporating VIS into sentencing.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Closing what many regard as a gaping loophole in Ohio's domestic-violence laws has become a top priority for state legislators.
Currently, only Ohio and Georgia do not offer specific legal options for victims of dating violence, such as civil-protection orders.
A protection order from a judge can legally prevent contact between a victim and perpetrator, including ordering that person to move out of a home that a couple shares. It also can grant child custody and require the offender to relinquish any firearms.
But currently, such orders are limited to family members.
"It's not necessarily about definitions; it's about the relationship and what type of violence arises out of that relationship," said Rep. Emilia Sykes, a Columbus Democrat given an unusual co-sponsorship of a prime bill in the GOP-dominated Ohio House.
"Our statutory law has not caught up to that here in Ohio, so that leaves victims in this state unprotected for the purposes of obtaining civil-protection orders, simply because they don't meet that very specific and narrow definition of domestic violence."
Monday, January 30, 2017
Russia's parliament voted 380-3 on Friday to decriminalize domestic violence in cases where it does not cause "substantial bodily harm" and does not occur more than once a year.
The move, which eliminates criminal liability in such cases, makes a violation punishable by a fine of roughly $500, or a 15-day arrest, provided there is no repeat within 12 months.
The bill now goes to the rubber-stamp upper chamber, where no opposition is expected. It then must be signed by President Vladimir Putin, who has signaled his support.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists that family conflicts do "not necessarily constitute domestic violence."
The passage by the parliament, or Duma, reverses a ruling by the Supreme Court last year, subsequently backed by parliament, that decriminalized battery that does not inflict bodily harm, but retained criminal charges involving battery against family members. That reform is effectively reversed by Friday's vote.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Kari Hong, Rape by Malice, Montana L.Rev. (forthcoming)
Abstract:When people seek to reform rape law, the focus is on the actus reus — either abandoning the force element or redefining consent. This Article argues that both approaches overlook a critical opportunity for reform, which is the crime’s mens rea. Knowledge, or general intent, is the most common mens rea in rape offenses. The problem with this mental state is that proving what a defendant knew is one of the hardest parts of any criminal prosecution. Although scholars have explored reckless or negligent standards, this Article proposes that states adopt the mens rea of malice — a callous indifference towards the risk of whether the defendant had secured the consent of his sexual partner. If someone shoots a gun in a crowd and kills someone, that person had no knowledge or intent to kill. But the shooter would be liable for murder under the mens rea of malice because the person acted with callous disregard to the objective risk of harm that her conduct involved. When imported to rape, malice then effectively captures what is the precise social wrong in having unwanted sex — it is a defendant acting with callous indifference over whether his or her actions present an objective risk that he or she engaged in sexual activity without the consent of his or her partner.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Aya Gruber, Consent Confusion, 38 Cardozo L.Rev. 415 (2016)
Abstract:The slogans are ubiquitous: “Only ‘Yes’ Means ‘Yes’”; “Got Consent?”; “Consent is Hot, Assault is Not!” Clear consent is the rule, but the meaning of sexual consent is far from clear. The current state of confusion is evident in the numerous competing views about what constitutes mental agreement (grudging acceptance or eager desire?) and what comprises performative consent (passive acquiescence or an enthusiastic “yes”?). This paper seeks to clear up the consent confusion. It charts the contours of the sexual consent framework, categorizes different definitions of affirmative consent, and critically describes arguments for and against affirmative consent. Today’s widespread uncertainty is partly a product of the affirmative consent reform juggernaut and its rapid legal changes. Confusion is also connected to the nature of consent as a liberal, contract principle. Sexual consent appears a morally self-evident issue of free will, but it actually veils a struggle between various judgments about how sex should happen, its benefits and harms, and the role of criminal law in regulating it. Indeed, proponents and critics of affirmative consent entertain different empirical and normative presumptions and often simply talk past each other. Structurally mapping the consent framework and the affirmative consent debate reveals exactly what is at stake in this new world of reform — a revelation necessary for meaningful dialogue on acceptable sex and acceptable sex regulation.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Abstract:There is a national conversation about the role and responsibility of colleges in addressing campus sexual assault, including a debate about the definition of consent, reporting requirements, interim measures, adjudicatory processes, appropriate standard of proof, accused students’ legal rights, and judicial oversight. As colleges increase internal reporting requirements and form information-sharing agreements with local law enforcement agencies, student victims begin to lose their choice and agency in reporting decisions and investigations. And as college adjudicatory proceedings become more complicated and extend past adjudicatory findings into appeals and lawsuits, student victims lose their voice and ability to fully enforce their rights. It is time to bring victims back into the discussion by acknowledging their legal rights to safety, privacy, and education, and by providing attorneys to ensure victims’ choice and voice throughout overlapping legal processes.
