Telling tales: Legal stories about violence against women

One of the most striking features of the latter part of the last century was the widespread feminist activism in the USA, Canada, Australia, and many other countries directed against violence against women. Feminist law reform campaigns targeted rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and child sexual abuse. Yet despite the broad attention to these issues, there is a continuing absence of attention in legal discourses to women's stories about the violence in their lives. In particular, outside the area of the criminal law, it is rare to find courts discussing violence, yet not uncommon to discover the centrality of violence to a legal problem, whether it be in equity, or tort, or family law. One theoretical response to this concern, and to other feminist concerns about the stories told by women in law, has been the developing field of legal storytelling. This article discusses legal storytelling and suggests that while it is an important response, it is of itself an inadequate response. I argue that while it is essential to hear alternative legal stories, in particular, those of the powerless, this approach is itself constrained by the legal categories within which we understand legal problems. Since legal categories shape legal problems, and, in the case of violence against women, help to obscure that reality of many women's lives, it is essential to pay attention to the role of legal categories in perpetuating the law's indifference to, or its occasional tacit complicity in, violence against women.
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