Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Providing Attorneys for Campus Sexual Assault Victims

Kelly Ann Behre, Ensuring Choice and Voice for Campus Sexual Assault Victims: A Call for Victims' Attorneys


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).


January 19, 2017 in Violence Against Women, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Reforming Social Security's Marriage Duration Requirement in Cases of Domestic Violence

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)


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.


January 9, 2017 in Family, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reconsidering the Criminal Justice Focus of Domestic Violence Remedies

Deborah Weissman, The Community Politics of Domestic Violence, Brooklyn Law Rev (forthcoming)


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.


December 22, 2016 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Damages Caps on Noneconomic Harm for Sexual Assault of Minor Upheld as Constitutional

Damage Caps Constitutional When Applied to Sexual Assault of Minor

Capping damages awarded in a civil lawsuit to a teenage victim of a sexual assault did not violate the girl’s constitutional rights, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.


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.

December 14, 2016 in Constitutional, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Stereotyped Domestic Violence Offender

Carolyn Ramsey, The Stereotyped Offender: Domestic Violence and the Failure of Intervention, 120 Penn State L.Rev. 337 (2015)


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.


October 14, 2016 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Books: Sex Trafficking in the US

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 ( to find teaching aids, including PowerPoints, access to a test bank, and a sample syllabus

October 14, 2016 in Books, Human trafficking, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Anita Hill on Sexual Harassment: Focus on the Victims

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.”

October 13, 2016 in Pop Culture, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Campus Sexual Assault: Why Not Bureaucracy?

Deborah Brake, The Trouble with "Bureaucracy", 7 Cal. Law Review online 66 (2016)


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.


October 5, 2016 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Domestic Violence in the Divorce Cases of Marital Cruelty, 1840-1860

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.

September 29, 2016 in Books, Family, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Proposal for a Post-Arrest Confrontation Hearing in Domestic Violence Cases

Robert Hardaway, Domestic Violence and the Confrontation Clause: The Case for a Prompt Post-Arrest Confrontation Hearing, 22 Cardozo J.Law & Gender 1 (2015)

In the years leading up to the 2004 Supreme Court decision in Crawford v. Washington, a prosecutor could pursue a domestic violence case and introduce the prior accusatory testimonial statement of the victim even if the victim refused to appear at trial, declined to testify at trial, retracted a prior statement made to police, or claimed lack of memory about the events described in her prior statement. Introduction of a prior statement was permissible if the victim was unavailable, and the statement bore "adequate indicia of reliability" as indicated by falling within a "firmly rooted hearsay exception" or satisfied "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness."  In Crawford, the Supreme Court overruled Ohio v. Roberts, holding that admission of a prior victim statement complied with the Confrontation Clause only if the victim was unavailable, and the defendant had a "prior opportunity to cross-examine."  Critics of Crawford claimed that it initiated an "open season" on domestic violence victims by giving the defendant spouse an irresistible motive to escape justice by intimidating, threatening, or even killing the victim prior to the victim being becoming subject to cross-examination at trial.


It has been noted that the cause of justice pays a high price for insuring the right to physically confront a witness at trial-which may take place months or even years after the arrest of the defendant-because it provides the accused with ample time to intimidate or threaten potential witnesses against him.  Defendants in domestic violence cases quickly realize that without a testifying witness at trial, the case against him must be dismissed no matter how hideous the crime of which he is charged.' Witness tampering appears to work in favor of perpetrators, particularly in domestic violence cases, because 80-90% of victims do not cooperate with prosecutors in domestic violence cases. These cases include instances in which a witness mysteriously disappears prior to trial, declines to testify, or refuses to cooperate with the prosecution. This has proved to be of particular concern in domestic violence cases in which a battered spouse declined to testify for a variety of reasons, including purported lack of memory,  a fear of retribution either admitted or suspected, a plea for understanding from the prosecutor of a victim's desire to preserve the family unit, or a claim that the defendant has changed his ways and propensity for violence and is unlikely to repeat his crime. 

It is the aim of this article to propose a more effective means of eliminating a defendant's motive to intimidate or harm domestic violence victims who may be witnesses against the defendant at trial by providing defendants in domestic violence cases with the right to cross-examine a complaining witness at a confrontation hearing convened promptly after the defendant's arrest. Such a procedure would both comply with the Crawford requirement of a "prior opportunity to cross-examine" while reducing the time in which a defendant can devise means of making the victim unavailable for trial.


