Battered Women’s Movement Essay

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The Battered Women’s Movement (BWM) is a progressive social change and justice movement organized to eradicate the abuse of women and their children in intimate relationships. The women and men in the BWM are allied with and active in a worldwide movement for social justice and human rights. Many in the BWM are also dedicated to ending other forms of violence against women and are committed to working to end the subordination, poverty, killing, slavery, and inequality of disenfranchised people.

The BWM addresses violence against people in all types of intimate relationships. The BWM acknowledges lesbian battering, the battering of men by male partners, the battering of transgendered people, the abuse of elders by adult children, and the abuse of men by women partners. At the same time, the BWM asserts that domestic violence is rooted in male supremacy. The BWM endorses the principle that violence, abuse, and terrorism in relationships are wrong, that abusers alone are responsible for the violence, and that all abuse must stop. Most in the movement believe that sexism and all other forms of oppression are interlocking and connected and that there is no “hierarchy of oppression.”

The BWM developed from several social justice movements. In the United States, it has roots in the labor movement in the 1950s and the civil rights and antiwar movements in the late 1960s and 1970s. The BWM began as an intersection between the women’s liberation movement and the courageous actions of individual survivors and their allies who dared to break the silence and speak out about their horrific experiences at the hands of male partners.

Organizing against violence against women took the form of demonstrations, vigils, sit-ins, letter writing campaigns, direct actions, speak-outs, teach-ins, and lawsuits. Battered women’s testimony and the advocacy of their allies began to shatter the misconceptions that were institutionalized in medicine, psychiatry, law enforcement, the media, and human services delivery. A fundamental principle of organizing in the BWM was that the voices and experiences of survivors should guide all the work. Shelter, legal, intervention, prevention, and accountability initiatives should be grounded in the expertise of survivors.

One of the first efforts of the BWM was to stop the “privatization” of domestic violence and abuse, that is, moving public discourse from discussion of domestic violence as a problem arising in the private arena of the family to identification of violence against women as state-sanctioned behavior. The BWM demanded changes in public policy to eliminate the community and social underpinnings of domestic violence.

As the movement developed, the goals generally included promoting safety, self-determination, autonomy, restoration, and healing for survivors and their children; promoting batterers ending their violence and abuse; changing community attitudes and practices that legitimate domestic violence; and advocating and organizing for social justice in order to eliminate the root causes of battering.

In the past 15 years, the BWM has focused more attention on the differential impact of violence on women experiencing multiple oppressions. Attention has increasingly been placed on the intersection of interpersonal violence inflicted on women and both community-sanctioned and state-sponsored violence, particularly for women experiencing multiple oppressions. Women suffering instrumental controls and jeopardy, not just at the hands of abusers, but also from multiple impediments constructed or tolerated by the society in which they are embedded, often find no possibility of escape from domestic violence, no reprieve from poverty, and minimal support from the community. Disenfranchised women may include women of color; Indigenous women (specifically, American Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States, and women of the First Nations in Canada); lesbians, bisexuals, or transgendered individuals; older survivors and women with physical and developmental disabilities; poor, immigrant, refugee, trafficked, or colonized women; women trapped in prostitution; women who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs; women in institutions (e.g., prisons, mental hospitals, boarding schools); women from religious minorities; and women affected by war.

In the United States, the BWM has generated and stimulated the creation of multiple types of organizations. Among the first organizations formed to address domestic violence were hotlines, networks of safe homes, and shelters. These organizations, sometimes known as battered women’s shelters or domestic violence organizations, became very common. Sometimes these organizations included programs to help individuals stop their abusive behavior. Freestanding organizations designed to help batterers stop being abusive also emerged. Individuals and organizations joined together to form state coalitions and a wide variety of national organizations. Community-based, state, and national organizations sought reform in almost every institution of society. Units of government began to address domestic violence. Extensive reform of the criminal justice and civil legal systems, as well as human services systems, was achieved. Some of these organizations operate from a philosophy that male supremacy and/or privilege and social injustice are the root causes of domestic violence; some do not. Some engage in social change work, including organizing; others do not.

Believing that no reform or law change is self-implementing, the BWM and allies undertook a wide variety of training, collaboration, and partnerships with local, state, and national social and legal systems. Task forces to promote “coordinated community response” to domestic violence were formed in rural communities, small and large urban centers, states, tribes, the military, and the federal government.

Research on domestic violence began. Battered women and advocates early asserted that research institutions should shape research agendas, design, analysis, and policy implications in concert with the BWM. Universities began offering course work on domestic violence, and professional training schools in law, medicine, psychology, and social work began incorporating domestic violence into their curricula. Thousands of articles and books were written about domestic violence and more are being written. Thousands of conferences and trainings have been held. Web sites abound. As of August 2006, a search for “domestic violence” on Google generated 42.5 million references. There were many efforts that predate and exist concurrently with efforts in the United States. Shelters (refuges) in the United Kingdom and Canada predate those in the United States, and it is significant to note that one of the early shelters was formed in Copenhagen by members of the Danish women’s liberation movement. There are currently movements and programs throughout the world that use various models to interrupt and eradicate violence against women in relationships.


  1. Janovicek, N. (2007). No place to go: Local histories of the battered women’s shelter movement. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  2. Schechter, S. (1982). Women and male violence: The visions and struggles of the battered women’s movement. Boston: South End Press.
  3. Tierney, K. J. (1982). The battered woman movement and the creation of the wife beating problem. Social Problems, 29, 207–220.

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