"Sanctions and Sanctuary" Revisited: Domestic Violence and Cultural Models of Intervention

Date of Completion

January 2010


Anthropology, Cultural|Women's Studies|Sociology, Criminology and Penology




This dissertation investigates cultural variation in how friends and neighbors respond to domestic violence. While the social and health costs of domestic violence have been well established, most research focuses on the qualities of either the victim or the perpetrator, taking all other social interactions for granted. And while domestic violence research has revealed much about the characteristics of victims and perpetrators as well as variation by age, class, gender, and ethnicity, interventions based on these findings have not reduced rates of violence. This ineffectiveness may reflect a failure to incorporate into intervention policy and programs important conditions that frame domestic violence. This project investigates how friends and neighbors of victims and abusers can impact violence in their communities by: (1) identifying cultural models for intervention; (2) exploring how willingness to act varies by situational factors and experience with domestic violence; and (3) assessing the influence of abuse type, relationship with person involved, and notions of blame and responsibility on action and inaction. This mixed-method ethnography uses open-ended vignette interviews and a structured internet survey with samples stratified by gender and exposure to violence. Informants for semi-structured vignette interviews included Connecticut residents in three communities representing various social and economic groups as well as rural and urban contrasts. Internet surveys were distributed to University of Connecticut students, faculty, and staff. Findings identify the existence of competing cultural models for intervention that differ primarily on ideas of protection and responsibility. ^