September 1, 2016 in Courts, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tribal Authority and the Reauthorized Violence Against Women Act

Angela Riley, Crime and Governance in Indian Country, 63 UCLA L Rev. (forthcoming)


Criminal jurisdiction in Indian country is defined by a central, ironic paradox. Recent federal laws expanding tribal criminal jurisdiction are, in many respects, enormous victories for Indian country, as they acknowledge and reify a more robust notion of tribal sovereignty, one capable of accommodating increased tribal control over safety and security on Indian reservations. At the same time, the laws make clear that sovereignty comes at a price, potentially working to effectuate further assimilation of tribal courts and Indian people. As a result, at the same time that tribal sovereignty gains ground in ways critical to autonomy and self-governance, it is simultaneously threatened by exogenous forces that have the potential to homogenize tribal justice systems legally, politically, and — in particular — culturally.

This Article offers the first comprehensive assessment of the Tribal Law and Order Act and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, respectively, to show how they relate to one another on the ground and the implications for tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Ultimately, based on data compiled for the first time as well as extensive secondary sources, I argue that expanded criminal jurisdiction and punishment authority have, perhaps paradoxically, enhanced the ability of tribes to develop and enforce policies, laws, and procedures that are consistent with tribal custom and tradition. This presents a unique opportunity worthy of further exploration. In other words, rather than sovereignty and assimilation expanding in tension with one another, I find that the application of the laws has been experienced in tribal communities, as least anecdotally and preliminarily, as greatly enhancing — not threatening or destroying — tribal sovereignty and Indian cultural survival.


August 31, 2016 in Courts, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Universities Challenge Education Dept's Title IX Guidance

Chronicle, Oklahoma Wesleyan Joins Lawsuit Challenging Education Dept's Title IX Guidance

Oklahoma Wesleyan University is joining a former University of Virginia student’s lawsuit challenging the Title IX guidance of the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, according to court documents filed Monday.


The university joins the plaintiff, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. The lawsuit asserts that the student was found responsible only because the department’s standard of proof is so low.


The suit raises objections to the department’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which states that colleges should use a “preponderance of evidence” standard when reviewing sexual-violence complaints.


“A growing number of innocent students have been trampled in the wake of these new requirements, found responsible for serious charges based often on the flimsiest of evidence,” the suit reads.

August 17, 2016 in Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Public Health Approach to Rape and Sexual Culture

Angela Harris, American Sexual Culture as Public Health Crisis, JOTWELL

Reviewing:  Margo Kaplan, Rape Beyond Crime, 66 Duke L.J. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN. 

Not long ago, I was indulging in one of my favorite lazy-day pastimes – standing in my local bookstore, reading. The book was Girls and Sex, Peggy Orenstein’s latest, and I left the bookstore considerably more unsettled than when I walked in. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea, if not to forbid her to go to college altogether, at least to walk my 18-year-old daughter to the nearest feminist sex-toy store first. Now comes Margo Kaplan to offer a legal perspective on American “rape culture,” and a new plan for furthering the feminist project of healthy, happy sex lives for       everyone.* * * 

Kaplan concludes that “absent a broader change in this culture, criminal law faces a double bind: rape laws can be either ineffective or unjust.” Because there is such a mismatch between the world sexual equality feminists, at least, would like to live in and the world we actually do live in, scholars and actors in the criminal justice system struggling to apply statutory terms like “force” and “consent” find themselves either confirming social norms that preserve men’s sexual access to women (ignoring the needs of male and female victims), or promoting idealistic norms that feel alien and unreasonable to the ordinary person.


The answer, Kaplan proposes, is to supplement the criminal law of sexual assault with a public health approach to sexual culture. As she notes, “public health law” is a grab bag of doctrines and policies including educational initiatives, data collection, and public-private partnerships among government, nonprofit organizations, media outlets, and advocates, all underwritten by the police power of the states and the federal power of the purse. The cornerstone of a public health approach, according to Kaplan, is its focus on “populations and prevention” – the exact opposite of the criminal justice system, which focuses on individuals and, despite its aspirations to deterrence, requires a violation as a trigger.


Kaplan’s proposed public health approach to rape has two main prongs. First, government agencies would amass detailed data on sexual violence (and where possible, presumably, sexual encounters that are unwanted regardless of whether they are understood as “violent”). Second, government agencies would promote new cultural norms for sexual behavior, challenging the norm of male aggression/female passivity and promoting in its stead an ideal of “good sex—sex that involves communication, mutual respect, and mutual pleasure.” (On the model of Michelle Obama’s work on obesity, I imagine First Husband Bill Clinton traveling the country promoting good sex for all.) In addition, Kaplan would encourage rape prevention campaigns to look “upstream” at structural determinants of victimization, such as poverty.

