Policy Responses to Domestic Violence, the Criminalisation Thesis and ‘Learning from History’

Lucy Williams, Sandra Walklate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The ‘criminalisation thesis’ has proved a contentious but defining feature of modern social and legal responses to domestic violence since the 1970s. However, criminalisation has not always been the focus of legal attempts to tackle violence or offer recourse to victims. This article uses historical examples to explore the potential of legislative intervention outside of criminal law in tackling violence against women. While the Victorians introduced the first criminal legislation specifically developed to tackle domestic violence, the intervention remained singular. Those addressing violence against women soon shifted their focus towards achieving broader social and cultural change via civil law. Legislators sought to reduce the vulnerability of women to exploitation and violence at the hands of their husbands through reforms to child custody, divorce, and property law. The authors find there are relevant lessons to be learned from addressing domestic violence in this way, which might usefully inform current policy direction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-316
Number of pages12
JournalHoward Journal of Crime and Justice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • criminalisation
  • domestic violence
  • history
  • women's rights

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