Masters Thesis

The politics of domestic violence and sexual assault : an intersectional feminist audit of institutions and discourses in Humboldt County, California

Anti-violence movements in the United States have demanded that the state, institutions, and communities take steps to respond seriously to domestic violence and sexual assault. In the past 35 years, state and federal laws have been passed mandating criminal justice departments, medical practitioners, and social service agencies to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault in particular ways. These mandates have been accompanied by the availability of state and philanthropic funding for training, policy development, and programming for legally mandated organizations and agencies that voluntarily provide services to domestic violence and sexual assault (DVSA) victims and survivors. Legally mandated responses and the availability of state and philanthropic funding have changed anti-violence movements, and the changes have been a cause for concern in radical feminist narratives. In addition, intersectional feminist narratives have been critical of mainstream anti-violence movements for failing to account for the ways that violence that occurs in the home or “private” spaces intersects with violence at the community, institutional, national and transnational levels that are also damaging to women’s health and well-being. I examine how anti-violence efforts in a rural county in northern California compare to critical narratives about anti-violence movements. Using an ethnographic approach, I interviewed professionals in the DVSA field, participated in public events and coordinating meetings, and analyzed documents/texts produced by this regional movement. By examining the institutions in Humboldt County that respond to domestic violence and sexual assault and by exploring the local discursive terrain, I illuminate the barriers to developing a broad anti-violence movement with an intersectional feminist analysis that is capable of shifting structural power. I also locate many instances when DVSA workers in this region resist being defined by any one DVSA narrative. This research examines how institutionalization and state funding provide some opportunities for social change, but ultimately constrain individuals and organizations from building and sustaining an anti-violence movement that can expose and eradicate the multiple forms of violence that target socially and economically marginalized people. I argue that state actors and institutions have a stake in focusing resources on interpersonal violence and away from macro-level systems of inequality, oppression and exploitation. This research contributes to a small but powerful body of literature that urges the anti-violence movement to be equally critical of conventionally defined domestic and sexualized violence and state and institutional forms of violence.