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Feminist theories offer significant contributions to the field of criminology, especially to the understanding of sexual violence since it was first introduced into the field approximately 40 years ago. Since their initial appearance, feminist theories have matured and grown. While some continuity is found among feminist theories, great variation exists in their underlying assumptions, approaches, and goals. This research paper describes feminist theories in the context of sexual violence and is structured as follows. First, the background in which feminist theories emerged is described. Next, feminist theories of sexual violence are introduced. This research paper then describes some specific integrative theories of sexual violence that are informed by the feminist paradigm. Subsequent sections address myths and controversies, as well as questions that remain unanswered in the literature. This research paper concludes with a list of relevant references germane to feminist theories of sexual violence.
Perhaps more than any other theoretical tradition, feminist theories greatly changed our understanding of sexual violence. Prior to their introduction, criminological research and theories were androcentric, having been shaped and informed solely by male understandings, perspectives, and experiences. Initial criminological understanding of victimization and offending focused almost entirely on male behavior and perceptions, and when attention was given to females, it was generally through the lens of sexism, misogyny, and the view of females as male property. Females who engaged in nontraditional behavior (i.e., deviance or criminal) were negatively characterized as morally corrupt, devious, manipulative, and even ill. And females who were victimized were similarly viewed as flawed, devious, and the sole cause of their victimization.
One of the most important contributions of feminist theories was to recast assumptions and understanding of criminal behavior and victimization, especially as it relates to sexual violence. Feminist theories introduced a more complete understanding of sexual offending and victimization because they started to take account of the actual experiences of females and highlight the considerable influence of gender (versus sex) as a construct on criminological behavior and victimization. However, feminist theories offer far more than a focus on the offending and victimization experiences of females and the effects of sexism. Feminist theories represent a reconceptualization of key concepts and ideas. They focus on how gender organizes the field of criminology, our understanding of offending and victimization, and the structure and functioning of criminal justice institutions. That feminists prioritize gender is widely established, though it is important to emphasize that “gender” is not equivalent to or interchangeable with “sex.” Gender is the “sociocultural and psychological shaping, patterning, and evaluating of female and male behavior” (Schur 1984, p. 10). Sex is a biologically based and stable characteristic identified with two categories: male and female. Before discussing contemporary feminist theories of sexual violence, it is important to first define feminist theories, and to consider the theoretical context in which these theories emerged.
Attempts to define a singular feminist theory is both na¨ıve and incorrect because there is no “feminist theory” that is based on a single paradigm. Recent literature indicates at least 12 variants of feminist theory, though not all address sexual violence.
As such, the phrase “feminist theories” refers to a decentered and diverse collection of perspectives and methodologies based on various ideas about the basic assumptions regarding inequality, the role of gender and gender relations, the issues and problems requiring attention, and the methods needed to address these issues and problems. More succinctly, feminist theories are “womancentered description[s] and explanation[s] of human experience[s] and the social world” and they are guided by the notion that “gender governs every aspect of personal and social life” (Danner 1991, p. 51).
There are common elements shared by the various feminist perspectives that distinguish them as a group from traditional criminology theoretical orientations (Daly and ChesneyLind 1988). First, they view gender as a complex, social, historical, and culture product and not a natural fact. Second, gender and gender relations are fundamental organizers of social life and institutions. Third, gender relations in society and the role of masculinity and femininity are not equal or symmetrical. Rather, masculinity and femininity are used to organize and subordinate females based on male superiority. Fourth, traditional criminological theories are based on a gendered perspective that reflects solely a male’s perspective of the criminological world. Fifth and finally, feminist theories agree that females should not be invisible, subordinate, peripheral, or viewed as appendages to males. Instead, feminist theories argue that females should be at the center of theory development, research, and intellectual inquiry.
Before turning to a description on how feminist theories inform sexual violence, it is important to describe the “traditional” criminological perspective as well as Liberal feminist theory that it led to. It is in this context that contemporary feminist theories focusing on sexual violence emerged.
