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Document Type

Feature Article

Publication Date

Spring 5-1-2012

Publication Title

Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD 7(2)


Peer Editor: Jaime Zucker; Faculty Mentor: Jami Ake

This case study examines the impact of sex and gender on legal proceed- ings and outcomes at the St. Louis County Domestic Violence Court. The research answers two questions. First, is a victim/survivor’s experience in obtaining an order of protection impacted by the sex and/or gender of the presiding judge through court proceedings, rationales, or rulings? Second, do the sex and/or gender of the petitioner and/or respondent affect judicial decision-making and case outcomes? Within domestic violence literature, few studies consider the role of judges in DV courts or use a multi-method approach. Relying on both quantitative and qualitative methodology, I employed statistical analysis, participant observation, and in-depth interviews to determine when the sex and gender of the judge, petitioner, and/or respondent is salient. Considering findings from each respective research method independently and collectively, I concluded that the sex of the judge does not affect the granting of orders of protection. However, the gender of the judge and litigants does bear some weight on judicial decision-making. Therefore, these findings reveal a distinction between the outcome of a case and the process by which judges arrive at this decision, highlighting the need for greater judicial training and consisten- cy across the bench. While judges may never be truly neutral arbiters, understanding the biases, perceptions, knowledge, and experiences they bring to the bench will not only provide insight into the judicial decision- making process at the Domestic Violence Court, but also help promote change, leading to a more equitable system for all parties involved.

*This case study examines sex and gender as two distinct analytic categories. The term ‘sex’ refers to the biological, while ‘gender’ reflects the social constructions of masculinity and femininity.

From the Washington University Undergraduate Research Digest: WUURD, Volume 7, Issue 2, Spring 2012. Published by the Office of Undergraduate Research, Joy Zalis Kiefer Director of Undergraduate Research and Assistant Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Kristin Sobotka, Editor.


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