Historical and Social Context

Domestic Violence is a social issue which is displayed in most cultures, however not all, (Heise, 1996)  as centuries have seen the patriarchy of male dominated status across the board and in turn have had vast impacts on legislative and societal attitudes throughout history. Major breakthroughs in social issues and a rise in feminism have lead the way for professional thinking to change the laws surrounding the convictions of family and spousal abusers, and offer aid to support victims; men, women and children alike. As with many criminological and sociological issues, it takes no ‘one’ theory or incident to implement a guaranteed change in the laws encompassed within the Criminal Justice System or societal inclination. As this page will promulgate, over decades liberality slowly began to change, movements were established and radicals made the injustices known to change archaic thinking and promote equality.


The History of Domestic Violence 

The mid 19th century saw  ‘The Rule of Thumb’ law passed by which a man could beat his wife with an instrument no wider than his thumb, 40 years later a Curfew on Beating was announced which prohibited spousal abuse between the hours of 10pm and 7am due to concerns of noise disturbances to the surrounding areas. These clarifications of what was deemed appropriate would be absurd to the majority of todays society, however for hundreds of years a woman was expected to be the subject of abuse by her husband, as feministic ideals of today were not established to offer support to victims of abuse. Along our timeline it can be seen that in 1870 women began to get their voice heard; women’s property was recognised as their own and was not passed over to the husband upon marriage with The Married Women’s Property Act, In the same year research into domestic violence declared that family abuse is a social problem. Not entirely eliminating substance abuse, psychological abnormalities and/or stress (financial, unemployment, etc) but accentuating extraneous issues for creating a foundation for domestic violence to progress, such as power struggles between the sexes. Stated in Johnson and Ferraro (2004), most literature, typically from feminist authors tend to focus on men using abuse to ‘control their women’. Domestic violence spans much further than the mid 1800s, however it was not until 1970 that domestic violence was recognised and became a chargeable offence, though mindset has taken a longer period of time to change, as intimate violence is still considered taboo and is far more severe than is recognised.

running manMeanwhile..

The 20th century saw a new ideology develop, giving a voice to women and stating the inequalities in society was the establishment of the social and political union; The Suffragette Movement in 1903 lead by Emmeline Pankhurst. The women of this movement were occasionally seen as violent and radical, often putting their lives in danger for the inequalities regarding women’s status in society and politics to be recognised. Emily Davison (pictured below) died in 1913 after throwing herself in front of King George V horse at the Epsom Derby and died days later due to sustained injuries, though her motives are unclear, it is speculated that she may have been trying to attach a WSPU flag to the horse. The women of WSPUs militant campaigning was not taken in vain, a gave women the right to vote in 1920.

Emily Davison Emily Davison, 1913129138Emmeline Pankhurst, 1913

A wave of patriarchal issues surrounding domestic violence began to be questioned in the late 60s and early 70s by feminists and feminist sociologists. According to Dobash and Dobash, (1979) feminist sociologists profess that the root to spousal abuse is issues of gender and power. (Anderson, 1997) Although, other sociologists agree that patriarchy is a component, there are many other factors that conclude the act of domestic violence. (Gelles, 1993; Strauss, Gelles & Steinmetz. 1980) Others have suggested that the way in which research is carried out has a factor into how findings are percieved, (Johnson, 1995) as when looking at victimisation reports, feminist researchers find that violence is integral to a manipulative and abusive control by which men maintain this control using these repetitive measures. (Dobash & Dobash, 1979)

When domestic violence comes into question, men are rarely seen as the victim, statistics can back up that this is not a one gender phenomena, but without being able to determine how many cases go unreported it is still a high number. Mirrless-Black (1999) proposed a study to highlight the unwillingness of victims to report spousal abuse and promote the use of anonymity and confidentiality. The study was self-report questionnaire and used males and females aged between 16 to 59, the report showed an increase in numbers with 4.2 males experiencing assaults and/or threatening by a current or former within that year (1996) and a further 4.9 males experiencing a history of assault and frightening threats.  Given the increase in reports, support for male heterosexual, gay and bisexual victims is also on the rise. Support lines and organisations such as Refuge offer aid for any victim experiencing domestic abuse.

Victim blaming plays a role in how society stigmatises the topic of domestic violence, often shunning the perpetrators motive completely. A study conducted by Bryant and Spencer (2003) used a DVBS (domestic violence blaming scale) to determine attitudes expressed by students when it comes to justification and reasoning behind domestic violence, using faults of both offender and victim, societal and situational factors. The study found gender differences giving premise to which students sided, showing males falling towards blaming the victim, there were also clear indications that those asked often shifted towards societal factors being an issue if they have had previous history with domestic violence within their family.

Recent years have seen an improvement in legislation and campaigning surrounding domestic violence. In 2014 changes were made to legislation and a new policy was thrown into action called Clare’s Law, which  gives the right to anyone to enquire with police the criminal background of their partner or spouse. This policy gives them the ability to seek information regarding previous convictions which may endanger them or the families involved if a feeling of vulnerability is expressed. Within recent months of 2015, Boris Johnson has proposed to put £5 million towards the protection of victims of domestic violence and the perpetrators, by increasing the amount that receive sentencing and how they are further prohibitions.(London.gov.uk, 2015) Early March 2015 also saw  a breakthrough campaign organised by Women’s aid. The first ‘interactive ad’ of its kind uses a an interactive ticker tape to note the amount of people watching on, as the advert shows a woman with a beaten face with the words ‘Look at me’ which over time heals, her face heals quicker with the more people that take notice. (The Guardian, 2015) This as is used to show the change that can be made by those who take notice.



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