Survivors of sexual assault generally report negative experiences with the criminal justice system, civil law system, and campus adjudicatory system - all a source of secondary trauma. Access to individualized, comprehensive legal advice at all stages of sexual assault investigations and the adjudication process has the potential to diminish secondary trauma by providing student victims with two vital tools: a choice to initiate and participate in a criminal and/or campus investigation by providing sufficient information for informed consent and a voice throughout the investigation and legal proceedings.
Part I employs storytelling to illustrate the experience of many survivors of campus sexual assault following their disclosure or report of the assault. Part II provides an overview of campus sexual assault. Part III provides a brief summary of Title IX, the civil rights law addressing sex discrimination in education. Part IV discusses the theories of secondary trauma (i.e. second rape) and victim justice. Part V proposes the four stages in which student victims of sexual assault might benefit from access to victims’ attorneys: pre-reporting, investigations, campus hearing, and post hearings (appeals and lawsuits).
Monday, January 9, 2017
Sarah Boonin, Ten Years Too Long: Reforming Social Security's Marriage Duration Requirement in Cases of Domestic Violence, 39 Harv. J. Gender & Law 369 (2016)
Abstract:Social Security's retirement program has evolved over time to become a major source of economic security in older age for workers' family members, including spouses and ex-spouses. To qualify for derivative retirement benefits as an ex-spouse, the applicant must have been married to the wage earner for at least ten years. This Article explores in-depth this so-called "ten-year rule" and critiques its application in cases involving domestic violence. Drawing on a gut-wrenching case study, the rule's legislative history, as well as social science and feminist literature on the impacts of domestic violence, this piece argues that the ten-year rule unfairly punishes and imperils victims of domestic violence. It serves as the final blow, felt long after the abuse has ended. The Article proposes and defends an amendment to the Social Security Act that would extend vital retirement benefits to victims divorced from shorter-term marriages.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Deborah Weissman, The Community Politics of Domestic Violence, Brooklyn Law Rev (forthcoming)
Abstract:Gender violence has long been identified as a crisis of epidemic proportions that defies facile solution. Despite decades of law reform, and notwithstanding increased social services and public health interventions, the rates of gender violence have not appreciably declined. The field of domestic violence advocacy is itself in a crisis, and it has been difficult to discern the best way forward. Despite its intellectual and practical engagement, the domestic violence movement seems unable to shift from the neoliberal paradigm that emphasize the features associated with the carceral state while appearing indifferent to the structural sources of domestic violence as a social problem. Reliance on the criminal justice system has tended to fracture the domestic violence movement even as it marginalized itself from disenfranchised populations.
This Article offers a case study of an incident that occurred between the Sheriff of San Francisco and his wife in December 2011 that resulted in domestic-violence related criminal proceedings and additional charges of official misconduct and efforts by the Mayor to remove him from the office of Sheriff. The Sheriff had been recently elected largely as a result of a coalition of marginalized communities, immigrant rights advocates, environmental justice organizations, labor groups, and other progressive organizations. The case reached beyond the courts and city hall into neighborhoods and households, and community meeting places throughout the city. The legal and public citizen commentary offered throughout nine months of proceedings against the Sheriff set in relief the contradictions and tensions emblematic of the crisis that confronts the domestic violence movement. The case provide a unique opportunity to consider the problems of domestic violence anew, a way to interrogate old premises and presumptions, examine prevailing practices, and reconsider responses.