Background Historical Context
Androcentric Theoretical Tradition
Traditional criminological theories virtually ignored the presence and experiences of females. Theories were based on male experiences and intellectual views, and these male-centered theories and understandings were generalized to the population at large – including females. When females were addressed in theories focused on criminology, it was assumed that male and female differences stemmed from biological differences. Evidence of this is found in Durkheim’s work on homicide in which he described the importance of biological differences between males and females. He noted that females have smaller brains, smaller overall size, lesser strength, and were simply more primitive and less socialized than males. Further, Durkheim argued that these differences between males and females grew as societies evolved (DiCristina 2006). Pollak’s (1950) views on the criminality of women also highlighted the importance of biological factors. He indicated that female criminals have an excess of male biological and psychological characteristics and make them more similar to male criminals than to female criminals or non-offenders. In general, this early work failed to consider external influences such as social or economic forces. In general, when these traditional perspectives discussed “gender differences,” it was done in a way to highlight differences and deny the presence of gender inequality. For instance, disparities in strength and in aggression (in general) between males and females and the greater innate nurturing and care-giving behaviors (in general) found among females compared to males were seen as reflecting the natural order of things.
Given the belief that gender differences reflected the natural state of affairs and were biological imperatives, few scholars drew attention to strategies for social change until the introduction of Liberal feminist theory. Although this theory does not offer direct insight into sexual violence, it is important to understand the background role it plays in the emergence of contemporary feminist theories that do.
Liberal Feminist Theory
Liberal feminist theory challenges the notion of the natural state of biological imperatives that long kept males and females in separate spheres. This perspective holds that socially created, rather than biologically based, gender inequality underscores discriminatory social policies that maintain separate and distinct spheres for males and females, including the socialization of specific and distinct gender roles for males and females. Liberal feminist theory argues that both females and males are socialized and indoctrinated to believe that females are not capable of, or appropriate for, participating in intellectual activities, in physical activities, or in roles with a public presence; rather, a female’s natural and proper role is one behind the scenes, subordinate to males, and outside of paid labor. Thus, Liberal feminist theory contends, it is not through a biological imperative that males and females are found in different spheres, but rather through the process of socialization and laws that this segregation and structural inequality takes place.
The work of Liberal Feminists was used as a way of organizing our understanding of offending and did not address sexual violence. This is not surprising given the timing of its emergence. Liberal Feminism emerged in the late 1960s into the 1970s during a time when little was known about sexual violence as it was widely considered a private or personal matter. On the rare occasion that sexual violence found its way into the public domain, the victim (generally female) was blamed for her victimization.
Liberal feminist theory does not hold that the system is inherently unequal, but rather, the policies by which it operates are. Thus, while not explicitly noted, proponents of this perspective would likely argue that sexual violence could be addressed through policy/legal changes (e.g., divorce laws, restraining orders, marital rape laws, and domestic violence laws) and structural changes which would address women’s abilities to be socially and financially independent (e.g., equal opportunity laws, affirmative action, and equal rights).
While policy change approach with the goal of gender equality is an important advancement, it proved problematic in practice. First, a focus on equal treatment uses males as the yardstick by which females are treated; and in a practical sense, this approach has been shown to exacerbate problems and ultimately work against females.
Today, the approach for equality has been largely dismissed by newer more radical variants of feminist theory focused on parity. Parity allows for sex-based differences in treatments and policies. These newer more radical perspectives currently dominate research and theory within the feminist paradigm, and it is among these perspectives that a focus on sexual violence is found.
State Of The Art: Feminist Theories In The Context Of Sexual Violence
While sexual violence is heavily researched, it receives comparatively little theoretical attention even among feminist perspectives. This section addresses two theories that most often form the basis of inquiry into sexual violence. Following this presentation, the discussion moves to describing some feminist theoretical perspectives focused specifically on sexual violence.