August 2, 2016 in Healthcare, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Books: Women as Aggressors of Marital Violence in Antebellum American

Robin Sager, Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America (LSU Press 2016)

In Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, Robin C. Sager probes the struggles of aggrieved spouses shedding light on the nature of marriage and violence in the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. Analyzing over 1,500 divorce records that reveal intimate details of marriages in conflict in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin from 1840–1860, Sager offers a rare glimpse into the private lives of ordinary Americans shaken by accusations of cruelty. * * *


Correcting historical mischaracterizations of women’s violence as trivial, rare, or defensive, Sager finds antebellum wives both capable and willing to commit a wide variety of cruelties within their marriages. Her research provides details about the reality of nineteenth-century conjugal unions, including the deep unhappiness buried within them.

h/t Legal History Blog


July 11, 2016 in Family, Legal History, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Books: Fiction on Campus Sexual Assault by and about a Woman Prosecutor

ABA J, The Last Good Girl

Author Allison Leotta has used her 12 years of experience as a federal sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C., to bring real-world issues into her fiction. Leotta has written five novels chronicling the adventures of her protagonist, prosecutor Anna Curtis. The most recent, The Last Good Girl, takes on the issue of campus sexual assault at a fictional private college in Michigan.

The ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles spoke with Leotta about how she shifted her career from lawyer to author; why the issue of campus sexual assault is so timely; and what’s next for her intrepid heroine Anna Curtis.

July 8, 2016 in Books, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Re-Entrenching Stereotypes About Gendered Violence?


 In thinking about new ways to end gendered violence, it may be time to reconsider the ways in which the law normalizes male violence and marginalizes women’s violence and how this binary treatment re-entrenches stereotypes. Consider, for example, the standards in the Kentucky Batterer’s Intervention Program (BIP). Many aspects of the Kentucky BIP requirements are the same for men and women, such as the requirements to provide content defining domestic violence, discussing the cycle of violence, and developing nonviolent methods for resolving conflict. 920 Ky. Admin. Regs. 2:020 (1)(10) (2015). Male abusers, however, are uniquely instructed in the: “confrontation of rigid sex role stereotyping” and “development of a relapse prevention technique.” Importantly, the focus on relapse prevention is in addition to the requirements of challenging a male client’s “pattern of aggression in a conflict with a victim” and exploring “a constructive and nonviolent method for resolving conflict in a relationship” that already apply to both men and women’s BIP programs.

Women share the male curriculum, except for the provisions cited above, which do not apply to women. Women do not consider sex stereotyping or the prevention of relapse. Instead, women’s programs focus on the following areas unique to women’s BIPs: “[e]xploration of life experiences and belief systems that have fostered choices for violent behavior;” and “[s]afety planning and knowledge of domestic violence resources.”

This suggests that women must uniquely account for their violence. It suggests that something went wrong for women in their lives and experiences, whereas men were expected to commit violence. Men’s violence is framed as uncontrollable and relapses are expected. Women’s violence is an aberration and a choice. Women do not plan to relapse; they prepare to be future victims accessing domestic violence resources. Instruction on safety planning and resources is a startling requirement for perpetrators of domestic violence, particularly after women under this statute are already uniquely required to qualify for eligibility.

These gendered differences in BIPs suggest that some life experience fostered violence as an aberration for women. Why should women not study the sex stereotypes that underlie their use of violence as well? Why should men not also explore the life experiences and belief systems that fostered their behavior? Is not men’s violence a choice as well? Seemingly, these differences might send a message of despair and pessimism to victims of men’s violence and a message of incredulity to victims of women’s violence. Is the law here re-entrenching gendered stereotypes about violence in problematic ways?

This blog is adapted from my research originally published in The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence available at

July 8, 2016 in Guest Bloggers, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ending Marital Rape per International Law

Melanie Randall &Vasanthi Venkatesh,  Why Sexual Assault in Intimate Relationships Must be Criminalized as Required by International Human Rights Law, American Journal of International Law Unbound, May 17, 2016.

Ending the marital rape exemption in criminal law is a demand for legal equality and autonomy for women,rights that are enshrined in international human rights law. Drawing on international human rights law as a source of authority for challenging the marital rape exception in criminal law allows feminist and other social justice organizations, within their specific national and local contexts, to seek greater state action and accountability toward ending this form of violence against women and this violation of women’s human rights In this reply, we challenge the arguments in the symposium that oppose or caution against criminalizing sexual violence in intimate relationships as a necessary legal strategy, and that refute our view that ending the marital rape exemption is required by international human rights law.

July 6, 2016 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Critiquing “Crisis” in Campus Sexual Assault Responses


Jamie R. Abrams joins us as a guest blogger for July.  She is a professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she teaches Torts, Family Law, Women & Law, and Legislation.  


Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the term “crisis” to mean a “turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever,” an “attack of pain, distress, or disordered function,” or “an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life (e.g., midlife crisis).” likewise defines a “crisis” as a “turning point” in a sequence of events, “a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change,” or “a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life.” The word “crisis” itself is of late Middle English origin, rooted in “kri,” meaning to decide, separate, or judge. 

