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The Carceral Creep: Gender-Based Violence, Race, and the Expansion of the Punitive State, 1973–1983


Abstract and Figures

The development of the feminist anti-domestic violence movement in the United States illustrates the trajectory from a social movement field devoid of carceral involvement to one fully occupied by the agents of crime control. Countering a narrative that often begins with the Violence against Women Act of 1994, this study demonstrates how the roots of carceral feminism extend back to the movement’s first decade from 1973 to 1983. This study analyzes data from 60 social movement leaders. The pluralist coalition resulting from a successful lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department, the creation of the victim witness program in San Francisco, and the development of the Community Coordinated Response in Duluth, Minnesota, represent mechanisms of engagement with law enforcement tied to innovative organizational forms. The process called the “carceral creep” describes how early social movement successes against an initially unresponsive criminal justice system evolved into collaborative relationships that altered the autonomy and constitution of initial social movement organizations. The creation of new organizational forms and their replication contributed to today’s carceral feminism. These developments were accompanied by persisting gender, race, and class tropes used to justify pro-criminalization strategies and obfuscate impacts on marginalized communities.
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The Carceral Creep: Gender-Based
Violence, Race, and the Expansion of the
Punitive State, 1973–1983
Mimi E. Kim
California State University, Long Beach
The development of the feminist anti-domestic violence movement in the United States
illustrates the trajectory from a social movement field devoid of carceral involvement to one
fully occupied by the agents of crime control. Countering a narrative that often begins with
the Violence against Women Act of 1994, this study demonstrates how the roots of carceral
feminism extend back to the movement’s first decade from 1973 to 1983. This study ana-
lyzes data from 60 social movement leaders. The pluralist coalition resulting from a success-
ful lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department, the creation of the victim witness pro-
gram in San Francisco, and the development of the Community Coordinated Response in
Duluth, Minnesota, represent mechanisms of engagement with law enforcement tied to in-
novative organizational forms. The process called the “carceral creep” describes how early
social movement successes against an initially unresponsive criminal justice system evolved
into collaborative relationships that altered the autonomy and constitution of initial social
movement organizations. The creation of new organizational forms and their replication
contributed to today’s carceral feminism. These developments were accompanied by per-
sisting gender, race, and class tropes used to justify pro-criminalization strategies and obfus-
cate impacts on marginalized communities.
KEYWORDS:social movements; domestic violence; intersectionality; carceral state;
carceral feminism.
The unprecedented growth in rates of U.S. incarceration since the early 1970s has prompted wide-
spread reevaluation of public investments in crime control. Beyond the alarming statistics, the scope
of carceral activities has expanded beyond the confines of the criminal justice system, permeating
ever-widening aspects of social, political, and economic life (Garland 2001;Simon 2007;Wacquant
2009). Implicated in carceral expansion has been the contemporary feminist social movement,
The author wishes to thank the many people who offered their inspiration, support, and feedback, including those whose social
movement activism fills these pages. My deepest gratitude extends to Catherine Albiston, Alisa Bierria, Henry Brady, Julian Chow,
Jennifer Jihye Chun, Donna Coker, Veena Dubal, Leigh Goodmark, Leah Jacobs, Roi Livne, Kristin Luker, Doug McAdam, Calvin
Morrill, K-Sue Park, Laurie Schaffner, and Jonathan Simon who reviewed previous drafts. Special thanks go to Deborah Freedman
Lustig, David Minkus, Christine Trost, and all of the inspiring fellows at the Berkeley Center for Research on Social Change, the fel-
lows at the Racial Democracy, Crime and Justice Network’s Summer Research Institute, and to my comrades at Incite! for their en-
during collective vision and insurgent spirit. The author also extends gratitude to the editors and anonymous reviewers of Social
Problems for their insightful comments and suggestions. Please direct correspondence to the author at the School of Social Work,
California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840; email:
CThe Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:
Social Problems, 2020, 67, 251–269
doi: 10.1093/socpro/spz013
Advance Access Publication Date: 29 May 2019
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particularly those movement strands that challenge gender-based violence including sexual assault,
domestic violence, and, more recently, stalking and sex trafficking. Successful demands for criminali-
zation of gender-based violence, enhanced penalties, and policies such as mandatory arrest are among
the systemic changes that have earned this movement accolades for its record of social movement
success and critiques by those concerned about its contributions to the expanding punitive state.
Building on theories of the “third governmental sector” and carceral annexation of civil society
(Garland 2001), social scientists have begun to provide empirical evidence of the ways in which crim-
inal justice institutions cooperatively or coercively incorporate sectors of civil society into carceral ac-
tivities. Research largely focused on third party policing, referring to police recruitment of non-state
actors into the functions of crime control, has contributed to a heightened understanding of the coer-
cive mechanisms driving carceral expansion into civil society (Desmond 2016;Lara-Millan 2014;
Mazerolle and Ransley 2005). However, the theoretical underpinnings and empirical examples rest
upon the assumption of recruitment initiated by the state. Less is known about the dynamics of car-
ceral expansion when initial demands are generated from civil society.
The emergence of what is now known as “carceral feminism” (Bernstein 2005), has advanced an-
other set of considerations for carceral expansion associated with a social movement known both for
its emancipatory origins and its embrace of tough-on-crime strategies. Social movement scholarship
offers more general insights into the dynamics of elite-driven demobilization and cooptation of pro-
gressive social movements by more conservative state and non-state agendas (McCarthy and Zald
1977;Piven and Cloward 1977;Strolovich 2007). However, the specific carceral turn of feminist so-
cial movements demands closer examination of its alignment with the punitive arm of the state dur-
ing a time of an extraordinary deployment of crime control functions into the sphere of civil society
(Garland 2001).
The pro-criminalization success of social movements challenging gender-based violence first led
feminist legal scholars to turn attention to the paradox of an emancipatory social movement’s close
ties to the state’s most masculinist, repressive arm (Coker 1999;Mills 1999). The rapid growth of
the carceral state and salience of feminist social movements championing pro-criminalization strate-
gies led to further theoretical insights and empirical investigations under a broader scope of crimino-
logical inquiry. Examining the context of external factors that shaped the U.S. economic, social,
political, and economic context over the past four decades, crime policy researchers demonstrate how
the advance of neoliberalism hastened the erosion of emancipatory feminist aims. The encroachment
of individualized models of service delivery, weakened welfare priorities, and heightened attention to
crime in public discourse and policy shaped the carceral direction of feminist social movements
(Bumiller 2008;Gottschalk 2006;Simon 2007). While recognition of deep race and class disparities
inherent in pro-criminalization strategies may have impeded investment in crime control, the sup-
pression of these differences under a gender essentialist framework facilitated the continued adher-
ence to carceral strategies as a central feature of feminist anti-violence movements (Goodmark 2013;
Richie 2012;Durazo, Bierria, and Kim 2011).
This article examines the formative years of the anti-domestic violence movement from 1973 to
1983, a time of transition from the virtual absence of carceral participation in the social movement
to the onset of what is now a strong and persisting collaborative relationship. By looking at the
period when carceral strategies were first developed, this study answers two fundamental questions.
First, how and why did initial anti-domestic violence movement leaders, some of whom emerged
from radical racial justice movements, pursue strategies tied to enhanced policing? Second, how did
early social movement success in demanding criminal justice protections to battered victims trans-
form into the eventual subordination of the movement to its law enforcement targets?
1 Reference to the social movement as a field incorporates the contributions of institutionalist sociology that recognizes social
movements as areas of social life where collective and individual actors strategically vie for power (Armstrong 2002;Edelman,
Leachman, and McAdam 2010).
