Cover image for Battered women in the courtroom : the power of judicial responses
Battered women in the courtroom : the power of judicial responses
Ptacek, James.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston, Mass. : Northeastern University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 240 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.

Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
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KF9322 .P78 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Recent laws have given women much-needed rights in seeking protection from abusive men, but judges still hold the authority to issue restraining orders or send batterers to jail. While most studies on state intervention for victims have focused on the role of police, Battered Women in the Courtroom looks at the lives of abused women.

This investigation of women, violence, and the courts centers on encounters between women and judges in restraining order hearings in Massachusetts, one of the first states to offer new civil and criminal options to victims of abusive behavior. It also examines the feminist political movements that gave rise to current state laws and considers the effects of men's violence on women's daily lives.

James Ptacek questions whether judges still respond to abused women with indifference or impatience, as they have in the past, or whether they now treat battering as a serious crime. He looks at the types of violence that women report to the courts, analyzes how judges exercise their authority in restraining order hearings, examines how they perceive their role in negotiations with women, and studies their impact on women's efforts to escape the social entrapment of violence. The author also considers class and racial dimensions of the issue by drawing on cases from both white and African American communities.

Ptacek exposes many of the myths and dilemmas about the abuse of women while addressing the political, institutional, and socio-psychological aspects of women's experiences with the courts. He offers crucial insights into the power of judges to encourage or discourage women from claiming their rights under the law.

Author Notes

James Ptacek is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Suffolk University, where he is also on the faculty of the master's program in criminal justice. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Ptacek studies domestic violence cases in two Massachusetts district courts during 1992-94 to determine how courts treat battered women and "to provide a sense of the process, context, and meaning of restraining order hearings, both to abused women and to judges." The sociopolitical contexts of domestic violence hearings are sensitively investigated using a comprehensive approach that includes sample observations of court sessions, interviews with judges and with women who sought court protection, and a sample of written records. The author convincingly argues that race and economic class are important considerations in understanding the impact of domestic violence on women who are racial minorities, poor, or even affluent. The potentially vital role of mass media and interest groups in determining the significance of domestic violence is considered. Most interesting is the characterization of the judges' demeanor toward the litigants. Judges are classified as "good-natured" if they provided a supportive environment for women seeking the court's protection. Judges adopting the "bureaucratic demeanor" are characterized as " predominately neutral, unexpressive, passive, and task-oriented." "Firm" or "formal demeanor" judges are active, showing a "moral authority" and strictness that lacks empathy and denies support to women seeking assistance. A fascinating examination of the direct parties in domestic violence cases as well as the social and political forces that interact with and affect these processes. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and practitioners. M. Hendrickson; Wilson College