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Reframing the Narrative of the Battered Women's Movement
Gretchen Arnold and Jami Ake Violence Against Women 2013 19: 557 originally published online 11 June 2013 DOI: 10.1177/1077801213490508 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Reframing the Narrative of the Battered Women’s Movement
Gretchen Arnold1 and Jami Ake2

Violence Against Women 19(5) 557­–578 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/1077801213490508

Abstract Many claim that the battered women’s movement has been co-opted and depoliticized. We argue that this narrative of decline should be reframed as one of continual growth that has incorporated evolving feminist frameworks. We show how the movement’s first generation of activists has learned from its mistakes and continues to challenge systems that fail survivors of abuse. In addition, a second generation of activists, many of whom are minority women, has created new organizations and new ways to practice intersectionality. We conclude that each strand within the movement brings complementary strengths that can prepare it to meet future challenges. Keywords battered women’s movement, co-optation, feminist movements, intimate partner violence

Recent scholarship has again raised the question of whether there still exists something we could call a battered women’s movement (Lehrner & Allen, 2009). Critics point to a movement that seems to be faltering (or, worse, defunct), particularly when compared to the highly charged and nationally visible political movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Such critics most often claim that there are three problems at the core of the decline. They cite first the over-professionalization of women’s advocates; second, the co-optation of responses to domestic violence by the state and by the criminal justice and health care systems; and third, a stifling of clear feminist analysis and political action on the


Louis University, St. Louis, MO, USA University, USA

Corresponding Author: Gretchen Arnold, Sociology and Anthropology, Women’s Studies, St. Louis University, 3750 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108, USA. Email:


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part of those in the movement (Finley, 2010; Lehrner & Allen, 2008, 2009; Morgaine, 2009; Stark, 2007). Many critics continue to agree with Meyer’s (2001) declaration that “in general, there is not a grassroots feminist mobilization addressing the state of the battered women’s movement, providing vision and strategy for change, and keeping feminist concerns about violence front and center in the public domain” (p. 23). We would like to suggest an alternative story—a necessary reframing of this narrative of decline that more accurately accounts for the ways the movement has consistently reinvented itself and its feminist frameworks, learned from its mistakes, and continues to challenge systems that fail survivors of abuse. The implicit and explicit nostalgia for the grassroots origins of the movement threatens to overshadow attention to the progress and the innovations the movement continues to inspire. At the same time, such nostalgia obscures the fact that internal conflicts and tensions—including the debate over the issue of decline itself—have been ongoing since the movement’s beginnings (e.g., Ahrens, 1978, 1980; Andler & Sullivan, 1980; Johnson, 1981; Schechter, 1980; Sullivan, 1982). While some of these same debates continue in some form to this day (Is the movement feminist enough? What role should men play? How much professionalism is ideal?), many others have provided the groundwork for the very innovations that have characterized two generations of activism in the movement. In addition, the nostalgia for the early years of the movement perpetuates the extremely problematic exclusions of minority women who were not served by the movement’s early practices or working ideology and who have become, in the last decade, the movement’s most innovative leaders. Our criticism of the narrative of movement decline in this article is twofold. First, we argue that it gives an incomplete picture of the movement by obscuring the many ways that activists in mainstream battered women’s programs have over the years, learned from their mistakes and continue to innovate. To illustrate this, we examine five areas in which activists have taken seriously the criticisms of their actions and have restructured their approaches accordingly. Second, we argue that claims about the movement’s decline exclude minority women from accounts of the history of the movement and ignore their paradigm-shifting efforts to end violence against women. We show how the most recent generation of activists has altered the central focus of the movement since the late 1990s, shifting efforts away from established shelters and service-delivery programs and toward the grassroots and community-based organizations that focus on ending all forms of violence against women. As evidence for both of these arguments, we use literature published both from within and about the movement and draw on our own insights and experiences as decades-long observers and supporters of the movement. We are both White, middle-class feminists who have at various times actively participated in the movement as direct service providers for battered women, board members and fundraisers, academic researchers and consultants, and teachers and supervisors of student interns in domestic violence programs. Our analysis reflects these experiences and commitments. We believe that we need to reframe the story we tell about the movement: Instead of holding on to a nostalgic image of a feminist utopian movement1 that has fallen into decline as it has been depoliticized and co-opted, we need to view the battered

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women’s movement as a self-correcting and still improving movement that continues to learn from its mistakes. This movement has succeeded in installing a sustainable, if at times imperfectly practiced, feminist perspective in many institutional systems dealing with violence against women. At the same time, it continues to address the diversity of survivors who face multiple forms of oppression, transforming feminist practice and feminist theory in the process. This process of self-correction and continual improvement that characterizes the battered women’s movement has enabled two generations of activists to develop groundbreaking initiatives designed to confront violence against women. The first generation of activists put the issue on the political and cultural agenda and developed now-mainstream models of service provision and advocacy that have benefited many White, straight survivors of violence. However, survivors of color, survivors from immigrant communities, lesbian/bisexual/transgendered (LBT) survivors, and survivors with disabilities who experienced multiple forms of social oppression did not reap the same benefits from these first-generation efforts. As a result, a new generation of activists has reexamined the practices of the mainstream movement and now looks to incorporate insights from women’s experiences of intersecting oppressions into its everyday practices. The last decade has seen impressive innovation and a groundswell of grassroots and community-based efforts by these younger activists to address violence against women, many of them emerging from communities of color and focusing specifically on socially marginalized women. The challenge of telling the story of the movement—a challenge inextricably tied up in the shift in the sociopolitical analysis of feminism itself—is to honor both generations of activist work even as they have sometimes diverged in their practices. It is also to give recognition to the newer generation that has at times been inspired as much by its frustration with an older generation of the battered women’s movement as it has been by its opposition to systems that continue to oppress the most socially vulnerable. It means owning the tensions and conflicts within the movement and actively incorporating the efforts and theoretical frameworks that have emerged as a result.

