The legal response to men's violence against women (ex-)partners : narrative representation of women's experiences and discourse analysis of lawyer's talk : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Turitea Campus, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Men's violence towards women within the context of intimate relationships is a complex and serious social problem. Particularly problematic are its prevalence and its extensive deleterious effects on women and children's health and psychological wellbeing. The present research was interested in New Zealand's legal response to domestic violence. More specifically, it explored how well the legal system serves the needs of women who experience abuse from their male partners and ex-partners, and how lawyers make sense of partner violence and the legal response to it. Feminist poststructuralism was a useful theoretical stance for the research. Feminist poststructuralism argues that there are multiple truths and realities, some that are hegemonically authorised as truth, and others that are marginalised and rejected. This stance also theorises that our sense of self, and understandings of phenomena like domestic violence and the legal response to it, are socially constructed by culturally and historically specific discourses. To create space for women to voice their experiences of the legal response to domestic violence, I interviewed ten women, and represented their individual accounts using narrative methodology. Collectively, the women's narratives suggest that the legal system does not consistently serve the needs of women seeking protection from partner violence; many women were dissatisfied. Women did not always feel that judges, lawyers, and other legal personnel treated their experiences of violence and psychological abuse seriously or empathetically. Some women also encountered resistance when they attempted to protect their children through supervised access. In the second phase of the research, I interviewed eighteen lawyers working in the area of domestic violence, and analysed their transcripts using discursive methodology. Lawyers utilised many discourses to make sense of and constitute domestic violence and the legal response to it. Some discourses were consistent with holding perpetrators accountable for their violence, and with protecting women and children. However, many discourses minimised and detracted attention away from men's violence towards women, marginalised women's experiences of abuse and violence, and undermined women and children's protection and safety. In this way, the legal system maintains and perpetuates gender bias and oppression against women.