This Article addresses the perils attending over-reliance on criminal justice paradigms as remedy for domestic violence, that –- in fact -– deployment of law enforcement methods has acted not only to diminish the efficacy of domestic violence strategies but also to diminish the relevance of domestic violence advocacy to the social justice movement. To rely on models of victimhood as the means to obtain the intervention of criminal justice remedies implies loss of voice and agency, whereby the interests of the “victim” are preempted in discharge of larger logic of the criminal justice system. That domestic violence advocates identify with criminal justice remedies, moreover, at a time when law enforcement practices are under scrutiny and suspicion within marginalized communities, has acted to deepen the breach between domestic violence advocates and the social justice movement.
The Article offers an opportunity to reconsider the definition of domestic violence as well as the criminal justice and community response to this problem. It seeks to re-engage in dialogue about the private/public dichotomy without returning to a point in time where private abuse between intimate partners can be considered of little or no socio-political or legal import. Domestic violence persists as a manifestation of gender and other forms of inequality and social norms that oppress and repress its victims. But the mainstream responses often accomplish little to eliminate or repair the damage caused by intimate partner violence. The Article reiterates the recommendations scholars have offered in recent years as alternatives to criminal justice remedies and suggests that what is lacking is not prescriptives but rather political will.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth District Court of Appeals decision allowing a $3.6 million juryverdict in favor of Jessica Simpkins to be reduced to $500,000 when the trial court applied limits on “noneconomic damages,” which the Ohio General Assembly enacted as part of a 2005 “tort reform” law.
Simpkins and her father sued their church and former church leaders claiming that in March 2008 Brian Williams, the senior pastor of Sunbury Grace Brethren Church, forced oral and vaginal intercourse with Simpkins who was 15 years old at the time. Williams was convicted of two counts of sexual battery and sentenced to two four-year prison terms.
Simpkins argued the caps in R.C. 2315.18(B)(2) for noneconomic loss, which include “pain and suffering,” “loss of consortium,” “loss of companionship,” “disfigurement,” and ”mental anguish” are unconstitutional when it comes to minors because they suffer far more long-term consequences from the emotional damages of a sexual assault than they would from any “economic” damages. Writing the Court’s lead opinion, Justice Judith L. French wrote there may be a set of circumstances where the statutorydamages caps would prove unconstitutional, but the law “as applied to the facts before us” is constitutional.
In separate dissenting opinions, Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O’Neill argued that the General Assembly’s caps on jury awards are unconstitutional and can only be imposed by an amendment to the Ohio Constitution.
Friday, October 14, 2016
Carolyn Ramsey, The Stereotyped Offender: Domestic Violence and the Failure of Intervention, 120 Penn State L.Rev. 337 (2015)
Abstract:Scholars and battered women’s advocates now recognize that many facets of the legal response to intimate-partner abuse stereotype victims and harm abuse survivors who do not fit commonly accepted paradigms. However, it is less often acknowledged that the feminist analysis of domestic violence also tends to stereotype offenders and that state action, including court-mandated batterer intervention, is premised on these offender stereotypes. The feminist approach can be faulted for minimizing or denying the role of substance abuse, mental illness, childhood trauma, race, culture, and poverty in intimate-partner abuse. Moreover, those arrested for domestic violence crimes now include heterosexual women, lesbians, and gay men; abuse is as common in same-sex relationships as in their heterosexual counterparts. Failure to take such factors into account perpetuates a one-dimensional image of the batterer as a controlling, heterosexual, male villain — a stereotype that impedes efforts to coordinate effective responses to domestic violence and entrenches gendered hierarchies that affect men, as well as women.
This Article begins by placing the feminist paradigm of the batterer in historical context. Although feminists transformed the dialogue about domestic violence by locating it in patriarchy and gender inequality, the offender stereotype that the Battered Women’s Movement used to spur a vigorous state response and that still drives domestic violence policy shares some limitations with earlier paradigms of the wife beater — the hot-headed sinner in Puritan New England or the drunken brute of Temperance discourse. Like these earlier stereotypes, the image of the coercive, controlling male batterer is too one-dimensional and too closely tied to other sociopolitical agendas to yield a practical approach to prevent domestic violence and change the behavior of its perpetrators.