Generational Change in the Movement
The story that the battered women’s movement often tells about its origins tends to highlight the movement’s heroic grassroots beginnings and to chart the absorption of organizing and advocacy efforts into state-sponsored systems, particularly the criminal justice and mental health systems. Lehrner and Allen (2009) observe, for example, that the tensions they detect in the movement are in fact products of the success of the battered women’s movement becoming more mainstream and government-sponsored, a process that has required professional workers to become more oriented toward social service provision than toward a social change effort. “The end result,” they conclude, “is a potential devolution of the movement into the exclusive provision of direct services concurrent with a shifting service philosophy that conceptualizes intervention as the provision of mental health services” (p. 673). This and other evaluations of the movement’s decline, however, largely take for granted that the movement


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continues to be easily located within the institutions and organizations that an earlier generation of activists made familiar and iconic. Lehrner and Allen’s research, for example, takes as axiomatic that the service-delivery agencies and shelters that comprise state-sponsored coalitions continue to produce the movement’s primary leaders and working philosophies. Their interview subjects were chosen for their status as longstanding members and leaders of well-established nonprofit organizations and political coalitions. While these interview subjects certainly provide an important perspective on the waning activist impulses and depoliticization of advocacy work, the innovative approaches that have emerged and flourished outside of these structures remain invisible when we look only to the most familiar elements of the movement. Missing from this narrative is recognition of a new generation of activists that has mobilized around the issue of violence against women in ways that derive from their experiences as women of color, immigrants, and queer women. Nancy Whittier’s (1995, 1997) work analyzing waves of mobilization in the radical wing of the American women’s movement describes how new generational cohorts of feminists have joined the movement and reshaped its organizational forms and strategies. Each successive cohort draws on the legacy of those activists who came before, but also departs from it. The participants emphasize new issues and develop new strategies, and in so doing redefine the collective identity of the movement and its members. The entrance of these new recruits has been key to the feminist movement’s survival over the long term, even as it has also created tensions and conflicts between the generations. We argue that a similar process has been at work in bringing about changes in the battered women’s movement, but with one important difference. Whittier traces the source of generational change to the movement’s changing external environment that provides cohorts of recruits with different politicizing experiences. We find that some of the more recent changes in the battered women’s movement are equally due to the different social locations from which the new generation of activists has been drawn. Whittier (1997) also introduces the concept of microcohorts within political generations, which she defines as “clusters of participants who enter a social movement within a year or two of each other and are shaped by distinct transformative experiences that differ because of the subtle shifts in the political context” (p. 762). The younger cohort of activists who take center stage in Lehrner and Allen’s ( 2008, 2009) studies of the battered women’s movement are predominantly White, middle-class women who have come of age politically in the rural Midwest. Their perspectives reflect a political context characterized by familiar institutions and organizations created by first-generation activists. This contrasts with younger cohorts of activists from the West and East coasts, many of whom are women of color and queer women and for whom system-level changes, and particularly criminal justice-oriented changes, have backfired because their social statuses render them particularly vulnerable to institutional violence. These women have been on the forefront of developing new forms of activism to end violence against women that do not involve intervention by the criminal justice system. Their activism is informed by their experiences of the multiple and intersecting forms of oppression that provide the underpinnings for violence against women. Their strategies look beyond the criminal justice system and other institutions

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that have participated in the oppression of marginalized populations and instead target change primarily at the community level. The following are two notable examples of many efforts that commit considerable energy to addressing violence against women as part of larger antioppression efforts in local communities.

INCITE! was formed in direct response to stalled efforts by antiviolence organizations to seriously address violence against women of color, on the one hand, and the failures of antiracist organizations to foreground the issue of violence against women, on the other. The organization emerged from a conference called “Color of Violence: Violence Against Women of Color” in 2000, which brought together scholars, activists, and community members to address core concerns about violence against women in communities of color (Smith, Richie, Sudbury, White, & the INCITE! Anthology Coeditors, 2006). The issues raised at the conference highlighted not only interpersonal violence, but also the larger forms of structural violence and oppression that inform the public and private lives of women of color (Smith et al., 2006). INCITE! understands partner violence to be imbricated with larger structures of violence that need to be challenged in ways that do not rely on the criminal justice system. The group strenuously opposes mainstream efforts to work with the state, since the state continues to perpetrate its own acts of violence against women of color (Smith et al., 2006). As Smith et al. (2006) observe,
The challenge women of color face in combating personal and state violence is to develop strategies for ending violence that do assure safety for survivors of sexual/domestic violence and do not strengthen our oppressive criminal justice apparatus. Our approaches must always challenge the violence perpetrated through multinational capitalism and the state. (p. 2)

INCITE! also disagrees with efforts by communities of color to silence women’s challenges to violence perpetrated by men of color, the practice of “advocating that women keep silent about sexual and domestic violence to maintain a united front against racism” (Smith et al., 2006, p. 1). INCITE!’s mission statement reflects its organizational strategies and founding ideology: it is “a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing” (INCITE!, 2001). The group continues to hold large conferences, often in communities themselves rather than on university campuses, to promote grassroots and community-based organizing and prevention. INCITE! has also published critiques of what it calls the “nonprofit industrial complex,” which sustains oppressive governmental systems without directly challenging the structures of oppression that create the need for nonprofit help (INCITE!, 2007). Its influence has grown steadily with the publication of two anthologies and by widely disseminating tools for community organizing.


