The Power to Define That We Have Been Hurt
Violence against women has a high prevalence in most societies and an especially low rate of convictions. In a feminist analysis the fact that women's narratives in court are heavily contested and very often not believed is put in a historical perspective, which shows that doubting women's credibility has been a century long strategy for disempowering women. To counter this, feminist groups have tried to give women definatory power (definitionsmacht) over what has happened to them, so instead of an authority or penal code she should be the one to say if what has happened to her has been an assault. In Germany's and Austria's leftist activist communities there are groups that advocate for victims of sexual violence and facilitate community processes according to the concept of definitionsmacht. These processes rely on a collective context in which alternative modes of coordination and communication are possible.
We will compare processes that are based on the concept of definitionsmacht with legal trials along a conceptual grid that we developed by engaging with material on definitionsmacht and criminal trials as well as Laurent Thévenot's social theory. This theory is based on an action theory , which is linked to certain possibilities of creating, sustaining and governing commonality between people. By connecting our empirical insights to Thévenot's framework, we want to situate the problem of dealing with sexual violence in the context of social coordination and the problems of 'living together'. Our analysis will rest on interviews with members of groups whose work is based on definitionsmacht, material produced by those groups as well as scholarly work on the treatment of sexual violence in legal trials.