Keeping women safe? Assessing the impact of risk discourse on the societal response to intimate partner violence

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Hoffart, Renée
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Emerging in the 1970s, the Violence Against Women Movement worked to increase awareness around the issue of intimate partner violence, enhance women’s safety, and lobby the welfare state for increased protections for survivors. The movement espoused a decidedly women-centred approach which emphasized grassroots knowledge, experiential perspectives, and consciousness-raising initiatives. The advent of neo-liberalism and its accompanying risk discourse from the 1980s onward challenged the gains of the Violence Against Women Movement. With this new political rationality came an emphasis on individualism, a heightened presence of standardization and professionalization, and funding cuts for social programs. At the same time, risk-based approaches became the predominant mechanism for responding to social issues, including intimate partner violence. Drawing on a sample of 45 interviews with police officers, Crown Prosecutors, shelter staff, and victim services workers conducted as part of the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations (CDHPIVP), this study uses a feminist intersectionality lens and thematic network analysis to examine the shift in service provision responses to intimate partner violence with an eye to determining whether the transition from social welfare to neo-liberalism and risk discourse has been to the benefit or detriment of survivors. Specifically, this study asks: What is the impact of the advent of risk discourse on the original goals of the Violence Against Women Movement in relation to addressing intimate partner violence? More specifically, it inquires: How does the shift to risk discourse play out ‘on the ground’ for practitioners and criminal justice personnel responding to intimate partner violence? What are the implications for women whose partners are violent toward them? The results of this study suggest that neo-liberalism and the accompanying risk discourse have overtaken the goals of the Violence Against Women Movement. Consequently, the current risk-based framework for addressing intimate partner violence has created conditions that put women (and their children) at greater risk of harm.
Violence Against Women Movement, Intimate partner violence, Intersectionality, Neo-liberalism, Risk discourse