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Queer Asian Women’s Services
Queer Asian Women Services (QAWS) began as part of the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, founded in 1998. Based on the needs articulated in focus groups and survivor interviews, QAWS programs came about after founders recognized that queer Asian women were not utilizing crisis lines or shelters in the San Francisco Bay Area (Chung & Lee, n.d.). QAWS points out that queer women are excluded from the heterosexist terminology that enables survivors access to services—and that this exclusion can be dangerous for those in the queer community. QAWS advocates for a more complicated analysis of the experience of abuse than a gender analysis alone provides, noting that “the power that is abused and the control used in queer relationships are rarely based on the gender attributes of the women involved” (Chung & Lee, n.d., p. 5). QAWS provides “holistic services” that extend beyond interpersonal violencerelated issues, aiming to provide for the individually defined needs of abuse survivors. In addition, QAWS promotes grassroots efforts to address community-defined needs in ending violence against women. For example, QAWS trains community members to build “social circles” to prevent or to intervene in violence and to promote community-based discussions about violence (Chung & Lee, n.d.). It also promotes the creation of safe spaces in the community, greater access to conventional services, and the support of community-defined methods of batterer accountability (Chung & Lee, n.d.). Efforts like QAWS and INCITE!—and these are but two examples among a number of many community-based efforts—aim to build the capacity of community members themselves as antioppression agents and advocates. Such activist groups situate the tools for intervention at the local level, an approach that significantly departs from a service-based approach that typically positions professionalized advocates (most often not from the community being served) as experts.

Renewal Within the First Generation of the Movement
While a new generation of activists working outside the familiar first-generation organizations has increasingly put pressure on the working assumptions, values, and ideals of first-generation activist thinking, many people working within these familiar organizations have also instigated important changes and internal critiques aimed at making services and resources more accessible to a broader population of survivors. As we would expect from any longstanding movement, significant changes and internal challenges have helped produce new assumptions and theories about best practices. The experiences of practitioners and service providers over decades have helped refine, expand, and adapt interventions to serve survivors more effectively. Moreover, a widespread recognition that system-level changes, and particularly criminal justiceoriented changes, have backfired for those survivors who are the most vulnerable because of their social location has been the basis for some of the most important innovations and corrections in this part of the movement to end violence against women.

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Feminist Mental Health Interventions
Early movement suspicions of mental health treatments for abuse survivors, grounded in (often-justified) fears of pathologizing the victims of violence rather than the agents of violence, have largely given way to a continuous effort to develop feminist therapeutic interventions that target the particular kinds of trauma experienced by victims of physical or sexual violence. Over time, advocates for abused women came to recognize that mental health interventions could also serve the political goals of promoting women’s empowerment and agency, one woman at a time. As the insights of feminism changed the demographics and approaches of many practitioners during the last decades of the 20th century, a series of highly effective trauma-focused therapies has emerged. For example, Prolonged Exposure (PE), a therapy characterized by structured imaginal exposure and in vivo exposures (Foa, Hembree, & Rothbaum, 2007), and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a trauma therapy that adapted principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) specifically for rape survivors, have proven tremendously effective in treating the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms of violence survivors (Resick, Nishith, Weaver, Astin, & Feuer, 2002; Resick & Schnicke, 1996). While it would be difficult to argue that any therapeutic modality is inherently feminist, these interventions were explicitly designed to address responses to trauma by dismantling survivor self-blame and by challenging stereotypical cultural beliefs about abuse often internalized by survivors and their supporters. These and other interventions acknowledge that the psychological effects of violence can be overwhelming and even debilitating in ways that outlive violent relationships and incidents without blaming victims for the consequences of others’ violence. While the early voices of the domestic violence movement tended to focus on a sociopolitical analysis aimed at ending the sexual and physical violence in women’s lives as the primary path to empowerment, increasingly they have included mental health services as a crucial way for individual women to regain power and control over their lives. The alleviation of the psychological suffering that so often accompanies violence has become part of an ongoing feminist research agenda among clinical psychologists and social workers to find effective and efficient interventions for a diversity of survivors of violence.

Shelter Policies
Key shifts in the policies governing battered women’s shelters and in definitions of women’s safety also highlight the ways in which battered women’s advocates have generated self-correcting changes in the movement. The work of Jill Davies, and especially her Safety Planning with Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices (Davies, Lyon, & Monti-Catania, 1998), prompted a movement-wide debate about the structures of services designed to help battered women. Davies’ work highlighted the crucial differences between “service-defined advocacy,” a structure of advocacy premised on making women’s decisions for them by means of prescribed rules, expectations, and guidelines for behavior and action, and “woman-defined advocacy” that was