Radical Feminist Theory
Radical feminist theory views “male power and privilege as the source of all social relations, inequality, and violence against women” (DeKeseredy 2011, p. 298). It identifies patriarchy, especially in terms of controlling and exploiting female sexuality, reproduction, and familial relations, as the root of gender inequality and ultimately sexual violence. Other characteristics such as class are of secondary importance. One very important and critical way in which Radical feminist theory differs from other feminist theories is that it rejects official notions and definitions of violence because extant definitions and ideas of violence are male centered and fail to incorporate the full range of female victimization experiences. Instead, Radical feminist theory conceives of a broad definition of sexual violence, which places this violence on a continuum ranging from sexual harassment (less severe) to violent completed rape (most severe). This sexual violence continuum does not reflect what males embedded in a patriarchal social structure view as sexual violence; sexual violence is based only on the experiences and notions of females. By reconceptualizating sexual violence in a broader sense, Radical feminist theory clearly indicates that sexual violence is a means of social domination and not merely random acts of aggression.
Patriarchy is the core concept in this perspective and refers to the belief that society views women as the property of males, and therefore, societal norms convey that females are subject to male control. Because males, in general, are larger and more powerful than females, males are able to use aggression and power to subordinate and control females in every sphere of life.
Radical feminist theory identifies sex as the arena in which females are controlled. It is not necessary that all females be sexually victimized, nor is it necessary that all males offend against females. It is only necessary that acts of sexual violence be well known so that fear of this violence keeps females in a subordinated position. Thus, rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence stem from patriarchy and represent a form of social control. The continual threat of sexual violence serves to perpetuate male domination over female minds and bodies by force.
Radical feminist theory contends that the end of patriarchal relations and the elimination of oppressive social structures are the only means to end the gender inequality and the resulting sexual violence. This can be accomplished by providing females sexual, reproductive, and familial autonomy.
An important early work representative of Radical feminist thought is Brownmiller’s (1975) work on rape. This revolutionary work brought the Radical feminist perspective to the forefront of research and reframed our understanding of rape. Brownmiller’s work recast rape as a crime of power and control and a part of the arsenal of tools used to control, dominate, and subordinate females. Previously, rape was considered a crime of passion or an erotically driven act. Her work identified the patriarchal system of gender inequality and how it controls and subordinates females, condones sexual violence, and encourages and justifies sexual coercion. By moving the conversation of rape as a sexual crime to rape as an issue of power and control, greater understanding about the motivation and consequences of rape and sexual assault were made. Contrary to traditional views, it is now established that rape and sexual assault are acts of violence, sex is the weapon, and offenders are motivated by power, control, and anger. Further, current understanding includes that victims of rape and sexual assault do not incite an offender, nor does this violent act occur only to “bad” females (or males). This shift in perspective changed policy as well. Until the late 1970s, most states did not consider spousal rape a crime. It was believed that a wife could not be raped by a husband as their marriage formed a contract meaning the wife had to submit herself to her husband. Currently, rape of a spouse is a crime in all states as well as the District of Columbia.
A second important example of research informed by Radical feminist thought is Kelly’s (1988) seminal work on sexual assault. In Surviving Sexual Violence, Kelly interviewed 60 females to examine the range of sexual violence they experienced over their life course. The interviews provided groundbreaking information on how females defined their sexual violence, the strategies they used to resist this victimization, and finally how they coped with their experiences. Using this information, Kelly conceptualized sexual violence broadly and placed it on a continuum. She concluded that several changes were needed. First, females need to recognize their experiences as sexual violence. Second, sexually victimized females need to view themselves as survivors rather than victims. Further, Kelly argued that women need to work together to end sexual violence. Since the presentation of these early classics, a wide range of research on sexual violence, rooted in the Radical feminist school, has been conducted. Areas covered in this body of research include behaviors that disproportionately victimize females such as pornography, domestic violence, incest, and sexual harassment.
