NO MORE: Domestic Violence Awareness event in Hawaii. Photo by University of Hawaii, Flickr CC

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed a new law that decriminalizes domestic violence. Perpetrators of domestic violence against children and spouses will only face charges if injuries require a hospital visit, and the punishment will take the form of fines rather than jail time. While this is certainly troubling, policies and laws concerning domestic violence in the United States are far from perfect — they are often limited in how much they change the way perpetrators think of domestic violence, even if they sometimes keep abusers from repeating violent behavior.

Often, particularly in the context of welfare policy, a mismatch tends to exist between low-income abused women’s actual needs and the assumptions about those needs that inform policies on domestic violence. While policies and services can help victims to exit abusive relationships and offer protection and material support, they can also come with constraints that make leaving abusers difficult, such as requirements for teen parents to live with a parent, to complete a GED or job training programs, and fear of deportation for immigrants. “One-size fits all” policy approaches, such as those common in state welfare policies, make it hard for victims to make decisions about what works best for their individual situations because their individual experiences get trumped by blanket procedures.
When it comes to arresting and prosecuting perpetrators, abusers often think of their punishments as evidence of an unfair legal system rather than consequences for their own actions. And while abusers who are arrested and serve jail time are less likely to commit subsequent acts of domestic violence than those who are arrested but not charged with abuse, the affect of arrest on subsequent domestic violence is often contingent on whether or not someone has something to lose — research finds that being arrested deters people with jobs from subsequent domestic violence, but does not deter those without a “stake in conformity.”