Dorchen Leidholdt

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Dorchen Leidholdt
EducationLaw degree
Alma materRandolph College (formerly known as Randolph-Macon Woman's College)
University of Virginia
New York University School of Law
Years activeMid-1970s to present
Known forFeminism, anti-pornography activism, anti-prostitution activism
WebsiteCoalition Against Trafficking in Women

Dorchen A. Leidholdt is an activist and leader in the feminist movement against violence against women. Since the mid-1970s, she has counseled and advocated for rape victims, organized against "the media's promotion of violence against women", served on the legal team for the plaintiff in a precedent-setting sexual harassment case, founded an international non-governmental organization fighting prostitution and trafficking in women and children, directed the nation's largest legal services program for victims of domestic violence, advocated for the enactment and implementation of laws that further the rights of abused women, and represented hundreds of women victimized by intimate partner violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, the threat of honor killing, female genital mutilation, forced and child marriage, and the internet bride trade.

Leidholdt has lectured internationally on issues of violence against women, and has published articles, book chapters, and two anthologies.


Leidholdt hold a masters degree from the University of Virginia, and a law degree from New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Snow scholar.[1]

Past career[edit]

From 1975 to 1977, Leidholdt counseled rape victims as a graduate student at the University of Virginia and, after moving to New York City in 1978, became an activist with the Women's Anti-Rape Coalition, the educational arm of New York Women Against Rape. From 1978 through 1980, she was a member of the New York City Chapter of Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW did not have "leaders"; nor did WAVAW advocate censorship like Dorchen did).

Leidholdt is known for her campaigns against pornography and for her suit against Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. In 1979, after Hustler Magazine published an issue whose cover showed a naked female body being fed through a meat grinder, she joined Susan Brownmiller, Dolores Alexander (Past President of the National Organization for Women), and other New York City women's rights leaders in founding the feminist organization, Women Against Pornography (WAP).

From 1979 through 1983, she served as a leader and spokesperson for WAP, during which time she joined Gloria Steinem and other feminist leaders in initiating a suit against Hustler and Larry Flynt, appeared on numerous television and radio programs, organized educational events, and spoke in Washington D.C. before the U.S. Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (a.k.a. The Meese Commission) at the commission's invitation.[2] There Leidholdt testified, "Pornography perpetuates the devaluation of women. It sexualizes bigotry, promotes rape and undermines women's self esteem."

Flynt published an attack on her in the magazine's "Asshole of the Month" column (July 1985).[3]

In 1987, at New York University School of Law, she was the lead organizer of the conference, "The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism", and in 1988, she was the lead organizer of the first global conference on trafficking in women and girls.

Leidholdt is an opponent of "sex-positive feminism". Her main argument is that prostitution is exploitative towards women and has historically benefited men, not women.

Current career[edit]

Leidholdt is the Director of the Center for Battered Women's Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City. Under Leidholdt's leadership since 1994, the Center has become the largest legal services program for domestic violence victims in the country. It has grown from two to twenty-four lawyers and eight support staff members, and has strengthened its advocacy efforts on behalf of under-served populations of women, especially those in New York City's immigrant communities.[4] The Center has spearheaded state litigation that set new legal precedent expanding the protections available to domestic violence victims petitioning for orders of protection and federal litigation preventing child protective agencies from charging battered mothers with "engaging in domestic violence".[5]

Leidholdt also serves as a Board Member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), which she helped found in 1988. She has represented the Coalition at numerous international meetings, including the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). On 6 December 1996, in a special session commemorating the abolition of slavery, Leidholdt and a survivor of sex trafficking together addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations.[1]

Leidholdt has taught Criminal Procedure at City University School of Law, and, since 1998, has taught Domestic Violence and the Law at Columbia University School of Law.[5]


In 1990, Leidholdt became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).[6] WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.

Awards and honors[edit]


In "From Sex Trafficking to FGM: Emerging Issues", her chapter in The Lawyer's Manual on Domestic Violence,[9] she wrote:

Like other domestic violence victims, immigrant battered women have often been subjected to multiple forms of violence and exploitation, from rape and workplace sexual harassment to child sexual abuse. Lawyers representing battered women who have endured other forms of gender-based violence must be aware that these experiences of abuse often intensify the victim's trauma and may require referrals to specialized social service and health care providers as well as to other legal professionals. Advocates for immigrant women may find this situation particularly daunting. Because the violence may have taken place in a different culture, in a form with which you are unfamiliar, your client may have urgent needs that you are unaware of and rights that, as a consequence, are never vindicated. Some of these forms of violence, like trafficking in persons and exploitation in internet marriages, are more common in the cases of clients from industrialized societies. Other types of violence, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, are more frequent in the cases of victims from traditional cultures.[10]

In "When Women Defend Pornography", her chapter in the Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, Leidholdt wrote:

The problem with the ideas of the pro-sex people is that they beg important political questions - like how, why, and in whose interest. They fail both to look at sexuality as a political system and to examine women's position in that system. They make sense in the abstract, but are revealed as critically flawed when measured against women's actual condition in society. They are not feminist, but "sexual liberationist". And I put "sexual liberationist" in quotes because it has never included the liberation, sexual or otherwise, of women. As for the hierarchy of sexual privilege, it too sounds convincing, until you examine the position of women in this hierarchy. Heterosexuality, procreation, and marriage may mean privilege for men, but they mean something very different for the married woman. Her "good fortune" is a one out of three chance of being a battered wife, one out of seven chance of being raped by her own husband, and a statistically undetermined probability that she will be her husbands domestic servant and that her identity will be subsumed in his. The so-called good fortune of lesbian feminists is either public denigration or invisibility and often loss of jobs and family.

Selected publications[edit]


  • Leidholdt, Dorchen; Raymond, Janice, eds. (1990). The sexual liberals and the attack on feminism. New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 9780807762394.
Essays which originated as speeches and panel presentations at a conference on April 6, 1987, at the New York University Law School

Book chapters[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

  • Leidholdt, Dorchen (1993). "Prostitution: a violation of women's human rights". Cardozo Women's Law Journal. 1 (1): 133–147. Pdf.
  • Leidholdt, Dorchen (January 1994). "Pimping and Prostitution as Sexual Harassment: Amicus Brief on behalf of the New York State Women's Bar Association and the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault in Dilorenzo v. Guccione". Michigan Journal of Gender and Law.
See also: Anneka diLorenzo, Respondent, v. Penthouse International, Ltd., et al., Appellants

Notable court cases[edit]

  • Dorchen Leidholdt vs. Hustler Magazine, 647 F. Supp. 1283 (D. Wyo. 1986)
  • Dorchen Leidholdt vs. Larry Flynt, 860 F.2d 890 (9th Cir. 1988)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Biography of Dorchen A. Leidholdt". Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
  2. ^ "The Meese Commission Report". Archived from the original on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  3. ^ "Who is Dorchen Leidholdt?". Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  4. ^ "Sanctuary for Families | In love there is no violence". Sanctuary for Families. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  5. ^ a b c d "Dorchen A. Leidholdt". Columbia Law School. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  6. ^ "Associates | The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press". Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Sanctuary for Families | In love there is no violence". Sanctuary for Families. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  8. ^ Alumna of the Month February 2009
  9. ^ 5th Edition (Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division)
  10. ^ a b Leidholdt, Dorchen; Goodman, Jill Laurie, Lawyer's manual on domestic violence: representing the victim (PDF) (5th ed.), New York: Appellate Division, First Department, Supreme Court of the State of New York.

External links[edit]