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The dynamic I call the carceral creep describes the processes and mechanisms that explain these
two paradoxes. First, it unveils the relationship between the feminist emancipatory social movement
and the masculinist arm of the state as one driven by the pursuit and delusion of feminist control,
one that embraced oppositional political strategies but in service to the encroaching politics of mass
incarceration. Second, it reveals the process through which impressive social movement success can
lead to effects that undermine the goals of movement actors and institutions to the greater aims of
the movement’s prior targets, eventually subordinating them. As I will show, emerging gender, race,
and class tropes provided justifications that served to promote pro-criminalization strategies and ob-
fuscate its detrimental impacts on marginalized communities. Hence, this is not an account of femi-
nist concessions to carceral pressures. Rather, it offers empirical evidence of a social movement’s
active role in the recruitment of carceral forces into civil society and the creation of innovative organi-
zational forms that would become key features of the punitive state.
The dramatic reconfiguration of the U.S. state over the past four decades has generated a body of
criminological scholarship centered on the unprecedented magnitude of carceral expansion. Research
on the salient role of civil society mobilization draws upon David Garland’s (2001:170) identification
of a “new crime control establishment” or “third ‘governmental’ sector” that describes the increasing
deployment of civil society into the activities and institutions of crime control as central to the mod-
ern punitive state. Growing research, largely focused on third party policing, provides empirical evi-
dence of how civil society actors, such as parents (Mazerolle and Ransley 2005), landlords
(Desmond 2016), and hospitals (Lara-Millan 2014) have been recruited into the functions of surveil-
lance and punishment. These studies emphasize the coercive dynamics of carceral recruitment and
demonstrate the process of annexing non- state actors as crime control functions become institution-
alized into everyday practices.
The study of feminist social movements provides a contrasting account of the mobilization of civil
society into carceral activities. Identifying feminist anti-violence movements as “one of the clearest
cases where a [social] movement has turned to criminalization as a primary tool of social justice”
(Simon 2007:180), a growing body of criminological research has interrogated the development of
pro-criminalization feminist forces, examining their relationship to the broader carceral terrain. This
focus on the relationship of feminist social movements to the overarching development of the puni-
tive state brings together research from theoretical traditions of critical criminology, social move-
ments, and critical race studies.
Theories of social movements provide insights into the overarching tendencies for social move-
ment cooptation by more conservative state and non-state entities. Classic social movement accounts
attribute the demobilization of social movements to standard processes of institutional bureaucratiza-
tion accompanying the maturation of successful social movements into “social movement industries”
(McCarthy and Zald 1977). More critical of these concessions, social movement scholars such as
Piven and Cloward (1977) and Strolovich (2007) explain the persistent failures of initially radical so-
cial movements to maintain progressive aims by illuminating the dynamics of elite social movement
leadership and the alignment of goals and strategies to those that guarantee ties to state legitimacy
and resources.
The prominent role of feminist social movements in the promotion of carceral expansion gained
broader attention as scholars examined the causes and consequences of carceral expansion into civil
society. The accumulation of legislation criminalizing gender-based violence including enhanced
criminal penalties and mandatory arrest offered ample evidence of feminist carceral contributions.
Feminist legal theorists began to critique anti-violence movements for policies promoting strength-
ened policing, over-investment in victim-centered frameworks, and the abandonment of broader eco-
nomic and political considerations (Coker 1999;Mills 1999).
The Carceral Creep 253
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Criminological scholars embedded these critiques into a broader theoretical examination of car-
ceral expansion and the more ubiquitous turn towards neoliberal policies. Pressures to conform to
professionalized, individualized models of service delivery joined by crime control as a punitive re-
sponse to economic and social problems contributed to the erosion of more progressive elements
once central to grassroots feminist social movements
(Bumiller 2008;Goodmark 2013). Marie
Gottschalk (2006) further emphasized the role of the weak U.S. welfare state that limited redistribu-
tive options for feminist social movements, leaving once progressive movements more vulnerable to
the enticements of carceral resources and access to legitimization accompanying the adoption of pro-
criminalization strategies. The reconfiguration of governance around crime control and the elevation
of the crime victim as a central actor in the U.S. polity secured the alignment of victim-centered social
movements with the interests of carceral expansion (Gottschalk 2006;Simon 2007).
The dynamics of gender, race, and class play a central role in the examination of the development
of feminist anti-violence movements as they do in the broader criminological context. Kimberle
Crenshaw’s (1991) landmark critique of the neglectful and detrimental impacts of feminist anti-
violence policies on racially marginalized communities paved the way for a body of criminological
analyses based on an intersectional framework. Studies attentive to the categories of gender, race, and
class reveal that early feminist leaders capitulated marginalized interests to a single-issue orientation
based upon gender alone; thus, they conceded a once radical social movement aware of the race and
class perils of enhanced policing to the embrace of pro-carceral policies (Goodmark 2013;Richie
2012;Durazo et al. 2011;Strolovich 2007). Posed as a counter to prevailing notions of the dispropor-
tionate criminality of people of color, gender essentialist frameworks adopted by the anti-violence
movement valorized white female victimization while neglecting the consequences of criminalization
on targeted and marginalized racial communities (Goodmark 2013;Richie 2012). Gender essential-
ism masked the dramatically unequal impact of pro-criminalization policies on targeted communities,
thereby leaving the tough-on-crime framework underlying carceral feminism remarkably resistant to
critical evaluation.
This historical investigation of the anti-domestic violence movement’s formative years is signifi-
cant in its retelling of an important social movement account of carceral collaboration. In what fol-
lows, findings reveal how feminist demands for law enforcement response and the pursuit of
collaboration result in paradoxical and perilous outcomes easily obscured by the luster of success.
The study also provides broader insights into the annexation of civil society into the carceral sphere,
suggesting civil society’s constitutive role in the construction of the carceral state, beyond merely pas-
sive concessions to the machinations of law enforcement. These lessons are not only important in
our understanding of social movements and their role in carceral expansion but also serve as a cau-
tionary tale for progressive social movements facing off against today’s punitive state. As legal theo-
rists Brown and Halley (2002) warn, rights-based success can paradoxically transform social
movement victors into unwitting agents of the state. With these forms of contentious politics, “once
you win, you are the state” (p. 10).
I use the term carceral creep to suggest the incremental and often imperceptible advance of carceral
forces that led to the eventual domination of crime control within a feminist social movement field
that was once almost devoid of its presence. As this study illustrates, the process (see Table 1), as it
advanced through stages of contestation,collaboration,hybridization,replication,occupation, and subor-
dination, was not imposed by a carceral leviathan. Rather, this progressive social movement employed
a variety of protest tactics and strategies to demand law enforcement protections and punishments in
2 The dynamics of demobilization and cooptation are central to debates regarding conservative trends within feminist social move-
ments. See Frazier (2013) for her analysis of neoliberalism’s effects on feminist movements, critical to larger scholarship on femi-
nism but not specific to debates on carceral feminism.
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the face of police unresponsiveness. Strategies of engagement recruited law enforcement (through a
continuum of coercion, invitation, and subterfuge) into anti-domestic violence activities they had pre-
viously refused. Rather than following a conventional linear social movement narrative of successful
demands leading to desired policy outcomes, this process was marked by political dilemmas and con-
tradictory consequences. The outcomes that characterize the carceral creep are not only the result of
pro-criminalization strategies in the midst of an unprecedented build-up of carceral force, but also the
outcome of strategies that ultimately failed to recognize the powers of the state and the perils of its
punitive arm.
The anti-domestic violence movement began with familiar strategies of contestation, defining the
contentious activities that social movements often engage vis-a-vis state or other targets that employ
tactics and strategies well documented in social movement scholarship (McAdam [1982] 1999;
Tarrow 1998). The emerging anti-domestic violence social movement made informal demands for
police to protect victims of relationship violence and forged localized collaborative relationships with
“friendly” officers and prosecutors.