Marxist Feminist Theory
Marxist feminist theory posits that class is the primary basis of gender inequality and sexual violence and gender, or male-to-female relations, is a secondary basis for inequality and sexual violence disproportionately experienced by females. From this primary perspective, gender inequality is based on class differences stemming from private property ownership and the inheritance of property – social phenomenon enjoyed primarily by males. Because females as a sex class were historically excluded from working in the labor force (except as a reserve army of labor), owning property or inheriting private property, they were disadvantaged and placed in weak/powerless economic positions that increased their vulnerability to exploitation including sexual violence. Yet another way, Marxist feminist theory contends that class forms the base for female disadvantage is the master–slave relationship found between husbands and wives in traditional marriage. In a traditional marital relationship, a wife serves as unpaid and exploited laborer to the benefit of her husband.
Marxist feminist theory recognizes that violence against women in not equally prevalent in all societies and that high rates of rape and sexual violence are found among modern capitalist societies. This results directly from the history and culture found in exploitative class relations that characterize a capitalist society. A classic and cornerstone treatment of sexual violence rooted in the Marxist feminist tradition is found in Schwendinger and Schwendinger’s (1983) Rape and Inequality. Their research indicates that rape is not present in all societies, but rather that it varies based on gender equality. Based on an historical, cross-cultural, and anthropological analysis, the authors find that rape rates are highest in capitalist societies precisely because of gender inequality. Specifically, the inequality bred by a capitalist society enhances the conditions for female subordination and sexual violence. In contrast, they find that in noncapitalist societies, rape is rare, and egalitarianism between males and females high.
To end this class inequality which disadvantages females and enhances the conditions for sexual violence, the Marxist feminist perspective stresses the need to transform the capitalist societies to noncapitalist societies. The elimination of a class-based society will remove the power and privilege enjoyed solely by males (i.e., wealthy white males) and benefit females who will be freed from economic dependency on males. In a society free from gender and class stratification, females would be able to participate equally in the public and private sphere activities including paid labor, housework and child rearing. And finally, this change argues for the abolition of traditional marriage which views females as the private sexual property of males. These changes designed to end class stratification will in turn end or greatly reduce sexual violence.
Feminist Theoretical Offerings On Sexual Violence
The previous section offers an overview of two major perspectives of feminist theory and how they address sexual violence. In reality, the parsing of feminist theories is not so neat and theoretical contributions in the literature are more often integrative. The next section presents several theoretical contributions by feminists valuable for our understanding of sexual violence.
A Feminist/Male Peer Support Model Of Separation And Divorce Sexual Assault
Until the presentation of this model, DeKeseredy and Schwartz (2009) noted that there were no theories specifically designed to address why males sexually assault female partners who end, or wish to end, their relationship. While much work has produced important information on risk factors of sexual violence, none has offered a unified model to address this particular form of sexual violence.
This model is grounded in the notion that divorce/separation sexual assault is an expression of the broader societal forces including societal patriarchy and male proprietariness. Societal patriarchy is defined in the model as “male domination at the societal level” (DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2009, p. 35), and it is composed of structure and ideology. Based on the work of Wilson and Daly (1992, p. 85), male proprietariness is defined as “the tendency [of men] to think of women as sexual and reproductive ‘property’ they can own and exchange.”
Exiting a relationship (whether physically or emotionally) is also a component of this model. Exiting a relationship cannot in and of itself be the cause of sexual violence, but it can and does contribute to the likelihood of sexual violence. Additional forces are necessary and this model indicates those forces are “patriarchal male peer support” and “threats to masculinity and patriarchal control.” Male peer support is defined as the “multidimensional attachments men form to male peers who themselves sexually assault women, provide resources that perpetuate and legitimate such assault, or both” (DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2009, p. 41). Extant research demonstrates that male peer support is a powerful determinant of sexual violence: A connection with an all-male group tends to support and justify the commission of sexual violence against females. Further, an allmale support group can bolster the idea that a female who exits her relationship damages a male’s masculinity. In an effort to restore threatened or damaged masculinity, males engage in sexual violence against their partners.
