The Impact of Adjacent Laws on Implementing Violence against Women Laws: Legal Violence in the Lives of Costa Rican Women

Erin Adamson, Cecilia Menjívar, Shannon Drysdale Walsh

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4 Scopus citations


Most scholarship addressing implementation gaps of violence against women (VAW) laws focuses on countries with high levels of violence in the lives of women-accompanied by weak policing and judicial responses. These studies tend to argue that the most egregious forms of political or social violence explain this gap. However, there has been little attention to countries with lower levels of gender-based violence and relatively responsive state institutions. We analyze the application of VAW laws in Costa Rica, with a focus on the impact of adjacent laws, or laws that are seemingly unrelated to VAW laws but are applied in tandem with and often in conflict with VAW laws. Based on a decade of fieldwork in Costa Rica, we argue that adjacent laws on land, labor, and immigration can be leveraged in ways that undermine the interpretation and implementation of VAW laws. These failures constitute legal violence: the normalized but cumulatively injurious effects of laws that can result in various forms of violence. While legal violence causes implementation gaps in almost every country, our case study reveals that the underlying sociolegal system upon which these laws rest contributes to a significant gap between VAW laws and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)432-459
Number of pages28
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* Authorship is listed in alphabetical order. Authors contributed equally to this article. † Acknowledgments: We are grateful for funding from the University of Kansas Foundation Distinguished Professorship to Menjívar (when she was on the faculty at the University of Kansas), which made possible Adamson’s work as research assistant on this project. We are also grateful for the helpful and generous comments from three anonymous reviewers and the editor of Law & Social Inquiry. All errors remaining are our own. Please direct correspondence to Erin Adamson, Sociology, University of Kansas, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd., Fraser Hall, Room 719, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-7540, USA. E-mail: Cecilia Menjívar, Sociology, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA. E-mail: Shannon Drysdale Walsh, Political Science, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota, USA. E-mail:

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