Washington Law Review


Kathleen Waits


This article will focus on the appropriate criminal justice response to battering. Part II describes the nature of the problem of wife beating. It first discusses the extent of abuse in America to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem and the urgent need for solutions. The remainder of Part II looks at the issue on a more individual basis. It examines the battered woman, the batterer, the battering relationship, and the effects of abuse on the couple's children. An understanding of the participants and their relationship, unencumbered by the many myths that surround battering, is essential to creating effective legal remedies. Part III argues that the law must take a stand against wife abuse. The arguments for legal intervention against abuse may seem obvious, since spousal assault has been a crime for over a century. Nevertheless, the legal system remains reluctant to use its powers against batterers. Rationalizations offered for this reluctance range from alleged interests in protecting family privacy to the asserted ineffectiveness of the law in dealing with the problem. This article rejects these rationalizations because their effect is to condone wife beating. The law is not a panacea for domestic violence, but that does not mean it can or should do nothing. Part IV enumerates the appropriate goals of a legal program to reduce battering. This enumeration is necessary for two reasons. First, one cannot determine whether any law is desirable without considering its purported objectives. Second, the flaws in the legal system's traditional answers to abuse are largely attributable to the pursuit of incorrect goals, such as the reconciliation of the partners. With proper goals in mind, including protecting the victim and deterring the batterer, we can proceed to evaluate the legal system's response to battering. Part V examines the present state of the law and the changes necessary for an effective criminal justice response.

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