Messerschmidt’s Masculinities (1993) theory is greatly informed by feminist theoretical perspectives and is valuable in understanding sexual violence. Building on earlier theoretical work, Messerschmidt contends that masculinity is not an inherent or fixed characteristic of males, but one that must be continually accomplished in every social role. Further, how a particular male accomplishes masculinity is directly based on his position in society (employment, stable family life, race, class, etc.). Thus, males are not uniformly afforded the same opportunities to accomplish masculinity. A wealthy white male may have opportunities unavailable to a poor, black male. His theory also contends that not all males share the same conception of what being male means.
For males who do not have legitimate means of accomplishing masculinity because they are positioned in the powerless underclass, criminal behavior and sexual violence against females is one way to accomplish gender and masculinity. Thus, violence – including sexual violence – is a method for some males to demonstrate their masculinity.
Though males do not share a singular method to demonstrate masculinity, all males do act within the confines of “hegemonic masculinity.” Hegemonic masculinity emphasizes masculine practices toward control, independence, emotional restriction, self-reliance, active homophobia, aggressiveness, and the capacity for male perpetrated violence. Further, hegemonic masculinity socializes males into believing that they can accomplish masculinity by ridiculing, dominating, and subordinating all that is female. This includes sexual violence.
While a valuable approach in that it recognizes gender as a product of social action in everyday life, and that there exists a variety of masculinities (and femininities) shaped by structural positioning, it is not without criticism. Miller (2002, p. 437) argues that the perspective can be strengthened with careful attention to four issues: avoiding tautology; challenging gender dualism; accounting for stratification, hierarchy and power; and conceptualizing the complexities of agency and social practice.
Gendered Social Bond/Male Peer Support Theory Of University Woman Abuse: New Insights
This particular feminist approach to understanding sexual violence integrates Hirschi’s social bond theory (1969), feminist male peer support theory, masculinities, and other critical perspectives to present a theory of conformity used to explain sexual violence against university females. In this work, Godenzi, Schwartz & DeKeseredy (2001) invert Hirschi’s social bond theory by asserting that it is precisely the social bonds with conventional institutions and peers that encourage sexual violence against females in university settings. This approach, in combination with the male peer support theory, offers an explanation about why men who are associated with patriarchal peer groups commit sexual violence against females.
Important in this explanation is the role that attachment plays. The greater the emotional ties males have with other male peers in a hyper-masculine subculture, the greater the likelihood of sexual violence against females. A second critical element identified is commitment which suggests that males will conform to the patriarchal social order based on a strong loyalty. This can manifest itself by regular relations with females regardless of the circumstances involved. Through this activity, one can accomplish masculinity and demonstrate commitment to the patriarchal social order. Next the model addresses inverts Hirschi’s proposition about the relationship between involvement and offending. Specifically, the more time spent with patriarchal peers – in activities like drinking and watching pornography – the more likely it is that men will perpetrate sexual violence against females. And finally, Hirschi’s theory notes that those with a belief in the legitimacy of patriarchy and masculinity are most likely to follow it. In this case, following it can lead to sexual violence against females.
This integrative theory offers a rationale for why males engage in sexual violence against females. They are engaged in accomplishing masculinity and demonstrating attachment, commitment, loyalty, and involvement in a patriarchal system that both condones and encourages sexual violence. This integrative model offers several benefits to extant theories. First, it includes the role of gender making up for a flaw in social bond theory. Second, it includes the role of social group processes, also neglected in social bond theory. As noted by the authors, each perspective used makes up for weaknesses in the others.
