The curious resistance to seeing domestic violence as a human rights violation in the United States

Sally Engle Merry, Jessica Shimmin

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Over the last three decades, a global social movement has enshrined gender violence as a core violation of international human rights law (Merry 2006, 2009). However, the idea that domestic violence is a human rights violation has not had much impact on the U.S. movement against domestic violence. Human rights activists in the United States tend to focus on violations experienced by people in other countries rather than at home. Despite their influential role in devising international violence against women initiatives and their enthusiasm for seeing gender violence as a human rights violation in other countries, many leaders in the U.S. domestic violence movement fail to bring it home (Morgaine 2006, 2009). Currently, the way domestic violence is framed within U.S. policy and activism makes it particularly resistant to human rights discourse. After briefly considering how gender violence has become defined as a global human rights violation, we consider the reasons for its limited impact on U.S. domestic violence activists. Using Massachusetts as a case study, we argue that the movement's intimate involvement with the state for financial support of domestic violence services reshapes the political perspectives of many domestic violence service providers and activists. As service providers, they have moved increasingly closer to the welfare system and its dominant characterization of state aid recipients. They share the view that battered women need to assert themselves as individuals and throw off their dependency on their partners and the state.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationHuman Rights in the United States
    Subtitle of host publicationBeyond Exceptionalism
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511842269
    ISBN (Print)9781107008465
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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