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premised on individual women’s own set of defined needs as the basis for action. Davies criticized a one-size-fits-all approach to advocacy and a universal definition of safety, calling particular attention to the multiple life-generated risks that women have to weigh in decision-making in addition to the more familiar batterer-generated risks typically foregrounded in domestic violence work (Davies et al., 1998). In addition, critiques of typical shelter structures have raised questions about the ways shelter rules may inadvertently replicate the tactics of abusers by maintaining women’s isolation, defining (and enforcing rules about) appropriate parenting, governing women’s ability to secure or maintain employment, and dictating her hours of sleep and sociability (Koyama, 2006; McDermott & Garofalo, 2004; Olsen, 2007). Such critiques have prompted changes and experiments with a variety of shelter and assistance models and at least one multistate study of shelter experiences (Lyon, Lane, & Menard, 2008). Attention to the diversity of women’s experiences, identities, and contexts as survivors from within the field continues to shape research and generate innovations in practices to become more inclusive and responsive. Davies has also raised crucial, if at times unpopular, questions about how best to serve survivors who choose to stay in abusive relationships, proposing forms of advocacy that move beyond the shelter system as an inevitable site of intervention, especially for minority women and poor women (Davies, 2008). She attempts to develop productive advocacy paradigms for women who stay in relationships, recognizing (as many abused women have) that the dangers of the abuse itself in some situations may ultimately not be as dangerous as homelessness, poverty, the potential loss of child custody, and so on. Such work signals an emerging willingness among mainstream activists to revise the assumptions undergirding current advocacy and service-delivery systems that the movement has long taken for granted, including the assumption that the battered women’s shelter as a site of advocacy is easily or frequently accessed by most survivors of abuse.

The growing body of research on advocate burnout and self-care strategies also evinces the movement’s ability to self-correct. As Schechter noted in her foundational 1982 study documenting the beginning of the battered women’s movement, the structures and demands of the grassroots efforts of the early years of the domestic violence movement took a serious personal toll on advocates. When she published her study, Schechter called for more careful analysis of the phenomenon and a commitment by organizations and activists to deal with burnout as part of a forward-looking agenda. Answering Schechter’s call, research in the 1990s coined terms of study—chief among them were “vicarious trauma” and “compassion fatigue”—and began to offer strategies to avoid the demonstrated negative impacts of regular work with victims of violence (Figley, 1995; McCann & Pearlman, 1990; Pross, 2006). Although the death knell of the activist-centered domestic violence movement has often been sounded by those who lament the professionalization of advocacy and interventions, this very move toward professionalization of some forms of domestic violence advocacy has

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also brought with it a set of professional ethics and increased attention to the psychological health of those who work with survivors of violence on a daily basis.

Economic Action Programs
Strategies to address battered women’s economic vulnerability have also evolved as activists have learned from experience. It has long been clear to advocates that many women are trapped in abusive relationships because they are financially dependent on abusers who keep tight control over the family’s finances and often undermine the women’s attempts to work outside the home. The situation is even worse for poor women who typically have no economic resources of their own and little training that qualifies them for any but the lowest wage jobs. In response to the economic crises in which many battered women find themselves, early activists typically focused on helping women enroll in government-run cash assistance programs like AFDC. A major shortcoming of this strategy, however, was that it still left women in poverty at the same time that it merely shifted their dependence from the abuser to the state. By the late 1990s, battered women’s access to cash assistance programs was undercut by welfare reform, and many battered women’s activists began to rethink how to address the underlying economic issues that make women vulnerable to abuse. The result has been the development of a number of alternatives intended to give women the economic independence to make choices about their relationships. Programs currently in use include economic literacy classes, job training and counseling, microenterprise loans, and enrollment in asset development programs (e.g., Correia, 2000). One advantage of structural approaches such as these is that they address the intersection of class and gender oppression that often keeps women in violent relationships (Websdale & Johnson, 1997). Many of these efforts use resources provided by mainstream government programs but tailor them to meet the specific needs of battered women. For example, one Individual Development Account (IDA) program for domestic violence victims has secured approval for the funds’ use on safety expenditures, such as alarm systems or GPS devices (Redevelopment Opportunities for Women, 2010, and personal correspondence) that help women obtain the freedom of movement they need to attend classes or work. This overall retooling of strategies to help women become more financially independent was not just a reaction to the shifting policy environment; it was also a recognition on the part of mainstream activists that they needed to proactively address the underlying economic insecurity that makes so many women vulnerable to abuse. Such programs represent a move beyond focusing primarily on the immediate or short-term consequences of physical battering in favor of addressing the life-generated risks that are produced by interpersonal violence and that create vulnerability to abuse.

Criminal Justice System
Shifts in the movement’s stance toward law enforcement provide some of the clearest examples of activists learning from their mistakes. Mainstream activists’ engagement


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with the criminal justice system has always been motivated by two goals: to secure safety for individual women who are in danger from their abusers and as a way to challenge the assumption of male dominance in marriage. Their first major effort was successful on both of these fronts: getting legislation passed in all 50 states that makes it possible for battered women to obtain court restraining orders. It is difficult to overstate the historical significance of this legislation as a challenge to the husband’s “king of the castle” privilege, one that Ellen Pence (2001) argues is “on a par with the right to divorce, sue for custody of our children, use birth control, and vote” (p. 4). These civil restraining orders have also proven to be an important tool for individual battered women in a variety of ways, including as a means to establish child custody, to get the abuser to stay away, or as a threat of further legal action in order to wring concessions from the abuser. Civil orders, moreover, continue to be a focus for innovative research and practice as advocates within the criminal justice system work to make such orders increasingly accessible, enforceable, and useful to abuse survivors. Specialized domestic violence courts have been set up in many jurisdictions—some focused solely on civil matters and others integrating civil and criminal cases—designed to increase the safety of the survivor and her children, to hold abusers accountable, and to provide a more coordinated, community-wide response to domestic violence (Sack, 2002). In addition, scholars and practitioners alike continue to propose new ways to provide meaningful access to legal resources, including proposals to make civil orders more flexible for survivors who need or want to maintain limited contact with their abusers (Goldfarb, 2008; Murphy, 2003). Beginning in the 1980s, this success in the civil arena was followed by a much more controversial effort to criminalize battering. After initially opposing the movement’s goals, many of the socially conservative groups that dominated politics at the time championed the cause of criminalization, while many mainstream movement activists regarded criminalization as a potentially powerful generator of normative change. As Pence (2001) wrote later, many activists in the movement supported criminalization not because they believed it would protect women, but instead because they believed it would help eliminate the cultural and institutional supports for men to abuse and dominate “their” women. Many activists have since come to regard this effort as a strategic error. Not only has it proven impossible to reorient the patriarchal criminal justice system to prioritize women’s safety, but criminalization efforts have themselves undermined battered women’s autonomy by opening the way for greater state intrusion into the lives of victims. Women of color and poor women have been especially vocal about the harmful effects of criminalization—especially mandatory arrest and aggressive prosecution policies—on both battered women and on their communities (e.g., Coker, 2008; Richie, 2000, Ritchie, 2006). These policies have resulted in increased arrests of victims (and subsequent harm to their children), financial losses for victims when abusers are incarcerated, ongoing state intrusion into the lives of the victims, and the risk of police brutality against victims and their batterers (Coker, 2008). The passage and subsequent reauthorization of the monumental Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), heralded by many mainstream advocates as the most important

