Document Type



Penn State Law Review




Scholars and battered women's advocates now recognize that many facets of the legal response to intimate-partner abuse stereotype victims and harm abuse survivors who do not fit commonly accepted paradigms. However, it is less often acknowledged that the feminist analysis of domestic violence also tends to stereotype offenders and that state action, including court-mandated batterer intervention, is premised on these offender stereotypes. The feminist approach can be faulted for minimizing or denying the role of substance abuse, mental illness, childhood trauma, race, culture, and poverty in intimate-partner abuse. Moreover, those arrested for domestic violence crimes now include heterosexual women, lesbians, and gay men; abuse is as common in same-sex relationships as in their heterosexual counterparts. Failure to take such factors into account perpetuates a one-dimensional image of the batterer as a controlling, heterosexual, male villain--a stereotype that impedes efforts to coordinate effective responses to domestic violence and entrenches gendered hierarchies that affect men, as well as women.

This Article begins by placing the feminist paradigm of the batterer in historical context. Although feminists transformed the dialogue about domestic violence by locating- it in patriarchy and gender inequality, the offender stereotype that the Battered Women's Movement used to spur a vigorous state response and that still drives domestic violence policy shares some limitations with earlier paradigms of the wife beater--the hot-headed sinner in Puritan New England or the drunken brute of Temperance discourse. Like these earlier stereotypes, the image of the coercive, controlling male batterer is too one-dimensional and too closely tied to other sociopolitical agendas to yield a practical approach to prevent domestic violence and change the behavior of its perpetrators.

Drawing on historical, sociological, and psychological materials, as well as insights from masculinities studies, this Article suggests limits to our understanding of those who commit intimate-partner abuse and to the laws and policies-especially court-mandated batterer intervention programs ("BIPs")-currently in place. It presents an original analysis of 46 sets of state and local standards for BIPs to show that, although these standards are starting to be more inclusive, they still tend to impose a "one-size-fits-all" formula designed for heterosexual male offenders. The "one-size-fits-all" approach ignores crucial differences-not only in intimate-partner violence committed by women, as opposed to men, and homosexuals, as opposed to heterosexuals-but also between heterosexual male offenders and the types of abuse they inflict. Recognizing these differences would facilitate the effective tailoring of BIPs to achieve long-term behavioral change in a variety of participants. The Article concludes by offering preliminary suggestions for transforming pro-feminist interventions to encourage accountability and rehabilitation and to reduce recidivism without stereotyping domestic violence offenders.


The research data supporting this article are available at Carolyn B. Ramsey, The Stereotyped Offender: Domestic Violence and the Failure of Intervention [Batterer Intervention Program (BIP) standards data, as of 2015], 120 Penn. St. L. Rev. 337 app. B-T (2015),