Unique Characteristics of Domestic Violence Cases Essay

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Unique Characteristics of Domestic Violence Cases Derived from English common law, the American legal system had a long tradition of regarding domestic violence as a private family matter, not subject to criminal prosecution. Early American courts held that husbands acted within their rights when they beat and abused their wives in response to what husbands described as their wives’ ‘‘misbehavior.’’ This view of domestic violence as a private family matter stemmed from a larger body of law and social custom that denied women a separate identity of their own. Indeed, the American legal system did not criminalize domestic violence until the late nineteenth century. It was not until 1871 that a state court, the Supreme Court of Alabama, in Fulgham v. State, determined for the first time that a husband did not have the right to beat his wife. In the years following this decision, several states began adopting laws against domestic violence that made wife beating a crime. Despite these laws, individual opinions held by judges and prosecutors regarding the appropriate role of law in private family matters frequently meant that courts did not enforce these laws. In the 1970s, the feminist movement focused attention on battered women, leading to some changes in the criminal justice response to domestic violence. The attention drawn by the feminist movement to domestic violence resulted in legal reforms that emphasized the need for court intervention in these matters. The emphasis of these new reforms was on applying sanctions to the batterer through such measures as the enactment of civil order of protection statutes, criminal contempt orders to enforce protection orders, and laws mandating the arrest of batterers. State-funded shelters began to appear as well as batterer intervention programs. However, these reforms did not reduce the number of domestic violence cases.

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