Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Elizabeth Zanoni

Committee Member

Brett Bebber

Committee Member

John Weber


This thesis analyzes congressional hearings, reports to Congress, government statistics, acts of Congress, Supreme Court rulings, and newspaper articles to examine how, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, battered women's advocates altered their rhetoric when dealing with local, state, and federal governments in order to change policies, laws, and to obtain funding for domestic abuse shelters. In the 1970s, battered women's advocates used anti-patriarchal language to help survivors of sexual assault and of domestic violence understand the pervasive and systemic nature of violence against women to liberate survivors from the belief that the violence was their fault. In the 1980s, however, battered women's advocates altered their language from an anti-patriarchy message to an equal protection under the law message as a strategy to gain the cooperation of local police departments. When testifying before Congress to obtain funding for shelters, advocates adjusted their language to emphasize the vital and life saving social services that shelters provided as a tactic to gain Congressional support. By reframing their message, advocates mobilized and motivated members of Congress to pass the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act of 1984, the Indian Child Protection And Family Violence Prevention Act of 1990, and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. All three of these acts provided shelters with much needed funds. The Violence Against Women Act even included the right for women to sue men who attacked them in federal court.

Battered women’s advocates and their supporters in Congress achieved these legislative successes despite repeated attempts by the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations to prevent battered women's advocates from obtaining funds for the shelters as part of a national-wide, systemic campaign against feminists. Battered women's advocates' alteration of their original message made violence against women socially unacceptable and made federal funding for shelters possible.


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