“You shouldn’t have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh.”-Pat Benatar
What is Domestic Violence, and Who Does it Affect Most?
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. Forms of domestic violence include physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse (National Domestic Violence Hotline).
About 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the United States (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). There is domestic violence across all socio-economic classes, but domestic violence is more prevalent against those in poverty (Ooms).
The Historical Power Struggle in the Patriarchy
When the colonists settled in America, they adopted much of the old English common law, so wife-beating was legally allowed in the 1600s. The English tradition allowed the ‘correction’ of wives to keep them in order when they were disobedient (Bloch). In the 1640s, American efforts to prevent domestic violence began in New England (Pleck). They passed the first laws to punish abusers due to the Puritan values of order based on religion. Although these regulations were set to protect female victims, they did not challenge the root cause of the powerful patriarchy but rather focused on regulating it. However, people believed states should not get involved in domestic matters and frowned upon the invasion of privacy (Pleck). Few sentences besides a fine against violent husbands were instated unless wives had died or were severely injured from the abuse (Bloch).
The Temperance Movement
The 19th century was the origin of the Temperance Movement regarding the consumption of alcohol. The places with the highest rates of domestic violence were also states with high alcohol consumption. Since societal gender norms encouraged female subordination, men used their physical strength to control their wives, and this was only exacerbated by increasing alcoholism. If a woman decided to leave her marriage, she would often suffer economically and emotionally, which kept many women in abusive relationships. The first-wave feminist movement pushed for legal protections due to this issue (“Drunkard Attacks Wife”).
Thurman v. City of Torrington (CT)
In 1985, Tracy Thurman’s ex-husband Charles “Buck” Thurman harassed her constantly after they split. Buck verbally and physically assaulted Tracy multiple times with police never interfering after being called, even after Buck violated a restraining order. In 1983, Buck stabbed Tracy over 20 times while a police officer watched. Although the officer finally confiscated the knife, Buck continued to kick Tracy, break her neck, and grab their son from inside of the house to throw on her unconscious body. Over 40 minutes after the police were called, Buck was finally arrested, and Tracy was loaded into an ambulance (“Thurman v. City of Torrington, 595 F. Supp. 1521 (D. Conn. 1984)”). Tracy sued and became the first woman to sue a city and police department for ignoring the violence because she was married to the abuser. She won, and the Family Violence Prevention and Response Act (“Thurman Law”) became instituted in Connecticut. This law made domestic violence an automatically arrestable offense, even if the victim did not press charges (“Thurman v. City of Torrington”).
The Current State of the Issue and Potential Solutions
Due to pre-existing sexism and societal gender roles, as well as the combination of expanding external stress and lack of opportunities to release aggression, women face higher vulnerability and risk of being recipients of intimate partner violence.
The pandemic has trapped women in their homes with their abusers; they are isolated from helpful public resources. With the combination of psychological and financial stressors, female victims of intimate partner violence are subject to difficult conditions, with many fearing for their lives daily.
Strict Enforcement of Protection Orders
The Problem: Many women do not report their situations for a plethora of reasons (children, finances, shame, fear of retaliation, etc.), and protection orders can be violated and have extremely harmful consequences, as seen in Thurman v. City of Torrington.
The Solution: Protection orders have been shown to be an effective tool, so law enforcement must take domestic violence cases seriously and provide adequate consequences to those who violate orders. To encourage more victims to come forward to protect themselves, it is imperative to show strong support and concrete action to help those affected through law protection.
The Evidence: The CDC reports that “women with permanent protection orders experienced an eighty percent reduction in physical abuse during the follow-up period (compared to women with no PO), and an average of forty percent of POs are violated” (Niolon et al).
Safe and Affordable Housing Programs
The Problem: Domestic violence is the direct cause of homelessness for over 1/2 of homeless women in America, and 38% of domestic violence victims will be homeless at some point in their lifetime (Family and Youth Services Bureau).
The Solution: Stable housing programs have shown positive outcomes across the country and should be instituted in all states as a more permanent solution to solely implementing shelters.
The Evidence: Washington State’s Housing First Program, an initiative that connects survivors to advocacy services and financial assistance to aid in finding permanent housing for survivors, resulted in 96% of participants stably housed after 18 months. Additionally, 84% of women involved in the program reported an increase in physical safety for themselves and their children (Lyungai).
Universal Consent Training
The Problem: One major stressor that leads to domestic violence is disadvantaged neighborhoods and poor community factors; in fact, living in a disadvantaged neighborhood can put one at a greater risk for domestic violence and may lead perpetrators to believe consequences and police intervention are less likely (Niess-May).
The Solution: Healthy relationship education and universal consent training has proven to have a high rate of effectiveness in preventing intimate partner violence. It is important to teach children from a young age why violence is bad to break the cycle of domestic abuse since children learn behavior from their older examples.
The Evidence: Many studies have confirmed the positive results of school programming, stating that this education “promotes healthy relationships and respectful boundaries, and reduces tolerance for violence among students . . . and school personnel can play an important role in reducing rates of Teen Domestic Violence perpetration” (Niolon et al).
What Can We Do?
- educate yourself about abusive relationships and signs of aggression
- support those who confide in you, and become a resource for others through compassion, patience, respect, and safety knowledge
- raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence in your community by donating, fundraising, and volunteering at domestic violence organizations, victim programs, and shelters
Thank you so much for visiting my webpage! I would love to hear from you, so please leave me questions, comments, and feedback. I encourage you to think about the following:
- Were you aware of the prevalence of domestic violence in society?
- Can you think of any other solutions to this issue?
- How can you make a difference and help those affected by domestic violence?