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legislation of the movement, solidified the central roles of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in the larger effort to end violence against women. VAWA required law enforcement collaborations as the basis for much of its funding of community-level organizations (the Coordinated Community Response model) and gave special attention to and funding for civil justice remedies for abuse. These priorities, however, raised concerns that minority women would not have full access to such remedies because of the tendency of mainstream law enforcement to replicate the oppressions that made these women particularly vulnerable to violence in the first place. On one hand, VAWA has meant federal-level endorsement of efforts to end violence against women and has provided unprecedented levels of funding to nonprofit organizations engaged in this work. At the same time, though, VAWA’s provisions and funding streams have also marginalized many antiviolence efforts at the community level, particularly those whose organizational structures do not support the (often significant) bureaucratic demands of grantors and those whose missions do not involve active or ongoing partnerships with law enforcement or reporting mechanisms. In response to the criminal justice-focused approaches endorsed by VAWA, alternative models of community response emerged that deemphasized the centrality of law enforcement. For example, the Collaborative for Abuse Prevention in Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities (CARE), begun by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, set out to address barriers to resources for racial and ethnic minority survivors and to develop culturally competent responses to intimate partner violence by developing collaborations among a network of community organizations that excludes criminal justice organizations (Whitaker et al., 2007). This network model takes a community-based, grassroots approach that capitalizes upon knowledgeable minority voices within already-existing organizations to target the needs of minority survivors who experience real or perceived barriers to accessing criminal justicefocused resources. Such innovations speak to the ability of those working within recognizably mainstream organizations to adapt their structures and practices to respond to the needs of communities underserved by mainstream efforts and ideologies.

Questions of Community-Level Response
The issue of community-level intervention continues to be a sticking point for the institutions and organizations created by first-generation activists, particularly as these organizations and institutions have become recognizably mainstream. Over the past 40 years, the mainstream battered women’s movement has shifted its energies to meeting the needs of individual women largely, though not exclusively, through a service-provision approach using nonprofit organizations, including shelters, clinical services, transitional housing, and legal services and advocacy. Today, it is worth asking to what extent most nonprofit domestic violence agencies are truly community-based organizations. The focus on mental health and interpersonal services, while increasingly evidence-based and even more survivor-centered than ever, places much of the focus on responding to violence rather than preventing it, and on responding to it largely on an individual—or, occasionally, on a small-group—level. While these organizations


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may have a community profile, many are not recognizably integrated into the fabric of particular communities; in fact, many that include emergency shelter or counseling are in confidential locations that are hidden from their communities. Indeed, one of the trade-offs of professionalization and institutionalization that comes with mainstream recognition and funding streams has been greater emphasis on evidence-based interventions and clear outcome evaluation. These emphases do not easily lend themselves to sustained community-based prevention efforts or community organizing, where outcomes are difficult to measure empirically. As a result, even mainstream organizations whose founding missions included “ending violence against women” find themselves less able to undertake primary prevention activities and are left to react to violence after it has already occurred in women’s lives. When organizations do undertake prevention work, they often focus on schools, and in so doing, find themselves confronted with evidence suggesting that truly effective prevention requires repeated and integrated messaging that most schools are not equipped to sustain. Thus, largely because of funding structures that are simply not set up to provide necessary ongoing resources to community-level prevention efforts, established organizations and agencies are much less likely to be at the forefront of effective interventions specifically aimed at community-level intervention. In the socioecological model made popular by public health discussions about interpersonal violence—a model that accounts for intrapersonal, interpersonal, community, institutional/organizational, and policy levels in its theories of health promotion and intervention—the community level has been the most neglected by the battered women’s movement in recent years (Bograd, 1999; Heise, 1998). From this socioecological perspective, the organizations and coalitions that are most representative of the mainstream battered women’s movement have honed their approaches at the individual level (with feminist woman-centered advocacy models, professional clinicians, and the like), at the organizational level (with the availability of nonprofit agencies that offer specific services), and at the policy level (with continuous efforts of coalitions to lobby state and federal legislatures, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the state-level Coalitions Against Domestic Violence). Still, certain shifts in the movement, such as increased professionalization, attention to mental health, and more effective survivor-centered interventions, have left a significant gap at the community level. By contrast, groups like INCITE!, Sista II Sista, and Queer Asian Women’s Services, have revitalized the community activism that was so pivotal to the grassroots organizing of the early mainstream movement, breathing new life into the community-level focus missing from current mainstream efforts. As Smith (2008, p. 421) puts it, these activists are reframing the question about how to stop violence against women from “What can I do?” to “What can we do?” This renewed focus on community-based organizing has taken a number of forms in practice, such as efforts to monitor violence against girls in the community (Sista II Sista in Brooklyn) and to expose police brutality in poor neighborhoods of color (CARA in Seattle). In other instances, community-based organizing has meant forging links with activists and organizations in other communities of color (Korean American women in KAN-WIN) and mobilizing preexisting friendship

