What is Wrong with Spousal Abuse, and Why Its Criminalization (As Such) Might Not Be Right

This paper traces recent developments in the criminalization of spousal violence in the UK and in Israel, and addresses a new controversy regarding the meaning and the wrongfulness of such violence. The paper shows how intimate-partner violence has, in recent years, come to be acknowledged as a unique type of crime – a form of abuse, which goes beyond physical violence to include psychological and economic abuse. While contemporary accounts conceptualize, and consequently justify, offenses of spousal abuse relying on an abuse-of-trust theory, or on a “liberty crime” framework, this paper draws on the sociology and history of spousal relationships as patriarchal authority relations, to critically assess the new style of criminalizing spousal abuse. I argue that through acknowledging the shadows (or ghosts) of historical patriarchal authority, the new abuse offenses might risk its lingering presence in spousal relationships, rather than its disappearance.