This study reveals how early initiatives to more strategically engage law enforcement took the
form of organizational innovations aimed expressly at establishing lasting collaborative ties between
domestic violence advocates and local state institutions of crime control. Early leaders, cognizant of
the subversive nature of initial contacts with movement targets, grounded their success in reliance on
Table 1. The Carceral Creep
Mechanism Brief Description
Relationship of Social Movement/Civil Society
to Carceral State
Contestation Initial form of contentious engagement be-
tween social movement actors/institu-
tions and those of law enforcement
(informal demands; protests; one-on-one
relationships with “friendly” police)
No ties (or informal, localized ties)
Collaboration Social movement demand for new organiza-
tional forms join domestic violence advo-
cates with law enforcement; resulting in
formalized collaborative relationships
Emerging collaborative ties (within new
organizational forms); feminist forces
retain subversive forms of control
Hybridization As collaborative ties become institutional-
ized within new organizational forms,
boundaries between civil society and law
enforcement blur
Collaborative ties strengthen; distinc-
tions between civil society and carceral
state blur (hybridize)
Replication Organizational forms are replicated across
localities; mechanisms to maintain subver-
sive feminist control are not part of repli-
cated models
Feminist civil society autonomy and con-
trol erodes as hybridized forms
Occupation As hybridized organizational forms replicate,
the social movement field is increasingly
occupied by hybridized forms controlled
by law enforcement actors and
Feminist civil society power and pres-
ence diminishes; carceral power and
presence escalates
Subordination Social movement field is dominated by law
enforcement agenda, aims, actors and
Feminist civil society in a position of sub-
ordination to the carceral state
The Carceral Creep 255
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concealing covert feminist goals and strategies under the overt guise of a collaborative organizational
structure. The three organizational forms featured in this study—pluralist coalitions, victim witness
programs, and the Coordinated Community Response—were each deployed by feminist movement
leaders to initiate collaborative relationships between domestic violence advocates and law enforce-
ment. Each also relied upon specific subversive strategies to maintain feminist control over these new
relationships with the state.
Over time, ongoing and sustained collaboration diffused boundaries between the formerly autono-
mous spaces of civil society and the carceral state, resulting in a hybridization of these two spheres.
Hybridization weakened the autonomy and integrity of the social movement, enhancing its vulner-
abilities to the domination of the criminal justice system. The cumulative impact of hybridized organi-
zational spaces multiplied with the rapid replication of organizational innovations. Amenable to an
expanding agenda of crime control, these strategies were reproduced in forms that aligned with car-
ceral aims while suppressing or omitting the subversive feminist goals and mechanisms upon which
they had originally relied. Replication also multiplied the institutional presence of law enforcement
into a social movement field once almost exclusively made up of civil society actors and institutions,
leading to the increasing occupation of the developing social movement field by carceral entities.
As a result, the carceral creep served to consolidate a diverse and complementary set of hybridized
spaces that constituted a constructive force behind new forms of criminal justice actors and institu-
tions. Through a process that began with successful claims-making, a once subversive feminist social
movement succumbed to eventual subordination to the criminal justice system, through the develop-
ment and diffusion of organizational forms that it had helped to create. The success of the anti-
violence social movement eventually led to its unintended opposite, that is, the submission of the so-
cial movement in its feminist civil society form to the domination of a masculinist punitive state.
This historical case study (George and Bennett 2005) is based on archival data and 60 semi-structured
interviews with key anti-domestic violence social movement leaders, legislative actors, and law enforce-
ment personnel active in or closely familiar with the pursuit of criminalization strategies during the for-
mative period of the contemporary movement. Selection of initial informants was based upon insider
knowledge of key social movement leaders and references in the literature. Subsequent informant re-
cruitment followed from initial interviews and archival data pointing to other influential social move-
ment actors. Interview data was supplemented by and contrasted with archival materials related to the
anti-domestic violence social movement or criminal legal policy during the formative period. This
includes documentation on litigation, legislation and other policy-making regarding crime control pol-
icy related to domestic violence, anti-violence social movement ephemera, and media.
Historical Context
A latecomer in the contemporary women’s movement, the U.S. anti-domestic violence movement or
the “battered women’s movement” began in 1973 with the emergence of crisis lines focusing on do-
mestic violence, followed by the opening of the first specific domestic violence shelter in St. Paul,
Minnesota, the following year. The nascent anti-domestic violence movement faced a criminal justice
system that largely refused to recognize domestic violence as a crime. Within a decade, dramatic pol-
icy changes swept the country. By 1984, 49 states and the District of Columbia had enacted some
form of legislation to provide legal remedies for domestic violence (Zorza 1992).
While police responsiveness to domestic violence was a concern for early social movement acti-
vists, it was only one arena in an emergent field grappling with larger questions of gender inequality
and the radical reexamination of private versus public spheres. The formative period of the feminist
anti-domestic violence throughout the 1970s was also characterized by battles over whether or not to
256 Kim
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pursue strategies and resources specifically tied to law enforcement, primarily available at the federal
(Schechter 1982). The anti-rape movement that pre-dated the battered women’s movement
Table 2. Three Feminist Anti-Domestic Violence Strategies to Engage the Carceral State
Feminist Anti-Domestic Violence (DV) Strategy
Lawsuit against Oakland
Police Department
San Francisco Victim
Community Coordinated
Response Duluth, MN
Mechanism for Criminal
Justice Engagement
Litigation - Legal Aid
lawsuit against
OPD based on fail-
ure to protect bat-
tered women
Embeddedness -
Embed pro-victim
advocates inside
prosecutor’s office
Coordination - Link
advocates and law
enforcement in coor-
dinated structures
and activities
Resulting Organizational
Pluralist Coalition -
Coalition of social
movement actors
and law enforce-
ment form to en-
force terms of
comprehensive set-
tlement decree
Victim Witness -
Victim witness office
established within
prosecutor’s offices
for support of DV
victims and promo-
tion of successful
Response joins DV
advocates and law
enforcement in struc-
ture facilitating com-
mon meetings,
agenda, goals and
Initial Form of Feminist
Strong Facilitation -
Feminist facilitation
of coalition meet-
ings to pressure
compliance with
terms won through
successful litigation
Infiltration - Covert
feminist agenda
served by infiltrating
prosecutor’s office;
facilitated by “good
cop” role vis-a-vis
more adversarial out-
side feminist group
Oversight - Covert fem-
inist control main-
tained through a
feminist lead um-
brella organization
managing the over-
arching collaborative
Gender/Race/ Class
Everywoman -
Championed the
“everywoman” ar-
gument, i.e., “every
woman can be a
victim” regardless
of race and class;
gender is sole cate-
gory of discrimina-
tion in Equal
Protection Cause
Over-representation in
the Criminal Justice
System - “Poor peo-
ple use systems for
help” - focus on vic-
tims, not perpetrators -
provides gender, race
and class justification
for enhancing law en-
Incarceration of Men
of Color - Concerns
over overrepresenta-
tion of Native
American male per-
petrators (underrep-
resentation of white
males) justifies turn
to mandatory arrest
policies to boost ar-
rest of white men
3 The preponderance of federal funds available for domestic violence programs was funneled through the Law Enforcement
Assistance Administration (LEAA), a branch of the Department of Justice established under Nixon. Under Carter, a $3 million
initiative emerged in the late 1970s to support non-profit organizations in the joint project of improving law enforcement
responses to victims of gender-based violence (Tierney 1982). By 1980, the final year of the LEAA, grants to battered women’s
programs amounted to $5 million. Despite widespread opposition to LEAA involvement, at least 10% of domestic violence pro-
grams accepted LEAA funding (Gottschalk 2006).
