Narratives of Domestic Violence
- Publisher: The Law Book Company Limited
Second wave feminists in Australia brought the social issue of domestic violence out of the suburban shadows and into the activist and policy spotlight in the 1970s. Subsequent feminist-inspired law reforms around domestic violence included the introduction of state domestic violence order regimes in the 1980s, and amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in 1995 to specify family violence as one of the matters to be taken into account by the Family Court in\ud determining the best interests of the child. These laws were generally underpinned by a particular analysis of domestic violence developed by feminist advocates and activists working with battered women. Laws related to domestic violence, however, are implemented not by feminist reformers, but by lawyers and judges who do not necessarily share these understandings of violence. Indeed, they are more likely to share understandings derived from the media, popular culture, and social and institutional discourses which are often at odds with the feminist account. The article explores the ‘knowledge’ about violence manifested by magistrates and judges in domestic violence order and Family Court proceedings, drawing upon observations and other empirical data from a study of women’s experience of speaking about violence in civil courts. The study found that the provision of venues to hear women’s stories about domestic violence did not result in any general revision of traditional conceptions and myths about the definition, causes or effects of violence. Rather, women’s stories tended to be heard, filtered, and interpreted through non-feminist social and legal narratives about domestic violence. The article argues that feminist reforms need to attend explicitly to legal culture as well as legal rules, and considers what interventions might help to produce an epistemological shift in the legal system in relation to domestic violence.