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networks in queer or lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) communities of color to hold abusers accountable (FAR Out in Seattle; Smith, 2008). In contrast to individualistic approaches, these efforts help to overcome the social isolation of victims, empower women collectively to take action to end violence, and serve as models for ways in which communities can collectively respond to violence. None of these efforts by itself is a silver bullet that will end the problem of violence against women. Community-level organizing presupposes that a community exists that is capable of collective action in the first place. Activists have sometimes found that they must work to strengthen—or even create—communities at the same time that they develop a community-wide cultural understanding of violence against women that will prioritize victim safety and offender accountability (Smith, 2008). This is especially challenging given the sexism and homophobia that is deeply embedded in many communities. It also requires a sustained effort on the part of many in the community, especially volunteers. Many activists in the newer organizations are very aware of the pressures from external funding sources that caused the early grassroots battered women’s movement to shift its focus, so they are refusing to take external funding from government and other established sources (e.g., Sista II Sista, 2006). In their effort to avoid making the same mistakes as earlier groups, however, these organizations are likely to confront problems of sustainability. Relying on all-volunteer staff can easily lead to burnout and a lack of resources to maintain their organizations, especially in communities that are already resource-poor. Nonetheless, there are considerable advantages to their community-level activism as a corrective to the often narrowly focused work of mainstream groups. The intersectionality theory that informs the most current work of these groups prevents them from retreating into specialized service niches. It also enables them to respond to changing community needs over time and to engage in community-level activism equipped with a holistic analysis that identifies violence against women as part of a larger system of related oppressions and social problems.

New Voices and New Directions in the Movement
The picture of the movement we have offered here is one whose nuances and complexity cannot be adequately captured by the co-optation narrative that still dominates most accounts. The battered women’s movement has always been comprised of multiple configurations of microcohorts with sometimes conflicting goals and strategies. This is as true for what we have described as the first generation of movement activists as it is for the second generation. Nonetheless, it is possible to discern patterns in the larger trajectory of the movement that take into account both what we have referred to as the mainstream movement groups as well as the more intersectionality-oriented ones in both generations. Typical accounts of the first generation of movement activism, as Richie (2000) and Smith et al. (2006) argue, have tended to include only those activist groups that adopted the goals and perspectives of middle-class White women and conceptualized gender inequality as the primary context for violence against women. The result, as Smith et al. (2006) observe, is that the “legacy” of the


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participation of women of color, including lesbians of color, in the founding of the movement to end violence against women has “disappeared from the collective memory of the mainstream movement” (p. 2). It is important to recognize that women of color and lesbian activists have always been a crucial and radical force in the antiviolence movement. It is within this context that the newer, revitalized grassroots efforts like INCITE! and QAWS are again foregrounding the voices of minority women as they call for an activist and analytical lens that moves beyond a simple gender analysis to incorporate other forms of social domination and structural violence in women’s lives (see e.g., Crenshaw, 1997). Certainly, then, the histories of these two strands of the current movement are closely intertwined. Nonetheless, by drawing a distinction between White, middleclass activists in mainstream organizations, on one hand, and those of minority race, class, and sexualities in local grassroots organizations, on the other, we have raised the issue of the degree to which a shared political vision unites these strands. The fact that many of the second-generation activists in this movement (although not all, as illustrated by the less-politicized activists whom Lehrner and Allen describe) choose to use the somewhat broader term “the movement to end violence against women” instead of “the battered women’s movement” signals an expansion of their political analyses to include the complex of social issues that affect women in minority communities. It also shows their roots and continued participation in other movements, including those working to end prison and police brutality, sexual violence, racism, and poverty, and to promote LGBT and immigrants’ rights. Still, activists in organizations like INCITE! and Queer Asian Women’s Services do not reject the battered women’s movement’s longstanding core principles, but instead are developing creative new ways to implement them. There continues to be a shared culture (Mueller & McCarthy, 2003) among both mainstream and intersectionality-oriented feminist activists in this movement that includes how they frame the problem they are targeting, the rationale for their practices, and how they articulate the movement’s dominant goals. Second-generation grassroots activists have used their own experiences as minority women as well as theories about intersectionality to devise new ways to put these ideas into practice even as they also confront the mainstream movement’s neglect of the needs and perspectives of minority women.

