Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Oakland University
- Help-seeking battered women and the criminal justice system often operate with significant differences in their goals for resolving conflict and perception of victimization.
- Women whose self-perceptions and goals for using the criminal justice system are deeply at odds with the perceptions and goals of the system itself are bound to experience conﬂict, negativity, and dissatisfaction that undermine their criminal justice help-seeking eﬀorts.
- Help-seeking battered women report near unanimous satisfaction with shelters and support groups as a result of the encouragement, guidance, and validation they receive from these groups.
In the article, “Backfire: Lessons Learned when the Criminal Justice System Fails Help-Seeking Battered Women,” Burgess-Proctor examined primary sources of conflict between help-seeking battered women and the criminal justice system. The study utilized data collected from interviews with 22 battered women who attended a community-based support group in one of two undisclosed U.S. towns. The author identified two primary sources of conflict between the women and law enforcement: perception incompatibility and goal incompatibility. Perception incompatibility occurs between the battered woman and law enforcement because the woman often doesn’t perceive herself as a crime victim. Goal incompatibility refers to the difference in goals that the woman and law enforcement often have, in that law enforcement maintains a focus on apprehending and adjudicating the perpetrator even if that is not the woman’s goal. The study found that largely as a result of these two conflicts, dissatisfaction and anger at the system occurred at every stage of the criminal justice help-seeking process for women. By contrast, women almost uniformly reported being very satisfied with both shelter and support group services as a result of the support, encouragement, guidance, and validation they received there. A desire to avoid the negative experiences outlined in this study should encourage policy-makers and service providers to create positive interactions with help-seeking battered women whenever possible. Additionally, the near unanimous satisfaction with shelters and support groups suggests that such services have the potential to be profoundly positive inﬂuences in battered women’s lives.