Drawing on historical, sociological, and psychological materials, as well as insights from masculinities studies, this Article suggests limits to our understanding of those who commit intimate-partner abuse and to the laws and policies — especially court-mandated batterer intervention programs (“BIPs”) — currently in place. It presents an original analysis of 46 sets of state and local standards for BIPs to show that, although these standards are starting to be more inclusive, they still tend to impose a “one-size-fits-all” formula designed for heterosexual male offenders. The “one-size-fits-all” approach ignores crucial differences — not only in intimate-partner violence committed by women, as opposed to men, and homosexuals, as opposed to heterosexuals — but also between heterosexual male offenders and the types of abuse they inflict. Recognizing these differences would facilitate the effective tailoring of BIPs to achieve long-term behavioral change in a variety of participants. The Article concludes by offering preliminary suggestions for transforming pro-feminist interventions to encourage accountability and rehabilitation and to reduce recidivism without stereotyping domestic violence offenders.
Andrea J. Nichols, Sex Trafficking in the United States (Columbia Press 2016)
Sex Trafficking in the United States is a unique exploration of the underlying dynamics of sex trafficking. This comprehensive volume examines the common risk factors for those who become victims, and the barriers they face when they try to leave. It also looks at how and why sex traffickers enter the industry. A chapter on buyers presents what we know about their motivations, the prevalence of bought sex, and criminal justice policies that target them. Sex Trafficking in the United States describes how the justice system, activists, and individuals can engage in advocating for victims of sex trafficking. It also offers recommendations for practice and policy and suggestions for cultural change.
Andrea J. Nichols approaches sex-trafficking-related theories, research, policies, and practice from neoliberal, abolitionist, feminist, criminological, and sociological perspectives. She confronts competing views of the relationship between pornography, prostitution, and sex trafficking, as well as the contribution of weak social institutions and safety nets to the spread of sex trafficking. She also explores the link between identity-based oppression, societal marginalization, and the risk of victimization. She clearly accounts for the role of race, ethnicity, immigrant status, LGBTQ identities, age, sex, and intellectual disability in heightening the risk of trafficking and how social services and the criminal justice and healthcare systems can best respond. This textbook is essential for understanding the mechanics of a pervasive industry and curbing its spread among at-risk populations.
Please visit our supplemental materials page (https://cup.columbia.edu/extras/supplement/sex-trafficking-united-states) to find teaching aids, including PowerPoints, access to a test bank, and a sample syllabus
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Anita Hill, Op ed, What We Can Still Learn from Sexual Harassment
What I learned in 1991 is no less true today and no less important for people to understand: responses to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence must start with a belief that women matter as much as the powerful men they encounter at work or at school, whether those men are bosses or professors, colleagues or fellow students.
We must understand the harm that sexual harassment and sexual violence causes. Missing from the conversation this weekend, which focused almost exclusively on the character of the offender, was concern about the victims of sexual violence....
A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Task Force reported on the psychological, physical, occupational, and economic harm that victims of sexual harassment suffer. Since 1991, I’ve heard from thousands of women who have experienced harassing bosses and colleagues. Some overcome the situations, but none of them ever forget the pain of it. To understand why the way women are treated matters, we must view Donald Trump’s comments and the behavior he described from the point of view of a victim of sexual predation.
Trump’s language, which he and others have tried to minimize as “locker room banter,” is predatory and hostile. To excuse it as that or as youthful indiscretion or overzealous romantic interest normalizes male sexual violence. According to attorney Joe Sellers, a member of the EEOC Task Force, “Trump’s remarks reflect the quintessential mindset of a harasser: the view that he has certain privileges and power by virtue of his celebrity status and position.”
