History of Intimate Partner Violence Reform
The history of Intimate Partner Violence is complex because it is not as concrete as American history. However, the development and progression of IPV in society can be traced through legal landmarks and movements, especially the Battered Women’s Movement.
The social acceptance of wife beating can be traced back to 753BC; under the rule of Romulus, The Laws of Chastisement deemed wife beating legal so long as the rod or stick being used for physical discipline had a circumference no bigger than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb, known as “The Rule of Thumb.” This continued to be the trend to the extent that the 14th Century Roman Catholic Church encouraged husbands to beat their wives out of concern for their spiritual well-being.
Things take a turn in 1871, when Alabama and Massachusetts made wife beating illegal. Come the turn of the century, wife beating becomes a relevant topic of discussion in America as it related to the temperance movement, the social purity movement and the women’s suffragist movement:
- Domestic violence cases were transferred from Criminal Court to Family Court in New York, making it nearly impossible for perpetrators to be criminalized if he or she assaulted someone
- The first emergency rape crisis line opens in Washington D.C.
- In New York, Abused Women's Aid in Crisis is established.
- The New York City Council passes Resolution 491 which urges city agencies to create plans for providing special resources for victims and Del Martin publishes Battered Wives. More importantly, the first domestic violence shelter opens in NYC
- The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence is founded
- Over 700 shelters are operating nationally helping 91,000 women and 131,000 children annually
- In People v. Liberta marital rape is made a crime by New York’s highest court
- New resources and organizations are created for racial minorities and children
- The United Nations considers domestic violence an international human rights issue and adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women without a vote
- Violence Against Women Act is created, acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and providing funding for anti-violence resources and FORGE is founded
- The GLBT National Help Center is founded
- After New Jersey and Pennsylvania added stalking to their definitions of abuse back in 1994, New York State passes a law making stalking a felony
- The Sexual Assault Reform Act is passed which transforms New York laws regarding rape, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse
- New York passes a law mandating training for Child Protective Service workers on domestic violence
- VAWA is reauthorized
- VAWA is reauthorized and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by prohibiting those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a current or former dating partner from owning a firearm
The legal development against domestic violence was slow because the legal system has always been very indecisive about domestic violence cases. The abuse committed by perpetrators was reluctantly criminalized to avoid legal processes. In the 1970’s, even if victims obtained protection or restraining orders, they were not enforced strictly and legal punishment was nothing compared to the actual offense. Fortunately, many states including New York have strengthen legislation pertaining to domestic violence and increased resources for all demographics.