The Carceral Creep 257
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cautioned against facile ties with the state, generally, and law enforcement, in particular (Bevacqua
2000;Schechter 1982;Thuma 2015;Whittier 2018). Beginning with crisis lines and local battered
women’s shelters emerging in the mid-1970s, many early relationships with law enforcement
stemmed from efforts to address safety for individual battered women or for the protection of shelter
personnel rather than representing a more overt political strategy.
Social movement entrepreneurs in California and Minnesota were among the first to seek more
systematic strategies to mobilize law enforcement responses beyond goodwill efforts at the level of in-
dividual actors. By 1980, three successful social movement strategies gaining law enforcement partici-
pation in the protection of battered women emerged within these two states, resulting in important
and enduring organizational forms: pluralist coalitions, victim witness programs, and the Community
Coordinated Response (see Table 2).
Litigating Police Protection for Battered Women: Oakland’s Scott v. Hart
Among the initial significant challenges to law enforcement was the first major lawsuit citing failure
to protect battered women. In November 1976, four women attorneys at Oakland’s Legal Aid Office
filed the nation’s first significant domestic violence lawsuit, Scott v. Hart, against the City of Oakland
and local police for failure to protect battered women. Litigation was then a familiar mechanism for
contesting the state, buoyed by civil rights successes and legal aid organizations and led by young, en-
ergetic attorneys eager to create new opportunities to push for high impact litigation (Sarat and
Scheingold 2006).
Eva Jefferson Paterson, an African-American attorney, and Pauline Gee, an Asian- American attor-
ney, were two recently graduated lawyers, part of a new cohort of women attorneys in a field still
strongly dominated by white men. Both women worked together at Legal Aid of Alameda County on
East 88th Street in the heart of East Oakland, an impoverished section of the city. Almost all of the
clients at the 88th Street office were African-American. And many were battered women, although
the problem of battering had not yet risen to the level of public recognition. The situation in
Oakland was similar to that in many other parts of the country. Police called to intervene in domestic
violence did little to stop the violence. Oakland Police were guided by an explicit “avoid arrest” policy
in matters of family violence, a policy aimed at avoiding undue embarrassment of perpetrators of vio-
lence or fracturing a yet intact family. Official police references to the tender dynamics of gender and
family psychology would soon become public record.
Battered women who wanted to take action were sent by the police to the offices of Legal Aid to
handle what the police considered a civil matter. At that time, protective orders were granted only to
married women who wanted a divorce. Those who were unmarried or uninterested in divorce had no
civil recourse and were thus shuttled back to the Oakland Police by Legal Aid to handle violence as a
criminal matter. After all, assault and battery were on the books as a crime. The Oakland police, how-
ever, still considered assault and battery among intimates as a civil matter. A copy of the Oakland
Police protocol on family violence stating the same was used as evidence in the lawsuit.
The Legal Aid office participated in this legal Catch-22 for a number of years, pausing to take
more serious notice only when an office administrator, a future plaintiff in the lawsuit, showed up to
work in sunglasses, covering up injuries that she eventually revealed were perpetrated by her husband,
a man the attorneys never suspected would strike his wife. The employee explained to office attor-
neys what domestic violence and the unresponsive public and legal system meant to her as a battered
African-American woman. Her situation encouraged the attorneys to contest both the Oakland
Police and the City of Oakland; the latter defendant was added as a strategy to force city funds to-
wards the building of a battered women’s shelter.
Over the next year, the lawyers gathered three other plaintiffs and sued as a “class of married and
unmarried women in Oakland, California,” women who received inadequate or no protection from
the police (Gee 1983:556). The primary argument was based on the Equal Protection Clause of the
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Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The issue of race was dropped from the
case even though all plaintiffs were African American women.
Support for a lawsuit increasing police powers, however, proved to be problematic for these civil
rights attorneys. Gee, a former student at Berkeley, had witnessed the police tear gassing student pro-
testers and considered herself a radical proponent of racial justice. As Gee explained:
Part of our problem with suing the police department to enforce more arrests was we recog-
nized that it would have an adverse effect in terms of who are the men that are going to be
arrested, low-income Black men. We were concerned about the civil rights aspects of the bat-
terer, partly because in the 70s, this is the days of the Black Panther, a lot of police brutality, a
lot of already hostile feelings between the police department and the Black community. And
originally we both saw it as more of a racial issue because the victims that were coming in our
office were primarily Black women, and so we thought maybe the police had a racist attitude
towards low-income African-American victims and that that was the reason that they weren’t
enforcing the arrest or enforcing the law essentially.
The news of the lawsuit also brought greater public attention to Legal Aid. Callers to Legal Aid
offices were no longer just from low-income, African-American neighborhoods. Paterson described
her impressions of this as the “perfect case” to pursue her dream to “litigate under the 14th
Amendment under the Equal Protection Clause and to sue people who were discriminating against
black people.” However, the issue of race turned out to be vexed, as white women from the affluent
Oakland Hills began to call with similar complaints of inadequate police response. Paterson and Gee
began to formulate a legal and political argument focusing on gender discrimination rather than one
based on race and gender. The switch from a race/class/gender analysis to one based on gender
alone also facilitated the use of the Equal Protection Clause, one that would respond more easily to a
single category of discrimination than to the real world complexities of intersectional identities. The
“everywoman” argument insisting that “every woman can be a victim” of gender-based violence re-
gardless of race, class, or other categories would remain a fixture of the movement over the next four
decades (Richie 2012).
In November 1979, the suit was settled with a comprehensive settlement decree. It prohibited the
“arrest avoidance” policy that informed police practice regarding domestic violence and mandated
the Oakland police treat domestic assaults as they would any other crime. The decree also dictated
that the police department document domestic violence calls and arrest statistics and establish a mon-
itoring team to review compliance. Additionally, according to what Gee saw as the “holistic” goals of
the suit beyond the scope of policing, the City of Oakland agreed to fund the first shelter in the San
Francisco East Bay. While the comprehensive settlement decree mandated these policy changes, the
attorneys also understood the precarity of implementation. Assurance of success depended upon
maintaining a strong arm of feminism in an ongoing struggle with a recalcitrant criminal justice
Soon after the negotiation of the comprehensive settlement consent decree, Gee organized a plu-
ralist coalition to ensure that the gains of the decree would be sustained in Oakland’s Alameda
County, while Paterson lent her skills and leveraging power to activities across the bay in San
Francisco. Gee set up the Alameda County Coalition against Domestic Violence, bringing together
representatives from the police department, the District Attorney’s office, the Public Defender’s of-
fice, shelter staff, and other community members. For the next eight years, Gee staffed the Coalition,
crafting Oakland Police Department domestic violence protocol and conducting weekly police train-
ings. She was also appointed to California’s Police Officer’s Standards and Training Commission
(POST) where she contributed to the development of statewide domestic violence training protocol.
The policies developed locally in Oakland and expanded through POST trainings provided a prece-
dent leading to the 1983 passage of SB 1472 that created and enforced statewide police trainings.
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Embedding Advocacy within the State: The San Francisco Victim Witness Program
In San Francisco, social movement leaders leveraged the successes of litigious action across the bay in
Oakland and sought further gains by establishing the first model victim witness program in 1980.
While victim witness programs highlighting victim-targeted advocacy within prosecutorial offices
were also emerging in other arenas of criminal prosecution, they were still relatively unknown by
1980 with no other model for domestic violence cases.
The Family Violence Project in San Francisco was founded in 1979 by local feminists already
savvy in governmental politics through leadership in such institutions as California’s Department of
Substance Abuse and the local Commission on the Status of Women. From the beginning, the
Project had its eye on large-scale systems change. Unlike shelters or legal advocacy programs that
dominated the social movement field especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Family Violence
Project was not committed to serving a local client base of women seeking safety through shelter or
civil legal actions. Rather, it was organized to provide flexible advocacy or policy functions that could
serve a broader movement mission. The program immediately situated itself within the criminal jus-
tice system, responsive to women victims of domestic violence or “victim-witnesses,” in the parlance
of criminal prosecution.
