Hijacked by the Right: Battered women in American’s culture war

The vehicle through which the community-based battered women’s movement could be completely co-opted.

Hijacked by the Right is a resource for those who are or may be affected by the Family Justice Center juggernaut: survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; advocates working in domestic violence agencies, shelters, and rape crisis centers; mainstream social service providers; churches and faith-based organizations; businesses; and concerned citizens.

Author’s note:

The struggle for the heart of the domestic violence movement is a struggle over worldview and philosophy: whose worldview and whose philosophy will determine the perspective from which services will be provided. In Hijacked by the Right, I propose that domestic violence has become the new front of the Religious Right’s war on women. On one side is the 40-year-old Battered Women’s Movement, a community-based social justice model. On the other is the 10-year-old Family Justice Center movement, a socially and politically conservative systems-based model. Is the Family Justice Center (FJC) model — which co-locates police, prosecutors, domestic violence advocates, chaplains, child protective services, job training programs, and other community services in the same location — an evolution of the Battered Women’s Movement or its hijacking? What could possibly go wrong when law enforcement enters into partnership with the other institutional powers: government, corporations, religion, family? Consider this:

Law Enforcement: Victims tell advocates that they don’t go to the police because they fear the police and are terrified of becoming trapped withn the the criminal justice system juggernaut. Advocates fear that if they alienate the police or prosecutors, battered women will ultimately suffer the backlash.

Government: George W. Bush established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to “save a family in jeopardy—one soul, one heart at a time.” The subsequent Family Justice Center Initiative was to provide “comprehensive services at one location, including medical care, counseling, law enforcement assistance, social services, employment assistance, housing assistance, and faith-based counseling programs.” Community-based feminist advocates are forced to collaborate with the very systems they historically monitored and held accountable.

Corporations: Privatization redirects funds from existing community-based domestic violence agencies and shelters to investor-operated businesses, opening a huge market for corporations to provide survivor counseling, risk assessment, security services, law enforcement, correctional facilities, batterers’ counseling, spiritual counseling, crisis pregnancy counseling, addictions programs, job training, housing, child care, parenting classes, budgeting… the list is virtually endless.

Religion: Most if not all FJCs engage faith-based organizations to provide services. Including faith-based providers appears to be good, but many (if not most) of them are conservative Christian organizations. Conservative Christian ideology sees men as “servant leaders” with a sacred obligation to lead their wives and children, sometimes with force. These ‘benevolent batterers’ exercise power and control over their families verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, financially, and legally.

Advocacy: The Battered Women’s Movement helped women to see and reveal the abuse they suffered at the hands of men who claimed to love, serve, and protect them. It also exposed the degrading oppression and abuse women received from the institutions they turned to for protection — the police, courts, religious institutions, medical providers, and their own families. The original domestic violence shelters and agencies focused on a woman’s autonomy and choice: “what does she want us to do and how can we best serve her?” The FJC movement has co-opted this focus with institutional collaboration, protocols, and financial incentives.