Source: (2002) Social & Legal Studies 10(1): 105-130.

Can the law be usefully employed to help women who experience domestic violence achieve ‘justice’? This question has been at the heart of debates about domestic violence over the last few decades. In this paper, we review the positions of those who cautiously welcome engagement with the law – ‘feminist realists’, arrest studies researchers, ‘skeptical reformers’ and rehabilitation proponents – and those who see no value in legal intervention – ‘abstentionists’ and ‘community justice’ proponents. We argue that such pessimism is both theoretically misguided and empirically unsubstantiated and reflects the lack of cross-fertilization amongst writers from these various position. In contrast to traditional research in this area, we argue that effective contributions to debates should address both women’s and men’s experiences of the justice system, should examine the process as well as outcome of legal intervention and should recognise women as survivors engaged in a process of ‘active negotiation and strategic resistance’ rather than as passive victim’s of men’s violence. These elements will enable research which better reveals the experiences of engaging with the justice system and which can make more useful contributions to a programme of social and legal change.