The Family Violence Project was the nation’s first publicly visible program to experiment with a
victim witness model specifically addressing domestic violence as a crime. Its founders successfully
vied for new LEAA funding open to domestic violence, aware of incendiary social movement critiques
but eager to take advantage of its opportunities. Despite ambivalence, at least among some of the
new staff recruited for the Family Violence Project, the orientation towards systems change work and
the salience of the criminal justice system as a new institutional target motivated them not only to
“take on” the system but to situate themselves within its very walls. Sue Martin, the project’s coordi-
nator recalled, “I was mixed if I wanted to work within the institutions because it was clearly going to
be an inside the institutions job because it was part of the District Attorney’s Office.” But she was also
enthusiastic about the prospects of a program that could “basically [change] the way the justice sys-
tem was responding to domestic violence.”
While the Family Violence Project had no model to guide them, they moved forward with a sense
of confidence and a community of Bay Area feminists who were not new to the arena of police re-
form. Eva Jefferson Paterson across the bay in Oakland had successfully taken on the Oakland Police
Department in the Scott v. Hart lawsuit. Del Martin, a long-time San Francisco lesbian activist who
had written an influential book on domestic violence, Battered Women (1976), had been involved in
San Francisco police reforms stemming back to days of widespread and public police brutality against
the gay and lesbian community. Mimi Silbert, a celebrated leader who was involved in local re-entry
programs for formerly incarcerated people, also lent her access to and knowledge of the San
Francisco police. Together, they formed the core of an emerging San Francisco-based feminist advo-
cacy group that named themselves the Coalition for Justice for Battered Women.
The formation of a victim witness program for battered women and the establishment of the
Family Violence Project within the physical space of the Hall of Justice, which housed the District
Attorney’s Office, required a strategy that could guide and justify a potentially troubling project.
Project staff informally conceptualized the arrangement in terms of “infiltration,” a contentious posi-
tioning which covered the pursuit of feminist control of this state institution under the mask of col-
laboration. As Sue Martin recalled:
It was like this little activist hub within the government, within a government agency. It was
more like we felt we were infiltrating. That was totally our view. We totally saw ourselves as
community organizers at that point. There wasn’t a model for it, but that was a way for us to
4 Santa Barbara was the actual home to the first domestic violence-related victim witness program, but it was established as a local
program, never recognized as a national model.
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figure out how to influence the DA’s office. Our goal was to change the system, so we figured
we had to be seen as part of the system. So we were...inside the system and then we kept orga-
nizing to create the domestic violence consortium, the Coalition for Justice for Battered
Women ...[as the] outside pressure on the police department.
Successful infiltration required finesse and subterfuge on the part of victim witness staff. Martin,
who directed the victim witness program, quietly observed police trainings and operations, gaining
knowledge of the internal culture of the Police Department, a task that the Family Violence Project
focused on for six months in preparation for what they believed to be deeper work towards systems
change. She quickly learned the social cues that could disarm an otherwise distrustful or hostile law
enforcement officer. Martin eventually became an inside “good cop,” offering to law enforcement her
wisdom on how to respond to the more unruly and menacing feminist adversary as embodied in the
Coalition for Justice for Battered Women. The Family Violence Project worked inside, while
Paterson and the Coalition for Justice for Battered Women pressured from the outside, threatening
to sue law enforcement if they did not comply. The success of the lawsuit against the Oakland Police
Department created a viable threat.
Learning from the inside of law enforcement contributed to a strategy that at least overtly aligned
with the culture of law enforcement. For one, the Family Violence Project came to hold the convic-
tion that promoting “domestic violence as a crime” would serve the goals of systems change. This
would also link an internal strategy that would resonate with law enforcement with the rising external
or public pre-occupation with crime. As Martin explained:
We felt that if domestic violence was seen as a crime that then it would be seen as a serious is-
sue, socially. So the reason for going the criminal justice route wasn’t necessarily because we
wanted to see guys in prison. It was much more that we wanted the social attitude to change
and if it started being seen as a crime, the social attitude would change; public attitude would
Although Family Violence Project staff were aware of the racial implications of heightened arrest
strategies, they also recognized that poor women and women of color were disproportionately repre-
sented within this system; they thereby argued that the responsible position would be to direct their
energies towards the criminal justice system, one that victims of violence were encountering whether
they liked it or not, and one that poor women and women of color were disproportionately exposed
to, regardless of one’s political analysis of that situation. As founding Executive Director Esta Soler
From an organizer’s point of view, it’s a lot easier to meet people where they’re at than to try
to create alternative institutions, which we also need to do. But we very much understood that
for every one person who was calling a shelter, thousands more people were going to call the
police department...Poor people call systems for help, and we know that.
The success of the insider strategy relied on the forging of a personal alliance between Project staff
and law enforcement. Close contact between Project leadership and certain key law enforcement offi-
cials occurred first under the cover of an infiltration strategy, but eventually through authentic bonds
of trust and camaraderie, lending more immediate access and legitimacy to the Family Violence
Project within a previously inhospitable criminal justice terrain. A relationship that started as contes-
tation quickly moved to a more authentic collaboration and the softening of the initial oppositional
stance of domestic violence advocates vis-a-vis law enforcement.
The new victim witness office embedded within the prosecutor’s office provided immediate
victim-centered support for a group that was still comprised almost exclusively of battered
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women. This included emotional support, education on the criminal process, ongoing advocacy
with criminal cases, community referrals, and access to victim compensation. Prosecutors, now
collaborators within the victim witness program, were more likely to pursue prosecution of do-
mestic violence, with rates of successful prosecution enhanced both by the willingness to prose-
cute cases and the cooperation of victims supported by the services of the victim witness
Beyond the introduction of a pilot victim witness program, the Family Violence Project also pub-
lished national protocols guiding prosecution of domestic violence misdemeanors and felonies. A re-
port published in 1982 titled “Domestic Violence Felony Prosecution Protocol” was followed three
years later by one on misdemeanor prosecution. While Oakland’s litigation strategies strengthened lo-
cal police arrest protocols, San Francisco’s victim witness program produced guidelines for criminal
prosecution meant for a national audience.
Meanwhile, legal advocates were inspired by the successful lawsuit and others who were active
participants in the newly formed state-wide California Alliance Against Domestic Violence
(CAADV), a consortium of three regional alliances which worked together to move forward
statewide legislation, build upon local successes, and further enhance domestic violence-related
crime control measures. California advocates, with strong leadership by staff of the Family
Violence Project, worked together not only to demand SB 1472 but to write the legislation, us-
ing local protocol written with police as a template for the statewide bill. While members of the
Women of Color Caucus, as part of CAADV, raised questions regarding the disproportionate ra-
cial effects of pro-arrest policies on communities of color, the police training did not immedi-
ately elicit these concerns.
The bill moved from introduction to passage in six short months. In 1983, SB 1472 was the
nation’s first bill mandating police training on domestic violence. What followed was a closer knitting
together of advocates who would from then on be involved in police trainings throughout the state
and the eventual creation of special police units dedicated to domestic violence. The local success of
Oakland became the template for a statewide model of advocate and police collaboration, increasing
the engagement and attention of domestic violence advocates to the activities of policing, and pro-
ducing and reproducing relationships once adversarial to increasingly collaborative.
