VAW Social Change Resource Center

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Theories of Violence Against Women

      Theory is a term often used in universities, but community activists may not pay much attention to it.  Successful social change activists have a clear explanation of violence against women that frames their work.

Theoretical explanations for battering are not mere exercises; by pinpointing the conditions that create

violence against women, they suggest the direction

in which a movement should proceed to stop it.

Schechter, 1982, p. 209


      Is violence against women about conflict, power, or mental illness?  Is violence part of how families work or is it something that men do to women?  How we explain violence against women creates a vision of what we need to do to stop it.  That vision determines priorities for action.  If you think that addiction causes violence, you may offer 12-step programs.  If you think battering results from family conflict, you may offer communication skills in couples counseling.      

      A  feminist theory of violence against women

  ●  explains violence as (at least) physical, sexual, and

             emotional abuse;

    accurately represents women’s everyday experience; and

    is rooted in an analysis of power and gender.


We offer resources for those interested in grounding their work in feminist theory.



We share ideas for practice that reflect a vision of non-violence!


Schechter, S. (1982).  Women and male violence: The visions and struggles

of the battered women’s movement.  Boston: South End Press.


Communities of Color


             Colors of Violence

Brief introduction to Andrea Smith’s book that calls for challenging state violence if we are to

end violence against women of color.  2000


Domestic Violence at the Crossroads

Natalie Sokoloff uses intersectional analysis to understand structural systems of social inequality

and cultural resources available to poor women and women of color who are battered.  2005

conference paper.


             Including Race in Feminist Theory

Vijay Agnew questions structures of power and relations of domination within feminism. 

Excerpt from Resisting Discrimination, 1996.


Social Change


Social Movements


             Family Violence and the Women's Movement

Gillian Walker documents how the experience of ‘woman battering’ became ‘family violence’. 

Describes absorption of a feminist conceptualization of power into the practices of the state. 

Academic work, abstract, 1990.


VAW Feminist (Movement)


             Social Science Perspectives on Wife Abuse: Current debates and future directions

Demi Kurtz lays out the differences between 'Violence Against Women' and 'Family Violence". 

Important distinctions for activists.  Abstract for article, 1989


The Duluth Power and Control Model

Overview of power and control wheel, control log, definitions, impact on women, and visions

of social change from study of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth. 

Lucille Pope and Kathleen Ferraro, 2006.


Theoretic Assumptions of the Duluth Power and Control Model

Lucille Pope and Kathleen Ferraro discuss hierarchy, oppression, dichotomous thought, male

privilege, power, and cultural factors used in Duluth explanations of violence against women. 2006

In Practice

Communities of Color


             Domestic Violence Against Asian & Pacific Islander Women

Very thorough analysis of violence against women in the Asian, Pacific Island community. 

Includes community outreach, statistics, & identities/ethnicities. Firoza Dabby for APIA, 2007.


             Universal Declaration of Human Rights

                                United Nations statement recognizing the rights and dignity of all people. 1998


Social Change/Social Movements


             Bridging the Work of Social Change and Systems Reform

Lucille Pope and Kathleen Ferraro discuss proactive feminist communities and how Duluth

has developed political strategies that bridge social change with systems reform work.  2006


             MUA Theory of Change

Excellent strategic planning process done by Mujeres Unidas Y Activas.  Check out theory of

change on pages 12 and 13!


VAW Feminist (Movement)


             Without Bureaucracy, Beyond Inclusion: Re-centering Feminism

Andrea Smith defines a model of radical women of color organizing to eliminate oppression

“based on heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism”.   2006


             When the Diagnosis is “Family Violence”

Kathleen Carlin speaks to the importance of language and connection to women's lives for the

battered women's movement.  For Men Stopping Violence, 2001.

Training & Organizing Resources    

             Three Primary Theories of Domestic Violence

1 page training handout comparing three major theories of domestic violence: Power and Control,

Cycle of Violence, and Family Systems.  Lucille Pope, 2003



Program Administration                  

Staff/Member Relationships


Working with women


             Considerations When Adapting the Power and Control Wheel

For facilitators working with groups as they adapt the Wheel to describe their own experience. 

Outlines a process and discussion items.  Lucille Pope and Kathleen Ferraro, 2006


             Critique of the "Battered Women's Syndrome Model

Mary Ann Dutton challenges and then offers alternative to Battered Women's Syndrome. 

VAWnet document, 1996.

Social Change Resource Center © 2007,  Afterwords, Inc.



Introduction to Social Change

Reflections on Social Change

  Cultural Supports

  Oppression & Privilege

  Questions of Research


Strategies for Action

  Activist Writings



Domestic Violence


  Power & Control Tools