Jeannie Suk


On her book At Home in the Law: How the Domestic Violence Revolution is Transforming Privacy

Cover Interview of December 03, 2009

In a nutshell

At Home in the Law argues that the past 40 years have witnessed important transformations in the legal idea of what the home is.  For centuries the familiar adage, a man’s home is his castle, was central to our legal system’s view of the relation between the state and the home.  One much-noticed effect was that the law often did not find it appropriate to interfere with what went on inside the home.  This respect for home privacy dovetailed with the traditional legal doctrine of marital privacy, wherein the state’s policy was to leave alone matters between husband and wife. 

The feminist movement opened our eyes to the ways that respecting home privacy had the effect of allowing women to be violently harmed by their husbands.  My book argues that, today, the concept of home that most powerfully shapes the law is that of the home as a place of potential violence where men subordinate women.  Forget home sweet home or home is where the heart is.  Home is where the crime is. 

This big shift in the common sense of our legal system is felt not only in the enforcement of criminal domestic violence laws; it goes deeply to basic concepts of privacy that shape the legal relation between the state and the home.  It informs a vast range of still-developing law and policy that actually increase state regulation of intimate life.  The effect is to redistribute actual and symbolic power among citizens and the state. 

It is time to take stock of the legal reforms we have had under the aegis of protecting women from violence, and evaluate whether the extent and kind of state regulation of the home we now have, and will likely continue to see more of, are indeed what we desired, in light of the valuable privacy and autonomy that are affected.