These definitions align well with many political and social uses of the word “crisis.” The Cuban Missile Crisis was a turning point in a sequence of events. It was a condition of instability leading to decisive change. It was a dramatic upheaval. The refugee crisis of families fleeing Syria can be defined as a condition of instability or danger, an upheaval, or a turning point. These definitions work well for most humanitarian crises following earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc. The word crisis, however, is notably not used in other occurrences. We do not think of cancer, debilitating illnesses, poverty, terrorism, or child abuse through the lens of “crisis.” Nor do we think about being victims of other types of crimes generally as creating a “crisis,” like arson or assault. Rather, these comparative examples are thought of as either more systemic, more longstanding, perhaps with more permanence or enduring complexities than a “crisis,” or, alternatively, as episodic and isolated.    

The rape crisis model has dominated community responses to sexual assault since the 1970s and 1980s. We send women to “crisis centers,” staff “rape crisis” hotlines, and deploy “crisis response” teams. In this capacity, rape is framed as creating a “crisis” for individual survivors of it, needing quick responses and interventions. That language has carried over into campus sexual assault responses as well, but in the context of campus sexual assault, it has been used in two distinct ways. First, campus sexual assault responses have transported the crisis response model applied in communities directly to college campuses. Colleges likewise offer crisis counseling, crisis hotlines, and crisis teams to assist students who have been sexually assaulted. Second, the language of crisis on college campuses has also been used in a very different way. It has also been used on a systemic level to frame a “campus sexual assault crisis” in the frequency and the normalization of campus sexual assault. This framing has been used regularly in news stories and political calls to action. 

Both uses of “crisis” seem to merit more thoughtful consideration in the campus sexual assault context. First, in its micro application to individual victims, this language of crisis denotes urgency, decisiveness, judgment, action, and mobilization, all leading to closure. These descriptions are problematic when mapped on to the lived experiences of campus sexual assault victims. The National Institute of Justice reports that an assailant known to the victim perpetrates 85%-90% of sexual assaults reported by college women. Campus sexual assaults are more often happening at parties, on dates, and in the victim or assailant’s residence. According to the National Institute for Justice, these complexities lead more than half of student victims to not define the incident as “rape” and just a small fraction of victims to report. Absent an obvious physical injury in many cases and without the complexities of identifying or “catching” the assailant, the language of “crisis” may not resonate with the experiences of campus sexual assault victims. For campus sexual assault victims, the experience is often dominated by confusion, self-doubt, isolation, and loneliness. It is not hallmarked by decisive action leading to closure for many, if not most, women.  Might there be collateral consequences to this framing? Might the language of crisis, for example, suggest urgency to reporting that is not consistent with existing statute of limitation laws? Might it suggest a need for decisive action, even beyond that which the law requires? Might it communicate implicitly to victims that closure or decisive judgment are to be expected, when the lived experiences reveal that the harms of sexual assault endure far beyond the immediate aftermath? Second, on a systemic level, while the language of crisis seems to invoke an urgent call to action, which is to be applauded, this language of systemic crisis also risks blurring the long history of sexual assault on campus and erasing a legacy of inaction. It also suggests a beginning and an end. It suggests that closure is attainable, when ongoing monitoring, responsiveness, and engagement are critically necessary. Transporting the language of “crisis” from community response models to campus sexual assault might complicate our understanding of and responses to campus sexual assault in ways worthy of further examination.  

July 5, 2016 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Commentary on the Voisine Case and Banning Guns for Serial Domestic Abusers

Slate, In Voisine SCOTUS Says Domestic Abusers Can't Have Guns. If Only Someone Would Enforce It.

From a prior post here on Gender Law Prof Blog, on Justice Thomas in Voisine oral argument, Justice Thomas Breaks 10-Year Silence to Question Federal Ban on Guns in Domestic Violence

On the interesting affiliation of Thomas and Sotomayor in the dissent, see Noah Feldman, When Opposites Converge Over Domestic Violence, Chicago Tribune.

What Thomas and Sotomayor share in common -- along with being the court's two members of racial minorities -- is a long-term concern with the overreach of federal criminal law.


Thomas's worry has to do with federalism and the encroachment of the federal government into state law matters. Sotomayor's concern is more with the status of the individual defendant, who may be subject to long federal sentences.


June 29, 2016 in SCOTUS, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2016

SCOTUS Upholds Firearms Ban for Prior Misdemeanors of Domestic Violence

The Voisine v. U.S. decision is here. By Kagan.

Dissent by Thomas & Sotomayor (that's right) on legal standards of intentional conduct.

June 27, 2016 in Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)