Left Realist Gendered Subcultural Theory
Left realism is an example of critical criminology which has its roots in Marxist feminist theory. It however differs from traditional Marxist thought in that Left Realism addresses the Marxist shortcoming of being gender blind. In this particular perspective, DeKeseredy and Schwartz (2010) consider the role of economic policies, social exclusion, and sexual violence. This theoretical offering on sexual violence focuses on the criminogenic subcultural development and destructive economic policies that have characterized the last several decades, and continues today. Together, these two forces have increasingly made difficult male attempts to accomplish masculinity – at least in legitimate ways.
DeKeseredy and Schwartz argue that in the last several decades, employment opportunities have diminished greatly especially from the working class. This loss of employment opportunities for these males frustrates the accomplishment of masculinity as opportunities to be a breadwinner and demonstrates self-reliance is greatly diminished. A second result of this deindustrialization and loss of employment opportunities is an increase in male connection to peer groups that tout violent, macho, sexist, and patriarchal ideals. The growth of such peer groups is indicative of an increasing hegemonic masculine subculture. Thus, males without legitimate means of accomplishing masculinity come together with other similarly frustrated males to form subcultures. These subcultures then encourage and condone sexual violence against females, as it is one “legitimate” way to salvage their hegemonic masculinity.
The Influence Of Feminist Theory In The Context Of Sexual Violence
The influence of feminist theories in addressing sexual violence is widespread. Research informed by feminist theories is responsible for changes in the criminal justice system making it more responsive to the victimization of, and domination experienced by, females. Research based on feminist theories has resulted in important and rapid changes in policies and laws designed to address many forms of sexual violence. For example, it is responsible for the reformation of state rape laws including marital rape laws, and the adoption of and further inquiry into mandatory and pro-arrest intimate partner violence laws. Still, it is clear that much remains to be done given the problems that remain in the legal treatment of sexual violence.
Feminist approaches have also increased our understanding of the victim-offender overlap in sexual violence. Consider, for example, that research now routinely considers the influence of prior sexual and physical violence against women and how it influences future offending. Research routinely finds that many females, in escaping from victimization, turn to deviance and offending (e.g., running away) which in turns enhances victimization risk – especially sexual victimization risk. Research repeatedly indicates that adult and juvenile female offenders in the criminal justice system report higher rates of prior physical and sexual victimization than non-offenders. This series of behaviors – referred to as “criminalizing girls’ survival” illuminated by feminist perspectives – offers better understanding of the experiences of females, especially as it relates to sexual violence.
Contemporary research also routinely considers the role of sexual inequality, prior sexual victimization, sexism, and patriarchy in sex work by females. A growing body of research indicates that a substantially greater proportion of prostitutes experienced childhood sexual abuse compared to non-prostitutes. Further, attention has recently been given to juvenile sex workers who traditionally have been framed as criminal offenders. In contrast, these juveniles – many of whom are being exploited and dominated by males – are now being seen as sexual violence victims.
Controversies In The Literature
Despite theoretical and research advances, considerable controversy remains over some very basic questions about sexual violence. For example, how much sexual violence is there? How should sexual violence be defined? Should a victim who believes she was not raped be counted as being raped? Does the victim or the surveyor determine who was raped? These simple, yet controversial, questions are best exemplified by a series of studies published by Koss (1988), Gilbert (1993), and others.
Koss (1988) directed a study on college campuses widely referred to as the “Ms. Report” given it was funded by Ms. Magazine. The research was grounded in the belief that rape is an extreme behavior on a continuum of normal male behavior and utilized a broad definition of rape. To capture the concept of rape, ten questions were used in the survey. For instance, one question asked respondents if they were physically restrained and forced to have sexual intercourse. Another question queried respondents about threats and/or forced sexual intercourse that occurred after they had been given drugs or alcohol by a male.
After interviewing more than 3,000 randomly selected college women in the nation, it was concluded that 15.4 % of females had been raped and an additional 12.1 % experienced an attempted rape. From the same study, Koss (1988) concluded that 27 % of the 15.4 % who had been raped did not consider what happened to them as rape. From this work, the Ms. Report reported that “one in four” women had been raped.