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Deborah Brake, The Trouble with "Bureaucracy", 7 Cal. Law Review online 66 (2016)
Abstract:Despite heightened public concern about the prevalence of sexual assault in higher education and the stepped-up efforts of the federal government to address it, new stories from survivors of sexual coercion and rape, followed by institutional betrayal, continue to emerge with alarming frequency. More recently, stories of men found responsible and harshly punished for such conduct in sketchy campus procedures have trickled into the public dialogue, forming a counter-narrative in the increasingly polarized debate over what to do about sexual assault on college campuses. Into this frayed dialogue, Jeannie Suk and Jacob Gersen have contributed a provocative new article criticizing the federal government’s efforts to regulate sexuality on campus as a bureaucratic overreach. This essay offers several counterpoints for thinking about Gersen and Suk’s critique. First, how much personal liberty would be enhanced by the dismantling of the bureaucracy depends on the conditions of sexual equality in which that liberty will be exercised. Second, Gersen and Suk’s lens of bureaucracy obscures the pre-existing role that government and institutional actors have played in regulating and influencing the conditions of sexuality. Finally, Gersen and Suk’s account of the democratic illegitimacy of the federal sex bureaucracy neglects the grassroots activism that pressed for a tougher regulatory regime and the legitimate role executive agencies can play, consistent with robust democratic engagement, in strengthening sex equality law. In the final analysis, any decision to disengage or recalibrate the federal sex bureaucracy must take into account and bring into dialogue the stories of both survivors and accused students.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Book Review: Harris on Sager, Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, reviewing the book Robin C. Sager, Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America (Lousiana State University Press 2016)
In literature and the popular press, antebellum women were lauded for their virtue and piety; they maintained the sanctity of the home and were responsible for the moral training of the next generation. Yet, many homes were not idyllic sites of domestic tranquility. In Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, Robin C. Sager uncovers the fascinating and disturbing account of “those spouses who were simply trying not to kill one another” (p. 12). Through an analysis of 1,500 divorce cases in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin, Sager chronicles the meanings and cultural significance of marital cruelty in the years 1840-60. Sager contends that regional scholarship has tended to label the South as particularly violent, connecting that violence to norms of Southern honor. To interrogate these assumptions, the author analyzes Virginia (often considered the archetypal Southern state), Texas (a frontier Southern state), and Wisconsin (a frontier state in the process of settlement). Sager finds that the cultural uncertainty of frontier Wisconsin perpetuated violent domestic cruelty, while greater stability of gender norms in Virginia and Texas mitigated violence in marriage.
Marital Cruelty is organized around types of cruelty: verbal, physical, sexual, and negligence. Within each chapter Sager compares divorce cases from Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin. In the chapter on physical cruelty, for example, Sager identifies a fixation on the exact nature of the violence in each state’s attempt to determine the line between permissible violence and marital cruelty. Courts would attempt to determine the exact number of blows, the type of violence, and the emotional valences behind the violence. While there was no universal standard for what constituted cruelty, violence that reinforced gendered familial duty was more likely to be considered legitimate. As such, whipping tended to be more acceptable than punching, and the seemingly rational administration of violence was more acceptable than emotional or animalistic violence. Sager also identifies significant regional differences in physical violence, explaining that the unsettled frontier of Wisconsin led to “more permanent injuries and generalized brutality within marriages than can be seen in either Virginia or Texas for the period” (p. 39). This chapter is also notable because it includes instances of wives' cruelty toward their husbands, a particularly egregious violation of gender expectations. * * *
The unrelenting litany of domestic violence can be challenging to read, but the attention to regional difference and lower court marriage law makes the study valuable to researchers. While state and federal appeals and Supreme Court decisions from the antebellum era are more likely to be accessible, documents from lower-level divorce cases can be difficult to find. The vast majority of citizens seeking a divorce would have had their case only heard before a lower-level court, such as a circuit, district, or chancery court, and Sager’s meticulous research provides unique insight into the ways in which Americans used the state to negotiate marital conflict. However, as the author notes, not all Americans had equal access to the law, and Sager acknowledges that the choice to study divorce cases may obfuscate questions of race and class.