Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation

Part I of this article discusses violence in the ordinary lives of women, describing individual and societal denial that pretends domestic violence is rare when statistics show it is common, and describing the ways in which motherhood shapes women’s experience of violence and choices in response to violence. Part II examines definitions of battering and evaluates their effectiveness at disguising or revealing the struggle for control at the heart of the battering process. I then describe in Part III the pressures that self-defense and custody cases place on legal and cultural images of battered women and contrast the development of an analysis of lesbian battering, an analysis generated outside the legal system. In Part IV, I discuss battering as a struggle for power and control and show how legal analysis can help reveal the control issue by naming separation assault and building litigation strategies to redefine the issue separation. Finally, in Part V, I identify separation assault in the cases where women have been killed or harmed, as well as cases in which women killed in self-defense, and explain how the concept of separation assault is consistent with the particular needs of expert testimony in the self-defense cases. I demonstrate how naming separation assault can intervene in the interrelationship between law and culture in the field of domestic violence to change both the questions asked and the answers found by courts in several areas of law.