This statistic was widely reported and accepted in the media, and it was used to direct policy although it was substantially higher than official statistics and estimates found in previous academic research focused on rape. This discrepancy brought attention from many, including Gilbert who reviewed Koss’ research and concluded that the numbers were exaggerated. For instance, he found that including females who answered “yes” to the question “have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” lacked rigor and exaggerated the problem. He contended that by including this question as a measure, Koss’ definition of rape included regretted sex. Further, Gilbert was troubled by the fact that the majority of women Koss et al., classified as rape survivors did not believe they had been raped at all. Is it appropriate to reject the judgment of females who do not believe they were victimized? Should the law or a researcher’s beliefs override a female’s experience?
While some scholars and activists have “sided” with Koss’ methodology, others find her estimates exaggerated and the definitions she used overly broad. In general, research generates controversy, but the controversy generated by this issue has been extreme. Researchers and experts have been called traitors, shunned from universities, and in the case of Gilbert, threatened with calls to “Kill Neil Gilbert,” and for him to “cut it out, or cut it off.” In one instance, the director of the California Women’s Law Center stated that they wished that Gilbert would himself be raped.
As is true with any theoretical tradition, many open questions characterize feminist theory especially as it relates to sexual violence. The purpose of this section is to outline some of these open questions.
One open question focuses on the value of feminist theory for understanding criminological phenomenon outside of sexual violence. The connection between feminist theory and sexual violence has been present since at least the 1960s. However, the use of feminist theory continues to remain predominantly in the area of sexual violence. Calls for its widespread use in criminology have been made since at least 1988 when Daly and Chesney-Lind noted that criminology in general – with the exception of feminist treatments of rape and intimate violence – has remained untouched by feminist theory. Why does feminist theory continue to be found primarily in the domain of sexual violence? If feminist theory is a powerful explanation of violence, why is it not more prevalent in understanding other types of violence such as stranger robbery or homicide?
A second set of questions pertain to the preeminent role given patriarchy in some variations of feminist theory. First, does the emphasis on patriarchy mask the important influence of other phenomena? Second, how can one recognize and measure greater and lesser degrees of patriarchy? Third, how can patriarchy explain sexual violence among same-sex partners? Can feminist theory focused on patriarchy explain same-sex and heterosexual relationship violence equally? And finally, how does patriarchy help explain female perpetrated violence against males?
Third, what is the most effective way to treat offenders? If as feminist theories indicate problems are systemic (e.g., patriarchy) what approach is best for addressing offenders? If the problem is structural, do individual-level treatments help? Can restorative justice be a safe and effective way of dealing with sexual violence? Do the potential benefits of such an approach exist only in theory? How does the role of an apology – a component of restorative justice – work within the context of intimate partner violence when an apology is considered a form of coercion in violent relationships? Some work offers some insight into these questions though additional research is warranted. Research by Daly and Curtis-Fawley (2006) concluded that a majority of victims in their study benefitted from a restorative justice proceeding instead of a court proceeding. While this approach is characterized by some problems (e.g., victim safety, manipulation of the process by offenders, pressure on victims, etc.), victims benefitted in that they felt heard, participated in a communicative and flexible environment in which the offender took responsibility for the offense.
And finally, could the more equal standing and greater opportunities available to females today, compared to decades gone by, be a basis for greater, not lesser, sexual violence? In the past, when it was more widely accepted that females were the domain and property of males, sexual violence was not needed to maintain the dominance over females. Today however, less subordination may give rise to some to demonstrate dominance over women via sexual violence. How do feminist theories address this possibility? Have changes in policy actually minimized what would have been a great increase in sexual violence? In other words, had policy changes offering greater opportunities to females never been enacted, would sexual violence rates be substantially greater?
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