Formalizing Advocate-Law Enforcement Ties: Duluth’s Community Coordinated Response
Minnesota was known as the home of the first shelter explicitly created for victims of domestic vio-
lence. Women’s Advocates in St. Paul opened its doors to battered women in 1974 following a pat-
tern of crisis calls from women desperately seeking safety from violent partners. However, Minnesota
is better known as the home of the internationally celebrated Duluth Model and its Community
Coordinated Response.
Like the social movement leaders initiating the Family Violence Project, Ellen Pence, the founder
of the Duluth Model, was already familiar with governmental programs. She was a young lesbian fem-
inist rabble rouser, using her position within the Model Cities program to fight for affordable housing
for poor women of color and to initiate an internal feminist newsletter written in shorthand so only
the women administrative staff could read its contents.
Joining in the anti-domestic violence movement that had an early start in Minnesota’s Twin
Cities, Pence was interested in piloting a model program, one that would emulate the successes of
the civil rights movement and “take on patriarchy” one system at a time. The achievements of the
civil rights movement paved the way for a rights-based frame that demanded equal protection from
the state as a starting point for Pence’s project.
5 When California later introduced a “mandatory arrest” bill, the Women of Color Caucus, for the first time, unified against the en-
hancement of further penalties, writing a position statement opposing “mandatory arrest” and supporting an “encourage arrest”
option, which passed.
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We wanted to do just an institutional change project. We were going to start with the criminal
justice system and then go to the schools. Two years in the criminal justice system; two years
in education. It was going to be ten years. There was lots of talk about “psych” system and giv-
ing people a lot of drugs. We wanted to deal with that. Medical institutions. Faith communities.
Those were the ones we talked about. The reason why we focused in on the criminal justice
system was not because it was the biggest one to do, but because it was the easiest. One of the
reasons is that they were public agencies so you had a way to confront them. Who’s the agency
to go to in terms of medical institutions, faith communities? There wasn’t a vehicle for confron-
tation—especially with the history of the confrontation of the law. The civil rights movement
was a model for confrontation of the law. And the women’s movement followed that strategy,
saying that the system of protection should protect us, too.
Pence won a state-wide grant opportunity not for services, but explicitly for coordinated systems
change. Seeking out a city with a solidly established battered women’s shelter program that would
not be opposed to the introduction of a new project and a criminal justice system with some level of
openness to collaboration, she placed the project in the northern city of Duluth that had already
established cooperative relationships between the local shelter and law enforcement. The city had
also been jolted by a recent case in which a domestic violence victim killed her husband in a lurid yet
publicly sympathetic situation of self-defense. Shaken city advocates and law enforcement officials
were ready to welcome Pence’s proposed innovation.
The Community Coordinated Response was a casually written title for a document describing
their project and approach, but the title stuck. The Community Coordinated Response, or what
more familiarly became known as the CCR, rested on a deliberate, integrated and, most importantly,
advocate-led coordination between local advocates and law enforcement, all focused on one broad
goal, safety for women victims of domestic violence. It combined a service delivery model including
shelter, support groups, and a soon to be internationally recognized batterer intervention program co-
ordinated with law enforcement response, from policing to prosecution and probation.
Structurally, the Community Coordinated Response retained feminist social movement leadership
by creating an autonomous organization called the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP)
that took on an explicit management function beyond that of domestic violence advocates in the shel-
ter program. As Pence understood that domestic violence advocates alone were unlikely to sustain
the upper hand in power negotiations with law enforcement, she created another organizational struc-
ture focused on coordination and integration of systems change centered on the experiences and
needs of battered women. This original Community Coordinated Response employed a subversive
form of feminist oversight through the establishment of the umbrella organization, DAIP, as a central
coordinating body with the potential to trump the usual advantages of state control.
In 1981, one year after the establishment of the project, the Community Coordinated Response
initiated concrete domestic violence policy change by implementing one of the first mandatory arrest
policies in the country. The insistence that law enforcement take the crime of domestic violence seri-
ously had a strong racial justification. Although Duluth, at that time, was over 90 percent white,
Native Americans made up five percent of the local population and constituted an important, if mar-
ginalized, community within northern Minnesota. Discretionary arrests for domestic violence-related
offenses were said to disproportionately fall upon Native American men. Mandatory arrest, advocates
argued, would greatly reduce the level of disproportionality, not reducing Native American arrests,
but increasing the arrests of white men. Indeed, arrest records following the institutionalization of the
mandatory arrest policy resulted in a dramatic increase in overall arrests for domestic violence.
Notably, the arrests of whites rose from only 11 percent of total arrests for domestic violence to 80
percent within the first year (Paymar and Barnes 2007).
The success of the policy was based largely on the close relationships possible within a small, con-
centrated local community and the fine tuning of coordination within the confined parameters of the
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city’s advocacy community and the institutions of law enforcement. Although mandatory arrest had
been attempted in only one state-level setting at that time, passing in Oregon in 1979, Pence saw the
backlash of police response in Oregon as evidence of careless social movement actions. She argued
that relationships nurtured within Duluth’s Community Coordinated Response were meant to ensure
that such policies would be monitored jointly by law enforcement and the advocacy community,
rather than seen as an alien feminist imposition to be resisted at all cost. In fact, Minnesota passed a
state level bill to encourage arrest, not to mandate it, leaving such strong measures to local jurisdic-
tions. Control by feminist advocates, a fundamental component of the Community Coordinated
Response, would be held covertly within the frame of feminist oversight or central coordination of an
overtly collaborative institutional form.
Autonomy to Hybridization: The Joining of Civil Society and the Carceral State
The success of each of these strategies generated a sequence of pro-criminalization policies based
upon and strengthening the collaborative relationship of feminist social movement with that of law
enforcement. In order to guarantee the enforcement of the comprehensive settlement decree, one of
the litigating attorneys became a primary trainer of the Oakland Police and elevated her position to
California’s POST Commission. Growing influence led to the 1983 passage of SB 1472, which man-
dated statewide police trainings and served as a model for other states. The advocates at San
Francisco’s victim witness program forged their pilot program and then promoted it as a national
model for misdemeanor and felony criminal prosecution of domestic violence. Proponents of the
Community Coordinated Response joined with local law enforcement to implement a mandatory ar-
rest policy that inspired similar policies nationally.
These close collaborative relationships prodded police and prosecutors toward renewed roles as
pro-victim advocates; but they also transformed feminist social movement actors into active agents of
the carceral state. As the advocate-law enforcement divide blurred, so did the boundaries between
civil society and criminal justice system contained within these new organizational forms. The hybrid-
ization of the local pluralist coalition, victim witness program, and Community Coordinated
Response set the stage for a broad diffusion of diverse institutions that held in common what had
once been distinct identities, roles, and aims across the divide of civil society and the punitive state.
They Weren’t “Sisters”: Replication and the Advance of Carceral Occupation
The success of each of these organizational innovations and their impressive policy outcomes spurred
widespread public interest, particularly as the issue of domestic violence achieved greater legibility
and the legislative appetite for pro-victim and pro-criminalization policies grew. This was occurring
during a time of more inflamed concerns about crime, stoked by conservative political forces and
affirmed by feminists who rallied behind the call for tough–on-crime measures. Feminist forces, their
success now tied more tightly to the fortunes of carceral expansion, lost much of their original auton-
omy as well as critical discernment regarding the consequences of this new partnership. Skillfully
crafted, remarkably effective, and aligned with the rapid forward movement of the policies of mass in-
carceration, each of these models found eager public audiences, keen on replication.
