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News > Feature - The beginning of domestic violence -- Domestic Violence Prevention Month: Part one of four
The beginning of domestic violence -- Domestic Violence Prevention Month: Part one of four

Posted 10/3/2007   Updated 10/3/2007 Email story   Print story


by Diane Bradley
family advocacy

10/3/2007 - DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Domestic Violence laws can be traced back to 753 B.C., where, during the reign of Romulus in Rome, wife beating was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement. These laws permitted the husband to beat his wife with a rod or switch as long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man's right thumb. This was the origin of the phase "Rule of Thumb." 

Fast forward to the 1500s. Early settlers in America based their laws on old English common-law, which explicitly permitted wife-beating for correctional purposes. The husband was allowed to whip his wife only with a switch no bigger than his thumb. 

Moving forward to 1824, a decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed a husband to administer only moderate chastisement in cases of emergency. Then, in 1867, a North Carolina man was acquitted for giving his wife three licks with a switch about the size of one of his fingers, but smaller than his thumb. The reviewing appellate court later upheld the acquittal on the grounds that the court should "not interfere with family government in trifling cases." 

Finally, in 1871, Alabama became the first state to rescind the legal right of men to beat their wives. Massachusetts also declared wife beating illegal. In 1874, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that "the husband has no right to chastise his wife under any circumstances." Moving forward, in 1882 Maryland was the first state to pass a law that made wife-beating a crime, punishable by 40 lashes or a year in jail.

In 1964, when the Haven House was founded in Pasadena California, which was a shelter for treating battered women married to alcoholic men. Between 1964 and 1972, Haven House sheltered over 1,000 women and children. In the late 1960s and early 1970s women's hotlines and crisis centers provide a place for battered women to speak out and seek help. 

In the 1970s the phrase, "We will not be beaten" became the slogan of women across the country, who organized to end domestic violence. Also in the 1970s, the Richmond California Police Department became the first in the nation to make domestic crisis intervention training part of its in-service training, and the first to train all of its police officers. 

By 1975, most U.S. states allowed a wife to bring criminal action against her husband for inflicting injury upon her. In 1976, a national newsletter was established by women from around the country. It was called The National Communication Network for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In 1978 the Senate passed H.R. 12299, the Domestic Violence Act of 1978, which allowed for temporary exclusion of the violent partner from the home, using a civil injunction with the possibility of attaching powers of arrest for subsequent violations. The 1970s also saw the Navy's Family Advocacy Program initiating the only service-wide program that treated wife battering and child abuse. 

By 1980, the Air Force established an Office on Family Matters to deal with domestic violence. As we moved through the 1980s more and more advances in domestic violence prevention occurred to include: The celebration of the first annual Domestic Violence Awareness Week; over 1,200 battered women's shelters opening in the U.S.; the first national conference on "Domestic Violence in the Military Community"; the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence held national hearings and issued a report; and passage of the Victims of Crime Act, which required state victim compensation programs to make awards to victims of domestic violence. 

The 1990s brought more protections and progress. For example, in 23 states, police officers could arrest on "probable cause" in cases of simple or minor assault within the home; the American Medical Association released guidelines suggesting that doctors screen women for signs of domestic violence; 19 states required arrest for violation of an order of protection and October was proclaimed "Domestic Violence Awareness Month." 

The history of domestic violence goes back 27 centuries and has evolved into the positive laws we have today, which to protect victims and get help for offenders. During the month of October, Dyess will explore the myths and the meaning of domestic violence, and how to get help for victims and offenders.

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