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Marginalized Women, Domestic and Family Violence Reforms and Their Unintended Consequences  

Ellen Reeves and Silke Meyer

In the last 50 years, a wide body of research on domestic and family violence (DFV) has emerged, much of which focuses on the victim-survivor experience with the criminal justice system. DFV is an area of rapid law reform, most notably in Western nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, as legislative bodies attempt to align policies with emerging knowledge and best-practice principles. Policy and law reform, however, have seen a tension between limiting and enhancing victim autonomy in the criminal justice system process. For the most part, policies have focused on the former, reflecting the understanding that DFV is a crime against the state, thus rendering a victim’s ability to choose how they wish to seek protection a secondary priority. For some women, a mandatory criminal justice system intervention may be a useful tool in seeking protection and addresses past limitations of legal responses to DFV, wherein the violence committed by men against women was largely ignored. However, for many other women, engagement in the criminal or civil justice systems may both enhance risks to safety as well as further engrain disadvantage. While DFV policies have been well intended and reflective of the growing shift toward recognizing DFV as a significant public health issue, the same policies have largely ignored the voices of marginalized women and the ways in which “choice” may manifest differently for different women. There are often unintended consequences of DFV reforms relating to justice responses, which disproportionately affect some victims. Thus, a more nuanced approach in police and court responses to DFV is important to minimize adverse effects on victim-survivor voice and help-seeking.