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Sturm College of Law


Civil protection orders, Victim decision making, Victim autonomy


Part I of the essay reviews the work of activists and scholars who make the case that coercion is central to domestic violence, but notes that these scholars' conceptions of coercion are diverse. Part II describes the justice system's current responses to the impact of coercion on a victim's decision to drop a criminal or civil case. Part III exposes a number of challenges inherent in measuring the impact of a batterer's influence on a domestic violence victim's decision. Part IV describes the conceptual limitations of current judicial guidelines, and argues for a more nuanced conceptualization of coercion that accounts for victim volition. The essay concludes that scholars and policy makers should continue to advocate for courts to consider the role of coercion to more fully understand and effectively respond to domestic violence victims. However, we must recognize the practical and conceptual challenges embodied in current legal approaches that may hinder victims' autonomy when victims attempt to exit the system. Examination of a victim's decision to drop a CPO, where there is no statutory or case law on point, provides a context-specific opportunity to engage in a discussion of how to implement a narrower conceptualization of coercion and a broader understanding of victim decision making. It provides a starting point for the development of more discriminating legal approaches that would reject the reflexive practices of many judges who do not take into account the complexities of analyzing coercion.

Publication Statement

Originally published as Tamara L. Kuennen, Analyzing the Impact of Coercion on Domestic Violence Victims: How Much Is Too Much?, 22 BERKELEY J. GENDER L. & Just. 2 (2007).

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