While not the first public interest litigation to address domestic violence, Scott vs. Hart prompted
similar actions across the nation. The lawsuit served as a model for successful litigation, buttressed by
a similar victory in New York City with Bruno v. Codd which was initiated only days after that in
Oakland. The success of Scott v. Hart fueled feminist confidence in their ability to achieve systems
change. It also sent law enforcement a clear message that protocols exempting domestic violence
from public response faced formidable challenges, accompanied by significant political and financial
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Gee, of Oakland’s Legal Aid, led the newly formed pluralist coalition, the Alameda County
Coalition against Domestic Violence, to secure the gains promised by the comprehensive settlement
decree. While such a coalition was not unique in the wake of civil rights and women’s rights wins, it
represented the way in which the formative anti-domestic violence movement sought to muscle im-
plementation through invitation and pressures to comply to a social movement agenda. It also dem-
onstrated how, upon success, a fairly aggressive litigation strategy immediately invoked a softer
collaborative organizational form in order to ensure that the winning terms would translate into last-
ing policy change.
The highly publicized victory of Oakland’s Scott vs. Hart sent a political boost across the bay, forti-
fying the local conditions under which the San Francisco victim witness program was initiated.
Envisioned as a national model from its onset, the program founders also took advantage of new
LEAA domestic violence funding that resulted, in part, from federal research identifying lack of victim
support as a key reason for failed prosecution (Cannavale 1976).
Family Violence Project’s victim witness program legitimized close advocacy ties between civil so-
ciety and law enforcement by embedding feminist social movement actors as partners within the
physical and institutional boundaries of the criminal justice system. The subversive infiltration strat-
egy of the Family Violence Project and the outside pressure from the Coalition for Justice for
Battered Women, bolstered by the more overtly contentious success of Scott vs. Hart, served as an ex-
ample of covert and multi-pronged organizing strategies. However, with replication, these subversive
strategies were not disseminated.
Victim witness programs based upon San Francisco’s pilot rapidly replicated across the country.
Devoid of explicit mechanisms for feminist control and embedded within the institutional constraints
of the criminal justice system, this model easily devolved into one vulnerable to the domination of
law enforcement. As national domestic violence leader, Donna Medley, explained:
[T]he [criminal justice] money was there. However, the fact that victim witness was now be-
coming part of federal funding was pretty big because that was...soft money. There wasn’t a
gun in the whole funding package. This was like this softening of law enforcement which also
seemed like a good thing. What happened...was that [there] was steady pressure to be
coopted by the DA’s. Over time, people who are in victim witness were the bottom of the to-
tem pole, particularly in DA’s offices, where it’s very hierarchical and attorneys are gods. So vic-
tim witness was there to serve. And [the DA’s] can hire the people into victim witness...And
the ones that they hired, a lot of times they wanted to please the attorneys. You know... the
civil servants...they’re good law enforcement backers and they cared about these victims. But
they weren’t “sisters.”
For the Community Coordinated Response, the success and the degree to which the project was
known, the charisma of its proponents and rising public interest in the issue of domestic violence
quickly garnered national media attention. The concept of the Community Coordinated Response,
mandatory arrest and the model featuring such a strong criminal justice component disseminated na-
tionally and globally with Duluth as its training hub. The “community” in the Community
Coordinated Response became circumscribed to the joining of domestic violence agencies to law en-
forcement. The name offered a grassroots patina to the model while crowding out alternative formu-
lations of community engagement.
Throughout regions adopting new policies to combat domestic violence, any semblance of success
required that advocates turn their attention to law enforcement, emulating the Duluth Model, regard-
less of the local political context. The autonomous organization, DAIP, critical to the success of the
Duluth example, was not identified as a necessary component of the overall Community
Coordinated Response model, nor was the subversive nature of DAIP strategies.
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Rather, a reduced version of that model, that is, domestic violence advocates in coordination with
law enforcement and, to a lesser extent, other community partners, left those implementing the
model vulnerable to the power imbalances inherent in any community partnership with the criminal
justice system. Despite intentions to uphold feminist control vis-a-vis law enforcement, its replication
legitimated and enhanced carceral powers.
Reflecting on the results of widespread dissemination of the Community Coordinated Response,
Denise Gamache, an early proponent of the model, explained:
[The Community Coordinated Response] got ... picked up and bastardized in different ways.
[One person] picked [it] up and ... promoted a prosecutor-led council...And [another]
a huge grant to promote judge-led councils, which I think are useless ... . It can really go
wrong when you have basically devolved into a council that gets together under the judge ...
or people pick up the structure without picking up the priorities ... .What are the priorities
and the goal of this actual coordination? It’s not just to quote “coordinate.” How are you look-
ing at how this is impacting victims ... . How is it promoting some sort of offender account-
ability? What’s the impact on children? What’s the impact on marginalized communities? I
mean there’s all of these things that should be what the goals are about. And if it gets lost ...
you know, it’s really the advocacy programs’ roles to keep those front and center. And some-
times they’re successful and sometimes they’re not. And sometimes they’re drowned out or
squeezed out.
Absent the subversive feminist mechanisms of control that characterized the early innovations,
replication set the stage for the rapid expansion of hybridized law enforcement entities into the devel-
oping social movement field. The occupation by organizations dominated by law enforcement and
the carceral creep’s eventual denouement, hastened by the galvanizing of the carceral state, eventually
resulted in the subordination of feminist forces to the carceral actors and institutions that were ini-
tially of their making.
This article contributes new findings and theoretical insights regarding feminist social movements
and their relationship to carceral expansion. While the advance of neoliberalism hastened the erosion
of emancipatory feminist origins, this study demonstrates that key social movement choices made
earlier in the movement’s formation set the conditions for a pro- criminalization strategy. Data from
the anti-violence movement’s first decade reveal how early feminist forces opened with conventional
social movement strategies to counter police impunity. However, the entrepreneurial creation of new
organizational forms figured significantly in the early anti-domestic violence movement. The three or-
ganizational forms discussed in this article employed different mechanisms of engagement, institu-
tional arrangements between advocates and law enforcement, and subversive forms of feminist
control. But their common aim was to create and maintain lasting collaborative relationships with law
enforcement. Far from the familiar narrative of coercive carceral impositions into the sphere of civil
society, this study illustrates how civil society also initiated demands for carceral expansion from a pu-
nitive state resistant to partnership.
Focused on the motivations and perceptions of early feminist leaders in their active pursuit of pro-
criminalization policies, the study reveals how and why politically progressive activists chose a puz-
zling course. Through the use of oppositional strategies and the incorporation of organizational prac-
tices and structures that covertly offered feminist advantage, early movement leaders claimed a sense
of control that obfuscated incremental losses over the next decades. Early leaders were politically pro-
gressive and astute; many identified with or were strongly influenced by radical racial justice ideolo-
gies. They were well aware of the race and class perils of enhanced policing and included women of
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color in strong positions of leadership who wrestled with seeming contradictions. However, this study
demonstrates how feminist endorsement of these strategies ultimately relied upon racial equity argu-
ments to justify collaboration with law enforcement. Indeed, three different arguments motivated by
considerations of race, gender, and class (see Table 2) enhanced rather than condemned the embrace
of pro-criminalization strategies.
This study also explains the endurance of carceral feminism and the diminution of feminism’s
power despite the movement’s apparent vigor. The developments that unfolded reveal the dynamics
through which contestation and success against state targets can quickly transform today’s laudatory
victories into the conditions for tomorrow’s less evident defeats. The process I call the carceral creep
(see Table 1) demonstrates how each successful demand for criminalization enhanced the power of
the criminal justice system through strategies that also changed the constitution of the social move-
ment field. Each advance weakened feminist autonomy, diminishing its power and presence within a
field increasingly occupied by hybrid institutions that have come to represent the hallmark of social
movement success. The eventual construction of carceral feminism can be understood as an unwit-
ting result of an emerging feminist leadership that believed (and may continue to believe) that it can
maintain feminist control and a subversive agenda, even as the carceral creep has dominated and
overtaken the movement.
