Hoffinger Forum Recap: Holly Maguigan on “Domestic Violence is a Crime Like Any Other Crime: True or False? False.”

On Monday, January 23, 2012, NYU Professor Holly Maguigan delivered the first Hoffinger lecture of the spring term, entitled “Domestic Violence is a Crime Like Any Other Crime?  True or False?  False.”   In her talk, Maguigan critiqued the criminal justice system’s approach to domestic violence cases over the last several decades, and offered a fresh perspective on how police, prosecutors and statisticians can better prevent,
prosecute and document domestic violence.

According to Maguigan, in the 1970s, the predominant view of domestic violence was that it was a private matter to be resolved from within the home.  Police were instructed to
advise the male aggressor to “go for a walk,” or “have a beer” so he would calm down.  The goal of these interventions was to “keep her safe” and defuse the situation, and only rarely were criminal charges ever filed.  This changed dramatically in the 1980s with the first big push toward pro-arrest policies.  These policies then evolved into mandatory arrest policies.  At the same time, courts began to issue temporary orders of protection in domestic violence cases almost automatically at the defendant’s arraignment.

Maguigan described a continued push, through the 1990s, for domestic violence to be taken more seriously.  A call for an increase in federal funding toward eradicating this
epidemic was answered in Congress’s enactment of the Violence Against Women Act
in 1994.  The trend of increasing interest in fighting domestic violence continues today, as here in New York there is discussion of creating a domestic violence registry, akin to a sex
offender registry.

After outlining the policies and practices that accompany a typical domestic violence call, Maguigan gave a thoughtful critique that established the practical consequences of removing the victim’s choice.  Maguigan explained that “no drop” prosecution policies—enacted to protect women—have, in reality and rather paternalistically, removed the choice of criminal prosecution from the victim, as she is seen as too vulnerable to pressure from a batterer to make a good decision.  The most alarming consequence of this, Maguigan noted, is the common decision by the victim to not call the police in instances of domestic violence out of fear of losing her partner.  When victims know that there is a mandatory arrest and no drop prosecution policy, they do not call.  She went on to discuss that the automatic temporary order of protection gives a de facto divorce in some cases.  Maguigan argued that domestic violence evolved from a crime in which no action was taken, to a crime in which mandatory policies allocate a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a serious problem.

These practices and their consequences have led to statistical race, class and ethnicity disparities according to Maguigan.  As she discussed the demographics of domestic
violence today, she began with a disclaimer: one can find numbers to support any conclusion sought.  Maguigan went on to say that it is important to ask the tough questions—what is being measured and, perhaps most importantly, what is not
being measured.  An example Maguigan presented was the drop in the instances of domestic violence ending in homicides since the 1970’s.  The figures: 1,100 women and
300-400 men seem to be promising, even perhaps showing the decline of domestic
violence; but, it is minimal when compared to non-fatal injuries that create a fuller
picture of the realities of domestic violence.  Numbers of prosecutions, convictions or even
reports of domestic violence omit those victims that do not report, leaving the
statistics detailing incidents of domestic violence incomplete.

Maguigan also discussed her work with domestic violence in India.  She explored the Indian responses to domestic violence that do not always lead to the arrest of the aggressor.  While Indian law has deliberately excluded non-heterosexual women, the criminal interventions are more contextualized, and as a result, are heavily taken advantage of by Indian women.  The broader point being that a contextualized or individualized response works better in instances of domestic violence.  Because domestic violence is a crime unlike any other, it requires thoughtful, ameliorative options that make
sense and are more helpful and empowering to victims in crisis.  Click here to
see the video of Professor Maguigan’s lecture.

–Student fellows Dana Williamson (’14) and Teri Sulmers (’12)

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