Brief History of the Movement to Address Domestic Violence
Women have been speaking out about the assaults that other women have suffered since 1405 when Christine de Pizan complained in 1405 of women’s “harsh beatings” and “many injuries” (Ann Jones, Next Time, She’ll Be Dead Battering and How to Stop It, Beacon Press, Boston, 2000, p. 12).
In 1848, in the United States, women spoke out about “male brutality” and later that century Susan B. Anthony helped battered women to escape from their abusers (Jones, Next Time, p. 13).
However, the motivation and courage for women to speak out about their lives really began with the women’s movement of the 1960s and the anti-rape movement of the 1970s (Jones, Next Time, p. 9). What became known as the battered women’s movement rapidly emerged in the 1970s because of a variety of social changes, including:
a “changing political consciousness and organizing activity of women” (Susan Schechter, Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women’s Movement, South End Press, Boston, 1982, p. 29);
the civil rights movements of the 1960s (Schechter, p. 30);
writings like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963);
women joining the workforce; and
women joining organizations like the Peace Corps (Schechter, p. 30).
It was the anti-rape movement of the 1970s that articulated the belief that “violence is a particular form of domination based on social relationships of unequal power” (Schechter, p. 34). That movement worked toward social and institutional change regarding rape. Members sought protection to prevent women from being revictimized in court; worked to change laws requiring corroboration of the rape by a witness, and developed rape crisis centers and hotlines to assist victims (Schecter, p. 36-7).
Many women were motivated to organize for battered women because of a “necessity and the sense of belonging to a women’s movement, rather than (merely articulating) theory” (Schechter, p. 44).Two groups were especially significant to the development of the battered women’s movement: radical feminists and socialist feminists (Schechter, p. 45). Radical feminists worked to create women’s programs that were not attached to male control or influence and that cared for battered women while also politicizing their concerns (Schechter, p. 46). Socialist feminists “urged an examination of the changing nature of the family and the state under capitalism, refusing to label all women as one class” and believed that the battered women’s movement needed to unite with other movements for a “radical social change” (Schechter, p. 46-7). In the late 1970s there were meetings of feminists that “provided the settings in which women found one another and created a national battered women’s movement,” (e.g., the 1976 International Women’s Year Conference (Schechter, p. 29).
One of the first shelters exclusively for battered women, Women’s Advocates in St. Paul, Minnesota, started as a consciousness raising group in 1971. Consciousness raising groups developed from the women’s liberation movement’s idea that “male domination often inhibited women from talking….” (Schechter, p. 33)
Many different people have joined the movement over the years. Their reasons were (and are) varied and often complex, such as personal experience, or ideology, or contact with battered women (Schechter, p. 51). Whatever their reason for joining the movement, they have worked hard to create supportive environments to help battered women. “Between 1974 and 2000 women working in local communities have established almost 2,000 shelters and programs and emergency shelters and programs and emergency hotlines…for battered women” (Ann Jones, Next Time, p. 9).
Before the battered women’s movement, there were no havens for women who were being abused. Often, they stayed in homeless shelters or in shelters designed specifically for victims of alcohol-related abuse, like Al-Anon (Schechter, p. 55). Survivors of domestic violence or women who had witnessed abuse as a child were among the first to step up and begin shelters specifically for battered women (Schechter, p. 56-7). These shelters began to evolve from a model to help community women rather than from a need to organize (Schechter, p. 58). One progression in the movement was to move away from the idea that minimum abuse was okay or even necessary to keep women in line and move toward educating those involved in the movement and those outside the movement that abuse, no matter what the form, is never acceptable (Schechter, p. 58).
Since the 1970s, many facets of our society have become involved with the battered women’s movement: the criminal justice system became involved in the early 1980s; the health care system in the late 1980s; mandatory arrest laws happened in the 1990s; civil law became involved in the 1990s; and efforts to get clergy involved happened in the late 80s and early 90s. By the mid-90s, the battered women’s movement expanded to include a focus on battered men as well.
Colorado Bar Association | 1900 Grant St, 9th Floor | Denver, CO 80203 | 303.860.1115