Violence Against Women as Rooted in Culture
Feminist activists in this movement have always framed interpersonal violence as a problem deriving from cultural ideas that justify privilege, power, and oppression and that are sedimented in institutional practices. A key to ending the violence, then, is to change these cultural beliefs. Exactly what this cultural change requires, however, has been open to different interpretations. Mainstream feminist activists have always talked about the movement’s need to challenge all types of inequality, but most of their efforts in practice have been focused almost exclusively on challenging gender inequality. It was their preoccupation with the gender inequality experienced by White, middle-class, heterosexual women that led them to support the criminalization of wife

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abuse in the hope that it would help make gender-based violence culturally unacceptable and change the governing norms of everyday Americans. Their blinders concerning how such policies would likely affect women of other races, classes, and sexual orientations prevented them from anticipating how minority women and their communities would suffer as a result. Moreover, the law-and-order approaches supported by many mainstream feminists failed to anticipate the mixed outcomes among White, heterosexual women themselves as mandatory arrest policies took effect and as victim arrests increased dramatically (e.g., Hovmand, Ford, Flom, & Kyriakakis, 2009). Many of the new programs recently developed by intersectionality-oriented activists in the second generation are also intended to bring about cultural change. But instead of targeting only gender inequality, these programs actively challenge multiple intersecting structures of domination, including the cultural ideas that justify not only gender oppression, but also class oppression, racism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment and other forces of marginalization and exclusion. These new approaches tend to begin with the premise that cultural change is inevitably complex: culture operates at multiple levels and varies across groups and over time. Efforts to bring about cultural change, from this point of view, must be grounded in specific local cultures at the same time that they draw explicit connections to all types of hierarchy and oppression in the larger society. Examples of such programs range from the Cultural Context Model, a clinical practice that helps clients and community members critically examine a variety of traditional beliefs and practices (Almeida & Lockard, 2008) to Sista II Sista’s community action projects using dance, media, music, and poetry to foster critical thinking and challenge dominant culture (Sista II Sista, 2006). Activists in these programs share with mainstream activists the overriding goal of raising consciousness by exposing norms that maintain domination and subordination in families and in the larger society. Those activists who are women of color or lesbian/bisexual/ transgendered or poor have taken this analysis to the next level by prioritizing and foregrounding the intersecting oppressions of race, class, and sexuality in ways that first-generation mainstream activists never did.

A Woman-Centered Perspective
Feminist activists of all stripes have always contended that this movement’s practices should be guided by the perspectives of battered women themselves. Historically rooted in the consciousness-raising groups of second-wave feminism and their focus on developing theory and practices based on women’s own lived experiences, activists have understood their actions as giving voice to the long-silenced perspectives of women in general and battered women in particular. For example, one of the centerpieces of the early development of crisis counseling in the movement was the claim that the battered woman is “her own best expert” in evaluating her situation, so her perceptions should serve as the basis for safety planning and service delivery. The immutability of this principle is what made Davies et al.’s (1998) critique of how service provision often falls short of this ideal so powerful and prompted so much soulsearching among feminist activists. Using the same strategy of imminent critique, the


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criticisms leveled by women of color, such as the INCITE!–Critical Resistance Statement (INCITE! 2001), have called attention to the experiences and perspectives of socially marginalized women. The challenge these groups pose to the movement is not to change its orientation, but instead to live up to its most closely held ideals. The fact that NCADV has endorsed the INCITE!–Critical Resistance Statement is testament to its consonance with mainstream movement principles. What is new about the current challenge is its call to apply the principle to different populations, and especially to put poor women of color at the center of the analysis and ask, What would best serve their needs and interests (Coker, 2008; Smith, 2008)? This shift in orientation has led to a newfound emphasis in both mainstream and cutting-edge movement programs on issues like housing and jobs. It has also meant that the new organizations developed by women of color prioritize issues like police violence and sexual harassment in minority communities and the mass incarceration of people of color. For the same reason, these programs have also made a concerted effort to collaborate with other organizations on a variety of issues that similarly affect communities of color, LGBT communities, and immigrants (INCITE! 2001; Sista II Sista, 2006). Rather than being a deviation from longstanding movement policy, the way second-generation activists have used the perspectives of women in these communities as a guide for action has brought the movement back to one of its founding principles and given it new energy and efficacy for more women.

Ending Violence Against Women
The goal of ending violence against women on a national (and even global) scale has always been rhetorically present in the movement, but the degree to which it has been given priority as a tangible objective has varied. In practice, the emphasis of mainstream battered women’s organizations has often been reactive and individually focused, helping women get safe once violence has occurred. While no one would question the need to ensure victim safety, many have questioned whether activists’ efforts to marshal social services for crisis intervention have caused them to lose sight of the bigger picture (e.g., Stark, 2007). Intersectionality-oriented activists in the second generation have moved this goal to the front and center of their efforts. The approaches that they have developed focus on changing the cultural and structural underpinnings of the violence in order to get it to end once and for all, rather than intervening after it has taken place. This emphasis has given rise to strategies such as prioritizing antipoverty efforts as well as thematizing multiple systems of oppression in their community organizing and political actions (Sista II Sista, 2006; Smith, 2008). The strategy is a long-term multifaceted one that aims to prevent violence against women by bringing about real structural change instead of criminal justice and social service approaches that mitigate the effects of violence on individuals after it has occurred. It is also a strategy that actualizes the movement’s most longstanding, foundational goal in ways that many service-oriented parts of the effort have been unable to achieve.

