What is Wrong with Intimate Partner Abuse and Why Its Criminalization might not be Right

Considering a contemporary debate between US and UK approaches, this article probes the appropriateness of criminalizing non-violent abuse in intimate partner relationships. Whereas US jurisdictions retain a traditional focus on physical injury, England and Wales enforce a novel prohibition on “controlling or coercive behavior”. While the US approach has been criticized as conservative, this article questions the progressiveness of the UK approach. It suggests, first, that in prohibiting “controlling behavior”, this approach presumes patriarchal control to be effective in the lives of intimate partners, notwithstanding its formal abolishment. Second, it suggests that such control is considered abusive because it manifests a supposedly oppressive use of authority. Drawing on these insights, this article concludes that the UK approach implicitly reaffirms patriarchy’s validity. Hence, this approach is less consistent than is its US counterpart with criminal law’s assumption of agency.