The consequences of these social movement choices extend beyond the confines of carceral
feminism. By inviting carceral actors into new hybrid organizational forms, these strategies con-
tributed to the architecture undergirding the construction of the expanding punitive state.
Collaborative strategies legitimizing the key role of the criminal justice system and their accom-
panying gender, race, and class justifications forged the foundations for enduring frames and stra-
tegic directions that bolstered public support for pro-criminalization legislation and muted
feminist opposition to carceral expansion. This narrative continued for at least three decades, fix-
ing the feminist gaze on the promise of carceral protections at the expense of more emancipa-
tory movement directions.
Despite today’s critique of carceral feminism, demands for crime legislation to curb violence tar-
geting oppressed groups such as LGBTQ communities and religious minorities have readily adopted
the pro-criminalization frame promoted by feminist anti-violence strategies (Jenness and Grattet
2001;Spade 2015). Establishment of a Community Coordinated Response is now a familiar criterion
for federal funding and has been implemented within jurisdictions in all 50 states and 13 countries
abroad (Gondolf 2010). The most recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in
2013 again tied federal funding for new campus sexual violence programming to participation in a
Community Coordinated Response.
Renewed attention to familiar yet persisting manifestations of gender inequality in the form
of sexual harassment and assault are re-energizing public demands for both culture change and
policy response. The compulsion for punitive responses tied to the carceral state remains.
However, public recognition of the excesses of criminalization and growing awareness of the
complicity of feminist movements have begun to shift the ground. As conventional anti-violence
forums have begun to reflect on the consequences of decades of pro-criminalization strategies
and legislation, policies reversing prior carceral mandates have begun to pass; new opportunities
for innovative strategies are emerging. Talk of dismantling the ties between advocacy groups and
law enforcement are now commonplace among conventional anti-violence providers alongside
once suppressed critiques of the movement’s pro-criminalization legacy. Options for radical alter-
native strategies, such as transformative justice and restorative justice, championed largely by
women of color at the peripheries of the feminist anti-violence movement, have moved to the
forefront. As the social movement’s gaze averts from the carceral state, new emancipatory possi-
bilities have been raised, some of which recast visions from the dawn of this contemporary
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In this article, we introduce the concept of a policy cascade, which describes the process of creating policies to address the consequences of other policies. Using the concept of wicked problems introduced by Rittel and Webber in 1973, we trace state and federal policies to address domestic violence to show how they form a policy cascade and decenter survivors. By treating social issues as wicked problems, upstream approaches that bypass compounding effects of policy may help recenter survivor needs.
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U.S. based post-secondary educational institutions usually have violent origin stories that include land theft, genocide, and the participation in slavery. Schools of social work are no exception. In recent years, colleges and universities, including schools of social work, have started to confront their histories of and participation in racial-settler colonialism. The severance of land as kinship, and land theft, have been a significant part of the harms of racial-settler colonialism. Colleges and universities have benefited from land theft, primarily through land-grants. Still, institutional accountability has been minimal, including limited acknowledgment of harm and modest changes in curriculum and staff. This paper expands the terrain of institutional accountability in social work higher education to consider land-based healing initiatives as a critical remedy for the harms of racial settler colonialism. This paper provides a historical review and decolonial analysis of the connection between social work higher education and land-grant institutions. Building on social cartography literature, a mapping framework for decolonizing higher education is examined in relation to questions of institutional accountability by land-grant universities. This framework is offered in conjunction with contemporary examples of struggles for institutional accountability in and outside of higher education. The paper concludes with future recommendations for research related to institutional accountability and the implications of land-based healing as an approach.
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This chapter offers seven lessons on tackling sexual harassment and violence in universities, based on fifteen years of activism in the UK. The problem must be named and understood as caused not by individual ‘bad apples’ but by structural dynamics both within universities and without. Many of the approaches taken so far have used what Audre Lorde would call ‘the master’s tools’ and have made use of naming and shaming and media outrage to appeal for punitive and authoritarian responses. This chapter argues that such responses merely consolidate oppressive institutional power, and offers an alternative approach drawn from abolitionist thinking and practice.
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This special issue has called for scholars to critically evaluate how we can better connect with community activists to address gender-based violence (GBV). We seek to complicate this by instead positing the following: scholars and community activists should be one in the same. The authors reflect on their experiences combining their anti-GBV and labor organizing to take on the neoliberal university. We detail our experiences organizing graduate workers around anti-harassment and discrimination, what we have learned, and make recommendations to other scholar-activists working in their communities. We end with a toolkit that is meant to be widely produced and shared within the community for a helpful guide to work towards direct actions to address gender-based violence.
COVID-19 transformed frontline anti-violence workers’ organizational routines by transitioning to virtual formats, decreasing face-to-face interactions, and shifting client needs. To address ever-changing workplace stressors, service providers adapted and/or modified coping mechanisms. In this paper, we analyze interviews with 23 anti-violence workers in the US Great Plains region, focusing on tactics used to avoid burnout and meet client needs. We discuss how workplace pace, direct-action coping practices, and a lack of inter/intra-agency social support impact how workers do their necessary jobs. Though some challenges were pervasive pre-pandemic, anti-violence workers’ experiences also highlight how “post-COVID-19” workplaces must adequately support staffers.
Unlike political or economic institutions, social movements have an elusive power, but one that is no less real. From the French and American revolutions through the democratic and workers' movements of the nineteenth century to the totalitarian movements of today, movements exercise a fleeting but powerful influence on politics and society. This study surveys the history of the social movement, puts forward a theory of collective action to explain its surges and declines, and offers an interpretation of the power of movement that emphasises its effects on personal lives, policy reforms and political culture. While covering cultural, organisational and personal sources of movements' power, the book emphasises the rise and fall of social movements as part of political struggle and as the outcome of changes in political opportunity structure.
What happens when activists who usually oppose each other work to advance similar goals? This book re-conceptualizes models of social movements' relationships with each other and develops a new framework for understanding relationships that are neither coalitions nor countermovements. Rich, empirically grounded case studies of opposition to pornography, child sexual abuse policy, and the Violence Against Women Act show how feminists and conservatives engaged with the issues and with each other, the differences between their approaches, and both their points of overlap and their power struggles. Each case illustrates a different type of relationship: an adversarial yet collaborative interaction around pornography; a narrow, issue-specific, and politically neutral opposition to child sexual abuse; and an ambivalent alliance confined to the policy arena for the Violence Against Women Act. Focusing on activism targeting the federal government from 1980 to 2013, the book draws on a unique, in-depth dataset, including transcripts of Congressional hearings and movement documents, to analyze interpretive processes within the state. Activists constructed frames that enabled cross-ideological support, dealt with the reputational risk of appearing to consort with the enemy, and sometimes compromised or de-emphasized controversial goals in favor of areas of commonality. In the end, feminists and conservatives influenced policy and culture to different degrees in the three case studies, depending on their relative power. Frenemies draws powerful lessons about both the benefits and risks of collaboration across ideological difference.
The telephone rings. Your daughter-or sister, or friend-is on the other end, describing how her partner abused her and asking for your advice. What would you tell her? To call the police, press charges, seek a protective order or divorce? The chances are good that one of the options that immediately came to mind involved the legal system. Even if your initial response was not legal, it is virtually certain that if your daughter or sister or friend chose to disclose the abuse to anyone else, she would come into contact with the legal system at some point. While shelter, counseling, and other services are available for women subjected to abuse, no other intervention is as frequently invoked as the law-indeed, access to other services may only be available if a woman subjected to abuse1 pursues some sort of legal remedy against her partner. Women subjected to abuse are steered toward the legal system, assured that the system will keep them safe, offered a proscribed set of choices reflecting prevalent notions of what an appropriate intervention in a case involving domestic violence should be, and expected to choose one of those options.