Historically, legal and social traditions in the United States have permitted and supported the abuse of women and children by the male head of household. This historical phenomenon helps explain why women are the primary victims of domestic violence. In this country, civil rights and legal responsibilities were first granted to free, property-owning men. Wives, children, and slaves were considered "chattel" or personal property of male citizens who were held responsible for their public behavior.
Common law and written statues in the late 1800's in the US regulated, but did not prohibit, the abuse of women and children. It was considered the duty of males to control their households and property. Within their own judgment and standards, men were allowed to use physical violence to discipline their family or household member.
In the 1600's in the Massachusetts Bay Colony husbands were also restricted from hitting their wives on ...view middle of the document...
Although many laws that supported domestic violence were repealed in the early 1900's, the violent and controlling behavior of men over their family continued to be tolerated and viewed as socially acceptable. For example the development of the Family Court in 1899 reinforced the notion of family affairs such as domestic violence being private. In today's legal system, Family court falls under the heading of civil law (private torts) rather than criminal law (public wrongs) and continues as the main arena for settling family disputes.
There were a number of attempts in American history to recognize and assist victims of domestic violence. This included efforts during the following times in history:
The Suffrage Movement in the late 1800's
Prohibitionists at the turn of the century
Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's
However, the issue of domestic violence was always a secondary issue and was not fully addressed.
The first successful attempt to clearly define and respond to the problems of female emerged from the feminist movement in the 1970's. IT was during this time that the first rape crisis hotline was set up in New York City.
Impassioned by calls to the hotline by women suffering physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends, activists began to organize. This let to the following milestones in New York State:
The opening of the first (formal) domestic violence shelter in 1976
The first bilingual hotline for Latinas in 1985
The passing of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act in 1987
The family Protection and Domestic Violence Intervention Act of the 1994
While domestic violence is a very old problem, an organized response to it in this society is relatively new. It has been scarcely a decade since the mainstream medical profession, criminal justice, and human service systems have offered assistance, and truly begun to research and understand the problem. The criminalization of domestic violence, identifying the problem in public rather than private terms, is also a relatively new phenomenon.