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"Everybody Makes Choices": Victim Advocates and the Social Construction of Battered Women's Victimization and Agency

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 13 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2007 Pages: 977-1001
Jennifer L. Dunn; Melissa Powell-Williams
Date Published
October 2007
25 pages
Designed as exploratory research, this study conducted interviews with domestic violence victim advocates to clarify how advocates explain “battered women who stay.”
The interviews show that this behavior, “staying”, is a source of great frustration for advocates, who struggle to simultaneously conceive of battered women as victims trapped by social, psychological, and interactional forces and as agents whose choices must be respected. Advocates struggle to make sense out of clients’ behavior and must do so in organizations and communities that inadequately value and support what they are doing. This paper examines the ways in which advocates construct battered women as victims and agents (making choices) as they interpret the problematic behavior of returning to or “staying” in violent relationships. Domestic violence victim advocacy in community-based organizations, such as battered women’s shelters, and in the criminal justice system has recently become a profession. Advocates face particular challenges unique to their profession and directly related to their clientele. This study shows how advocates routinely struggle to bring the individual battered women whom they encounter into conformity with the images of battered women created by the battered women’s movement. A problem is that advocates’ clients do not always neatly conform to collective representations of this social problem. When they return to or remain in violent relationships, they violate pervasive and persistent cultural codes for understanding victimization as a lack of agency or choice. Thirty-two in-depth interviews were conducted with domestic violence victim advocates working in shelters and in criminal justice settings in order to examine how advocates explain this “staying” and its variants to themselves, to victims, and to imagined and real audiences. Note, references


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