How Abuse Appears in Modern Society

Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic background, sexuality, education, or profession.

Domestic abuse within families and in local communities has existed for as long as the recorded history of man. Scholarly works on this issue revealed that women and children (regardless of gender) have mainly been the victims of domestic abuse.

And until the twentieth century, domestic abuse has been chiefly ignored, accepted as the norm, with several laws supporting or encouraging this pattern of behavior.

A timeline of abuse in pre-modern society

Between 1792 to 1750 B.C.E., society operated under the Code of Hammurabi, a collection of 282 rules that focused on retributions for slights and personal injuries. Unlike today where a person could file a small claim or civil suit against another person to get compensation for loss or damage to private property, the Code of Hammurabi stipulated that an equal penalty compensated any injury. Regarding how this legal and cultural system facilitated patriarchal dominance and domestic violence, the Code of Hammurabi regarded women and children as property with no rights. Some rules also explicitly mandated that men use violence against their wives and children if they deemed it fit.

The Roman code of law soon replaced the Code of Hammurabi but maintained the same ideal on the rights of women and children. Per this code, a man was the unquestioned head of his household and had absolute power over his family members. Abuse, enslavement, and outright murder of wives and children were the prerogative of the head of the family if they deemed it fit.

The same ideals were also patent during the early church and era of the puritans until the nineteenth century. In the United States, a man’s treatment of members of his household was considered mainly private affairs, even if it included violence. Society and the law paid no heed, especially when perpetrators of domestic abuse were influential.

The Tipping Point

The perspective of society towards equity began to change in the 19th century, especially as activists clamored for the abolition of slavery, and disfranchisement (i.e., voting rights), and women’s rights – especially after the Emancipation Proclamation.

A significant turning point in perceptions towards domestic violence occurred in Fulgham v. State, 46 Ala. 143 (1871). The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that marriage did not confer the right to chastise a woman on her husband. This case was the beginning of a nationwide movement against domestic violence. And much has happened since then. For example, the federal government passed the Violence Against Women Act which assured women of criminal justice response to abuse and access to support services. Still, much remains to be accomplished as domestic abuse remains perverse in society.

Domestic Abuse In Various Social And Cultural Contexts – Quick Facts

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience some form of abuse
  • Male victims are less reluctant to report or seek help
  • Domestic abuse is just as pervasive between LGBTQ+ partners as heterosexual relationships
  • Spouses of professional athletes and sportsmen are also prone to experience abuse
  • Spouses and partners of law enforcement officers are also prone to abuse
  • Nearly 4 in 10 black men and women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime
  • Nearly 8 in 10 American Indian and Alaska Native women experience abuse in their lifetime
  • Dating partner violence affects some 1.5 million high school students every year
  • Some 4 million senior citizens experience domestic abuse every year

The Bottom Line

Domestic violence is illegal in the United States, and victims can seek protection and justice under the law. If found guilty, the law allows for the incarceration of the perpetrator and civil compensation for the victim. Victims’ knowledge of the law and modern attitude towards domestic abuse plays a significant role in seeking help. 

Your circumstances are unique and this is also true of the decisions regarding your safety and that of your loved ones. Sometimes, making a decision can be difficult and that is ok. 

Still, know that you cannot just wish for your partner to stop abusing. You must take steps to protect yourself as soon as possible. 

When you are ready, you can talk with professionals on the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7 by phone or chat. 

Talking to someone can help you understand your situation and consider the options available to you.