Although known by many different names, intimate partner violence has been an unfortunate part of domestic life throughout civilization. As far back as 1800 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi introduced the concept of a man “taking” a wife, thereby making her his property. A man could inflict punishment on any member of his household or property for any transgression. “If she had been a bad wife, the Code allowed him to send her away, while he kept the children and her dowry; or he could degrade her to the position of a slave in his own house, where she would have food and clothing. She might bring an action against him for cruelty and neglect and, if she proved her case, obtain a judicial separation, taking with her her dowry. No other punishment fell on the man. If she did not prove her case, but proved to be a bad wife, she was drowned.” (Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, 2008).
In ancient Rome, the "paterfamilias," or "father of the family," had absolute rule over his household and children. If they angered him, he had the legal right to disown his children, sell them into slavery or even kill them. The Roman Emperor Constantine had his wife killed in an over-heated bath.
Throughout the Middle Ages, domestic abuse continued to not only be the norm, but even sanctioned. Squires and noblemen beat their wives as regularly as they beat their serfs; the peasants faithfully followed their lords' example. The Church sanctioned the subjection of women. Priests advised abused wives to win their husbands' good will through increased devotion and obedience. In a medieval theological manual, a man is given permission to "castigate his wife and beat her for correction..." (SafeNETWORK, 1999)
In Renaissance France when it became clear that too many women and children were being beaten to death and their economic contributions lost, lawmakers acted to moderate the effects of domestic chastisement. One statute, considered in its time to be progressive, restricted the chastisement of wives and children to "blows, thumps, kicks or punches on the back...which did not leave any marks," but added, "the man who is not master of his wife is not worthy of being a man." Another law even later, designed to protect women and children stated that, "All the inhabitants have the right to beat their wives so long as death does not follow." (Women Safe, 2011)
In the late 1500’s, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible in Russia, the State Church sanctions the oppression of women by issuing a Household Ordinance that describes when and how a man might most effectively beat his wife. He is allowed to kill a wife or serf for disciplinary purposes. In the 1600’s, many Russian women fight back. When they kill their husbands for all the injustices they have been forced to endure, their punishment is to be buried alive with only their heads above the ground, and left to die. Meanwhile, in England, "the Golden Age of the Rod" is used against women and children. Violence against wives is encouraged throughout this time. (SafeNETWORK, 1999)
Things were no better in the United States. Up through 1871, the “right of chastisement” was the law of the land. Under this law, a husband not only had the ability to physically reprimand his spouse but he also acquired the rights to his wife's person, the value of both her paid and unpaid labor, and as well as any property that accompanied their nuptials.
In 1871, a landmark ruling in Fulgham v. the State of Alabama began a change in how women would be treated. The court claimed that the rule of love superseded the rule of force by denying the privilege of brutality against women. (THE RIGHT OF CHASTISEMENT: Fulgham vs. the State of Alabama, 2008-2016)
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, U. S. laws were changing to prohibit a physical assault by a man against his wife and to recognize marital rape as a crime. However, a stigma remained; wives were hesitant to report and domestic abuse was often not regarded with the same severity as other assaults.
As the Feminist Movement began to grow in the 1960’s, more support was seen for abused women. In 1967, the first domestic violence shelter in the United States was opened in Maine. Five years later, the nation’s first emergency rape crisis line was opened in Washington, D.C.
Finally, in 1978, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was organized to serve as the voice for the battered women’s movement on the national level. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, federal legislation was passed providing protection, resources and recourse for victims of domestic violence.