Domestic violence has been a concern for generations, and the first recorded mention of it in what would become the United States actually dates back to 1641. In that year, the Puritans took the step of passing a law that banned husbands from beating their wives unless the wife was the aggressor and the husband was defending himself. The Plymouth Plantation settlers took it a step further 30 years later by decreeing that a man who subjected his wife to physical abuse could be penalized with a fine or even public whipping. However, these two societies were the exception in early America.
In another well-known case, a woman in North Carolina requested a divorce in the mid-1800s. She cited physical, verbal and emotional abuse as her basis, and the lower court awarded her the divorce and alimony. The decision was overturned on appeal when the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the husband had the right to use whatever power and force necessary to get his wife to ‘know her place.”
One of the great problems with changing perceptions of domestic violence is the role that victims play. Many have traditionally kept silent because their abuser makes them believe that they deserved it, or they are simply afraid of the retribution that may come for speaking out. Even when a crime was reported, victims often found that it was more difficult to enforce a restraining order.
Currently, there are laws to protect women and men from domestic violence at the hands of their partners. There are also programs to help cover the legal expenses of people trying to escape domestic violence, and a history of violence can be taken into account in divorce proceedings. Improved training at police departments also means that victims can feel a little safer now when protection orders are issued, so victims are encouraged to seek assistance in order to help them reclaim their lives.
Source: Real Clear Politics, “America’s Long, Slow About-Face on Domestic Violence“, Carl M. Cannon, July 23, 2014