The history of legal responses to domestic violence has been a slow evolution in the United States. In order to suggest effective changes to the issues regarding domestic violence, it is necessary to understand the history of the legal responses, social theories of violence and domestic abuse, and the current conflicts faced by legal professionals and elements of law enforcement. Upon examination of these separate tracks, it can be seen that the inherent problems faced by the legislation of laws used for the deterrence of batterers, the punishment of offenders, and the protection of victims stem from a combination of apathy, inadequate research and evaluation, poor funding, and lack of focus onto the roots of violence. .
I. A Brief Overview of the Legal Response.
Historically, female victims of domestic violence have sought help and protection from "a variety of institutions, including family, church, and community"(Fagan 5). In the United States, legal reforms have come in three distinct waves, recorded as far back as 1640. In the first wave of legal reform, "the Puritans of colonial Massachusetts enacted the first laws anywhere in the world against wife beating" (Cohen 42). According to Elizabeth Pleck, the religious morality behind the law gave way to state tolerance and indifference toward wife beating as the community grew more pluralistic. It wouldn't be until the nineteenth century with the case Bradley v. State (Mississippi, 1824) for the second wave of reform to cite the "common law" that stated that a husband had the right to beat his wife provided that he used a "switch (stick) no larger than his thumb." Then in 1871, Alabama became the first to rescind a husband's right to beat his wife, noting that the "wife had the right to the same protection of the law that the husband can invoke for himself- (Fulgham v. State, 46 Ala. 146-147). In State v. Oliver (North Carolina, 1874), a judge stated that the "rule of thumb" was not law in North Carolina and that "a husband has no legal right to chastise his wife under any circumstances" (Cohen 4).