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The Road Ahead
INCITE! and Queer Asian Women’s Services are far from being the only organizations or efforts working at the grassroots level to challenge violence against women. Unfortunately, these and other groups like them rarely emerge in the stories we tell about the battered women’s movement, perhaps because they do not resonate with— and, at times, directly challenge the premises of—the celebratory history we have constructed of the movement’s early years. Acknowledging these groups as the new grassroots initiatives would mean having to come to terms with their powerful critiques of the mainstream movement’s internal contradictions, racism, and past and present exclusions. It would also mean admitting that the knowledge they produce about violence and effective interventions has come about precisely because the mainstream movement failed many of the women who lead the most progressive efforts underway today. These new groups’ relative invisibility in public accounts and debates about the recent history and progress of the movement—along with the invisibility of the populations for whom they advocate—has contributed to a story of the movement’s decline and ineffectiveness. Feminist standpoint theory proposes that any theoretical framework that emerges from a “general” standpoint will inevitably reflect only the reality of the dominant group and, as a result, will lead to practices that do not serve oppressed groups (Harding, 2004). Consequently, those who are oppressed will be in the best position to understand their reality and will be the ones best positioned to mobilize for informed, progressive change. Feminist standpoint theory has been an extremely useful tool in exposing the problematic application of general social theory to women’s experiences and has been invaluable in shaping many woman-centered frameworks and narratives. Equipped with this theoretical understanding of the potential erasure of women’s experiences that occurs when a privileged perspective generates theory and knowledge, we must be careful not to repeat the mistakes made by historians of feminist activism more generally (Gluck, 1998) by excluding the perspectives of women of color and socially marginalized women from accounts of the movement. The narrative of the decline in activism and sociopolitical analysis among mainstream workers in established agencies runs the risk of being charged with the very kinds of exclusion that so many in the movement have worked to change. We may, in fact, be experiencing a decline in activism and feminist analysis around violence against White women as such violence becomes more of a mainstream issue that multiple organizations and policies routinely include in their agendas. (Indeed, the research of Lehrner and Allen [2008, 2009] may alert us to this and prompt ways to counteract this trend.) But to say that the movement as a whole is in decline is to deny the energy and transformative work of those who advocate for abuse survivors, advocates who have long been overlooked by second-wave feminist efforts. If we asked an abused immigrant woman (or an abused Asian American woman, or an abused lesbian woman) about her experiences and knowledge of resources, it is likely that her response would show the benefits from more recent movement activism that did not exist 20 years ago. To say that the domestic violence movement has declined beyond recognition fails to do justice to


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the experiences of many marginalized women who for the first time are being introduced to an analysis of violence and community organizing that matches their lived experience. The insights that inform these new grassroots groups, along with the emergence of intersectionality theory in debates about violence against women, have at the same time contributed to new directions in the mainstream movement. Current work by minority women has clearly demonstrated the need for organizing in ways that take place outside of conventional systems, particularly those systems with long records of discriminatory treatment of non-White, nonheterosexual women. Critics of government or state-sponsored funding to combat intimate partner violence point particularly to the pervasive emphasis on “a law-and-order reactive approach over any other approach to domestic violence” (Morgaine, 2009, p. 39). Debates about the usefulness or appropriateness of strategies like restorative justice, which typically reinvests community representatives with the power to restore losses to victims and hold perpetrators accountable, continue to raise possibilities about alternatives to a problematic legal system (Frederick & Lizdas, 2010; Nancarrow, 2010; Rubin, 2010). Coalitions among community groups to address domestic violence, too, have begun to take different shapes as the Coordinated Community Response Model—one centered on the role of law enforcement—has given way to other models of coordination and coalition building. Increasing attention to the ways that the mainstream movement has not served all women, then, has significantly changed approaches within the mainstream movement at the same time that it has led to the emergence of other approaches to confront violence against women and its myriad individual, community, and social consequences. There is a tremendous opportunity today for activists in both established battered women’s programs and those in the newer grassroots community organizations to learn from dialogue and a cross-fertilization of ideas. Theories about intersectionality are widely accepted among all feminist activists, but mainstream groups could benefit from learning about creative ways to implement them. The broader structural perspective on violence against women that the grassroots activists bring to the table, along with their successes in community organizing and cross-movement coalition building, could energize the efforts of mainstream groups to reach out to their communities for support. By the same token, activists in the established programs, including the movement’s state and national domestic violence coalitions, have access to and credibility with institutional decision-makers that could be brought to bear in ways that help the newer groups. One thing they could do is to influence government agencies and foundations to broaden their ideas about what counts as helping to end violence against women, thereby assisting the grassroots groups to secure the resources many are likely to need to sustain their programs. By working together, the two branches of the movement could take advantage of an insider-outsider strategy (Gelb & Hart, 1999; SpalterRoth & Schreiber, 1995) that would permit them to act simultaneously on multiple fronts. At its most effective, such a strategy would foreground the political concerns of minority women while remaining accountable to longstanding feminist ideals and an intersectionality-informed approach to women’s empowerment.

Arnold and Ake Acknowledgment


The authors want to thank Steven Buechler, Linda Nicholson, Marilyn Friedman, Adrienne Davis, Penny Weiss, Elisabeth I. Perry, and two anonymous VAW reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Dr. Arnold’s research was supported by a Faculty Development Grant at St. Louis University.

1. Many of the early programs in this movement did not live up to the utopian feminist ideals with which they are now often credited. For example, one early activist recounted to one of the authors how she was hired as director of a shelter because one of the residents had taken over and had been running the house for months with no accountability to anyone, including to the other residents. This type of problem was not unique to the battered women’s movement—many feminist collectives in the 60s and 70s fell prey to what Jo Freeman (1972) termed the “tyranny of structurelessness.” Her argument is that when groups refuse to designate structures of authority and responsibility, the result often is that some individuals end up wielding informal, unaccountable, and unacknowledged power because decisions still need to be made, but it is not transparent who is making them.

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Author Biographies
Gretchen Arnold, PhD, is an assistant professor of Sociology and of Women’s Studies at St. Louis University. She has been studying the battered women’s movement for more than 20 years and writes articles based on this research. She currently is conducting research on nuisance property laws and their impact on victims of domestic violence. Jami Ake, PhD, MSW, is an assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and senior lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. She teaches courses on violence against women and domestic violence for the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Washington University.

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