October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. “Domestic violence” used to mean terrorism inside the U.S. The meaning has been changed over time to mean terrorism inside homes, families, or relationships.
Dianne L. Post, U.W. 1979, has been an attorney since 1980. For more than 18 years, she represented battered women and molested children in family and juvenile court. In 1998, she shifted to international human rights law, focusing on sex-based violence, which remains her primary practice today. She has lived in six countries and worked in 14 others. Locally she’s active in the NAACP, Secular Coalition, NOW, and ERA Task Force Az. She also has a pending case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the pattern and practice of U.S. judges giving custody and unsupervised visitation to abusers in family law cases. She has published dozens of law review articles, manuals, articles, and columns, six short stories, and two books. Get to know the author: Check out Q&A below.
I started working on violence against women as a paralegal at Dane County Advocates for Battered Women when I was a law student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1976. For those of us who have worked for decades in “domestic violence,” the present situation is both depressing and encouraging. Much has been achieved, but the needle has not moved.
That violence against our loved ones is wrong is publicly acknowledged. We have laws that aren’t enforced, money for training and counseling that doesn’t work, and money for services for the victims that allow some to escape.
While physical violence against women has decreased, coercive control has increased. Fewer women kill men (because they can escape), but the same percentage of men kill women. We still blame victims and ask why they didn’t leave rather than why the aggressors beat them.
Advocates battled for decades about whether we were working to stop violence against women or to pick up the pieces afterward. I was on the losing side of that argument; the money available now is mostly for education and social services rather than social change.
People generally now have more knowledge about the harm to children of being abused or watching abuse. Trauma-informed counseling has become de rigueur. But over 90% of women in prison have been battered and sexually molested, and these women often get more time for defending themselves or being unknowing drug mules than do the men who did the violence or sold the drugs.
The law is a two-edged sword. Some statutes passed with the aid of anti-violence advocates have been turned against us – an example is mandatory arrest. Many women who allege during custody cases that the other parent engaged in violence lose their children to the abuser – even when the judge admits the abuse occurred. (Joan S. Meier & Sean Dickson, Mapping Gender: Shedding Empirical Light on Family Courts’ Treatment of Cases Involving Abuse and Alienation, 35 Law & Ineq. 311 (2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2999906.)
Ending the violence is so difficult because the abusers are not outliers, they are part and parcel of the body politic – patriarchy. What is going on in the U.S. political sphere is “domestic violence” under the old use of the term – terrorism inside the country perpetrated by U.S. citizens. Bullies and batterers are unrestrained, immature individuals who think they are entitled and have no compunction about using violence. The only defense against a bully is to confront the bully. Anything else – kindness, understanding, compromise – is taken as weakness and permission for another attack.
This is the zeitgeist we live in. Lawyers must be the ones to speak up and say “NO.”
Meet Our Contributors
You’ve been involved in domestic violence issues and international human rights law for most of your career. What is the source of your passion?
I appear to have been born with a “justice bone.” From the time I was old enough to talk, I was advocating for justice. The earliest was an issue about marbles on the kindergarten playground for a poor kid who couldn’t play because he didn’t have any. In grade school, I went to see a lawyer about representing my dad in a work dispute. In high school, I led sit-down strikes and went to work in the slums of Chicago. My focus has broadened but never really changed. I come by my passion for justice righteously!
Dianne L. Post, Phoenix, Arizona
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» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 64 (October 2022).