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Book Reviews- Summer 2014

Nichols, A. J. (2014). Feminist Advocacy: Gendered Organizations in Community-Based Responses to Domestic Violence. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Reviewed by Kelly Snider, Washington University in St. Louis, Brown School of Social Work.

Andrea J. Nichols has been teaching as an associate professor of sociology at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park since 2003. Nichols teaches courses on sociology, criminology, social justice, gender, and family. With research specializations in victim advocacy, intimate partner violence, community based responses, sex work, sex trafficking, and public policy, Nichols has published a number of articles on the interplay of these topics.

In the book, Feminist Advocacy: Gendered Organizations in Community-Based Responses to Domestic Violence, Nichols introduces and evaluates the implications of victim advocacy that developed out of the feminist and battered women’s movements. Specifically, Nichols explores the role of feminist identity in providing survivor-defined practices, intersectional practices, and social-change activism services to survivors of domestic violence. Through the lens of gendered organizations theory, Nichols analyzes qualitative interviews with advocates in rural and urban Midwest settings to evaluate the role of feminist advocacy in agencies that work with survivors of domestic violence. These interviews represent advocacy in the justice system, child protective services, and shelters.

In Chapter 1, Nichols sets the stage for this analysis by reviewing the development of survivor-defined practice, intersectionality, and social-change activism during the battered women’s and feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s. As a result of the professionalization of the field and its transition to community-based responses, Nichols observes the challenges of bureaucratization and collaboration to preserving the hallmarks of feminist advocacy. Nichols examines feminist advocacy practices, which have been found to improve outcomes for abused women and notes the potential importance in upholding these practices.

Chapter 2 addresses the relationship between practitioner identity and feminism-based practices. Nichols begins by analyzing the difference between service providers who identify as feminists and those who do not, finding that maintaining a feminist identity increases practices of social-change activism and intersectional perspectives. Yet, Nichols found all groups engaged in survivor-defined practices, largely due to coalition-training and personal and professional experience.

In Chapter 3, Nichols explores the role of feminist advocacy in the justice system by analyzing advocacy practices surrounding protective orders, pro-arrest, dual arrest, and no-drop prosecution. In assessing the success of these practices, Nichols highlights the tension between serving the interests of individual survivors and the overall goal of social change. Specifically, she acknowledges that, though policies such as pro-arrest and no-drop prosecution are not survivor-defined and may be patriarchal, they function to further the movement by creating intolerance of women’s victimization and generating social change.

Chapter 4 addresses the role of feminist advocacy in child protective services (CPS). Nichols identifies that abusers are able to manipulate the CPS system to hold power over their victims through threats of lost custody, failure to protect policies, and systemic re-victimization. Nichols suggests that it is the role of advocates to facilitate change by communicating the dynamics of abuse and the value of survivor-defined advocacy to CPS service providers. Though all advocates interviewed subscribed to survivor-defined practices, only those who identified as feminist emphasized the necessity of an intersectional perspective and social-change activism. Therefore, Nichols finds that it is the unique ability of feminist advocates, or at least their ideologies, to emphasize and support these changes and practices.

In Chapter 5, Nichols analyzes modes of feminist advocacy in shelter settings. This chapter expands the study of gendered organizations theory by examining the policies and practices of these traditionally feminist organizations. Taking a closer look at rules about adolescent boys, confidentiality, curfew, mandatory classes, and substance use in these settings, Nichols identifies that shelters may simultaneously uphold feminist, neutral/biased, and patriarchal policies and practices. She observes that patriarchal advocacy, though intended to encourage safety, may systemically re-victimize women.

In the final chapter, Nichols addresses implications for theory, policy, and practice. This study of feminist identities, ideologies, and practices among domestic violence advocates yields theoretical implications on regional and masculine/feminine organizational contexts as well as on the study of resistance. Nichols finds that advocates in rural areas are less likely to identify as feminist, which may impact gendered processes. This book also provides a unique comparison between organizations that are dominantly masculine and dominantly feminine, analyzing the role of co-optation between these organizations in collaborative settings. Further, Nichols highlights the significance of applying feminist practices and perspectives to resist gendered practices in the above mentioned settings. Chapter 6 also reviews policy implications. Nichols notes that gendered practices may lead to re-victimization and that it is the role of advocates to mitigate this re-victimization through feminist advocacy comprised of survivor-defined practices, intersectional practices, and social-change activism. Specifically, Nichols identifies that the gendered processes of shelter policies surrounding admittance of teenage boys, confidentiality, and substance use lead to re-victimization and recommends that these policies be amended to remove barriers to receiving services. Finally, Chapter 6 identifies implications for advocacy practices. Here, Nichols emphasizes the importance of feminist advocacy practices such as survivor-defined, intersectional, and social-change approaches. Survivor-defined practices are associated with better outcomes for abused women, intersectional practices ensure the effective application of survivor-defined practices, and social-change activism facilitates broader, macro-level change and advocacy for clients. The feminist perspective is unique in its combined application of these three perspectives and is therefore vital to effective advocacy for survivors of domestic violence.

Nichols concludes by underscoring the book’s purpose as an opportunity to honor the knowledge of domestic violence advocates and to learn from their feminist advocacy practices in order to improve services to survivors. This book is appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate courses in Gender Studies, Sociology, Social Work, Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Public Health.