The Limitations of the Legal Response to Domestic Violence in England and Wales: A Critical Analysis
Bishop, Charlotte Bishop
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to publish a series of articles taken from my thesis over the coming years and potentially a monograph as well - these may take longer to publish than the standard 18 month embargo would permit.
This thesis examines the limitations of the legal responses to ‘domestic violence’ from the perspective of two central arguments; first, domestic violence is a social problem, rather than one caused by the deviancy of particular individuals, and, secondly, legal and societal understandings display a misplaced focus on ‘violence’ as the defining feature of an abusive relationship. By failing to address the root social causes or comprehend the true dynamics of abusive relationships as a range of coercive and controlling strategies, incidents of mainly physical violence and the behaviour and personality of the abused woman become the social and legal focus. The thesis asserts that the root causes of domestic violence are the gendered expectations placed upon masculinity and femininity, thus explaining why it is women that are predominantly the victims. To refute the common misconception that women would exit an abusive relationship if they wanted to, a comparison is made between domestic violence and capture crimes such as kidnapping, and the range of social and psychological difficulties encountered by women as a result of the abusive relationship are used to support the claim that the sense of self, autonomy and decision-making ability of the victim is so undermined by the abuser’s tactics that they become entrapped in the abusive relationship. It is then argued that societal and legal misunderstandings of the dynamics and impact of the abuse lead to misinformed legal responses based upon the premise that women are able to safely report domestic violence and receive an adequate response, should they choose to do so. Bringing together critiques of the operation of the civil and criminal justice system in this context with the possibilities and limitations of the international human rights system, the thesis aims to demonstrate not just where the legal responses pertaining to domestic violence are limited, but also why. The research concludes that a legal approach to this problem which overlooks the root causes and over-emphasises isolated incidents of mainly physical violence does not and cannot work; the causes and impacts of domestic violence must be understood and addressed at a society-wide level.
PhD in Law