60 Wash. L. Rev. 267 (1984-1985)
The Criminal Justice System's Response to Battering: Understanding the Problem, Forging the Solutions

handle is hein.journals/washlr60 and id is 277 raw text is: THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM'S RESPONSE
TO BATTERING: UNDERSTANDING THE
PROBLEM, FORGING THE SOLUTIONS
Kathleen Waits*
I. INTRODUCTION
Women have been battered for centuries,1 but only recently has America
* Assistant Professor, University of Florida, College of Law. A.B. 1972, Comell University; J.D.
1975, Harvard Law School; President of the Board of Directors of the Sexual and Physical Abuse
Resource Center (SPARC); Treasurer of the Refuge Information Network of Florida (RIN). Although
the author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article, it is dedicated to the women and
men who work in Florida's spouse abuse shelters.
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Professors Martin H. Belsky, John Kaplan, Lisa
G. Lerman, Toni M. Massaro, and Christopher Slobogin, who all made helpful suggestions on earlier
drafts of this article, and to University of Florida law students R. Craig Waters, Class of 1986, and Nancy
A. Felix, Class of 1984, for their invaluable research assistance.
1. For a history of the problem of abuse in western civilization, see generally Davidson, Wife
Beating: A Recurring Phenomenon Through History, in BATTERED WOMEN: A PSYCHOSOCIOLOGICAL
STUDY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE 2 (M. Roy ed. 1977).
This article will consider the problem of abuse only as it relates to female victims. There are several
reasons for this limitation. First, only one study suggests that men are battered more frequently than
women, see M. SRAUS, R. GEtLES & S. STEINMErz, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: VIOLENCE IN THE
AMERICAN FAMILY 40 (1980) [hereinafter cited as BEHIND CLOSED DOORS], and that portion of the study
has been widely discredited. All other studies show a much higher incidence of female than male
victimization. See works cited in S. ScHECHTR, WOMEN AND MALE VIOLENCE: THE VISIONS AND
SmUGGLES OF THE BATTERED WOMEN'S MoVEMENT 214 (1982). Additionally, the study by Straus,
Gelles and Steinmetz does not itself support the proposition that men and women are equally likely to be
abused. As Gelles himself pointed out, the researchers did not inquire either into the motive for spousal
violence or about the damage inflicted. Gelles, The Truth About HusbandAbuse, in R. GELLES, FAMILY
VIOLENCE 137, 138-39 (1979) [hereinafter cited as R. GELLES]. As women are much more likely than
men to act in self-defense in domestic violence cases, this failure is significant. Pleck, Pleck, Grossman,
& Bart, The Battered Data Syndrome:A Comment on Steinmetz's Article, 2 VICrIMOLOGY: AN INT'L J.
680, 682 (1977). Similarly, the study did not distinguish between a punch thrown by the 280-pound, 6.
foot 5 inch husband and a similar act by his 5 foot 4 inch, 120-pound wife. R. GEnLEs, supra at 139.
In criticizing this element of the BEHIND CLOSED DOORS study, I do not intend to undermine the validity
of its other findings, which are well-supported and consistent with those of other researchers. See, e.g.,
infra notes 16-17.
Another reason to focus on the abused woman is that the criminal justice system encounters wife
beating far more often than husband beating. INTERNATIONAL Assoc. OF CHIEFS OF POLICE TRAINING
KEY # 245, reprinted in BATTERED WOMEN: A PSYCHOSOCIOLOGICAL STUDY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
144, 145 (M. Roy ed. 1977) [hereinafter cited as POLICE KEY # 245]. Additionally, the social forces that
encourage the victimization of women, see infra note 9, are absent in husband beating cases. Finally,
wife abuse conforms, albeit pathologically, to our society's ideas about the proper male and female
roles, see infra note 9, whereas husband abuse deviates from these ideas. Thus, we cannot be certain that
solutions appropriate for battered women apply equally to battered men.
This discussion does not, of course, argue that domestic violence laws should ignore abused men.
Sex-neutral abuse laws are indeed proper. However, as women bear the brunt of domestic violence, the
legal system must focus on them.
An important issue is how to define battering. See Lerman, A Model State Act: Remedies for

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