U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

When Advocacy for Domestic Violence Victims Backfires: Types and Sources of Victim Disempowerment

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 10 Issue: 11 Dated: November 2004 Pages: 1245-1266
M. Joan McDermott; James Garfofalo
Claire M. Renzetti
Date Published
November 2004
This article examines the types and sources of victim disempowerment from interventions designed to help and empower victims, specifically in relation to domestic violence.
Interventions are defined as those actions taken by an outside agent that are intended to change the life situation of an individual in some way. Interventions are not typically viewed as bad. However, because interventions are meant to change an individual’s life situation, it is critical to examine these interventions from the perspectives of the subjects of the interventions. This article argues that although victim advocacy in domestic violence has brought significant improvement in victim services, there are times in which advocacy or intervention backfires. The central thesis is that the emphasis on offender accountability and victim protection occasionally backfires with the unintended consequence that victims of domestic violence are disempowered by the intervention designed to assist them in recovery, as well as protect them. The article first explores the concepts of advocacy and empowerment. It then describes the types and sources of victim disempowerment revealed in research. Lastly, it offers some thoughts on related macro issues, such as the over-reliance on punishment as a response to social problems, the professionalization of victim advocacy, the dramatization of domestic violence, and the problematic notion of victim accountability. Notes, references