Law and Doctrine

Marital Unity Doctrine


William Blackstone explained coverture and the Marital Unity Doctrine: “The husband and wife are one person in law and the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended in the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything. Essentially, he has the right to keep her in line, as he completely responsible for her wrongdoings and is entitled to chastise her appropriately.

Declaration of Sentiments


Declaration of Sentiments: the women objected to the status of a married woman: "In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master —the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement."

Maryland Law


Maryland enacted a law punishing wife beaters with 40 lashes or a year in jail

The Social Welfare Act


The Social Welfare Act: an act that requires the reporting of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an adult by certain persons, and permits the reporting of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an adult by all persons. It includes the legal requirement for reporting, investigating and responding to abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an adult.

New Zealand


New Zealand implemented the first state-run Criminal Compensation fund

California Legislation


Legislation enacted in over 30 states to require physicians to report child abuse cases. Specifically in California, changes occur in the mandatory reporting laws and special criminal statute. California was also the first state to establish a Criminal Compensation Fund

Legislative Reform


Since 1970s, every state has enacted legislative reform to bolster the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence

Law Enforcement Assistance Administration

1970 - 1975

Law Enforcement Assistance Administration funded the first ten victim/witness assistance programs

Ontario Family Law Act


Family Law Act in Ontario: Married women finally officially have the right to own property.

Proposition 8


California voters adopted Proposition Eight: officiated state legislation that included a victim’s Bill of Rights

Police Academies


Police Academies first began to train their officers in domestic violence situations. Crisis intervention strategies slowly began to take place.

Amber Alerts


Amber Alerts: launched in 1996 after the abduction of Amber Hagerman. Officially implemented by the Child Alert Foundation in 1998



It becomes illegal for a person convicted of domestic violence crimes to possess firearms

Mandated HIV Testing


According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, nearly every state has some sort of law mandating HIV testing for sexual offenders. However, this is a hotly debated issue and not consistently addressed.

NJ Anti-Bullying Laws


New Jersey enacts anti-bullying laws, the first of its kind in the United States

Restorative Justice


The National Institute of Corrections found significant numbers indicating implementation of Resorative Justice Programs for offenders

Federal Changes

14th Amendment


14th amendment passed: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Jim Crow Laws

1889 - 1894

Jim Crow Laws: 58 out of 60 men who were arrested for beating their wives were black, directly reflecting the discriminatory policy of the police to target black men based on racial issues.

Divorce Laws

1900 - 1910

Divorce laws: slowly began to be liberalized and wives could begin seeking divorces on the grounds of cruelty.

Domestic Relations Courts


Domestic Relations Courts: courts began to offer counseling and support to female victims.

19th Amendment


19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: prohibits any US citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex. The Amendment was ratified in August of 1920

National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement


National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement notes that the administration of justice suffers due to the economic and psychological burdens of those who testify in court.

Uniform Crime Reports


Beginning of the Uniform Crime Reports. Mechanism for police departments in varying jurisdictions to exchange information, and for the FBI to collect and classify data about crime and offenses.

Title IX


Education Amendments of 1972 states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

National Crime Survey


The National Crime Survey (NCS) first circulates to 72,000 US households

Victim and Witness Protection Act


Congress passes Victim and Witness Protection Act: makes granting victim restitution the norm in federal sentencing

Victims Crime Act


Victims Crime Act of 1984: established a federally financed victims compensation fund that dispenses hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of compensation, assistance, and grants.



National Incident-Based Reporting System: improved upon UCR data by collecting less detailed and various crime data. It also collects detailed information on the victim, victim-offender relationship, injuries, and property loss.



States first begin to receive funding from the Victims of Crime Act

Clery Act


Clery Act passes: this is a federal statute requiring that all colleges and universities who participate in federal financial aid must report information about crime on their campuses.

Jacob Wetterling Crimes Act


Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act: first established guidelines to track offenders and required states to continually track sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Violence Against Women Act


Violence Against Women Act: granting female victims federal rights protection

Victims Legislation Package


Victims Legislation Package: created as a part of the Justice Assistance Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

Anti Sexual Harassment Act


Anti Sexual Harassment Act prohibits workplace sexual advances, discourse, and "quid pro quo" sexual favors

Megan's Law


Required states to collect and publically disseminate information about sex offenders to protect the public as necessary

Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act


Prohibits federal funding to programs that enable federal prisoners to have internet access without supervision

Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act


Sex offenders must inform their institutions of higher education about their registration status. The institution then must be relayed to law enforcement and campus police

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act


Congress passed the revised Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. This act did not address civil rights (like the Violence Against Women Act) but does discuss Strengthening Law Enforcement to Reduce Violence Against Women, Strengthening Services to Victims of Violence, Limiting the Effects of Violence on Children, Strengthening Education and Training to Combat Violence against Women

Justice for All Act


Justice for All Act: enhances protections in federal crimes and provides additional funding for witness and victim protection

Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act


A federal act that mandates that states organize sex offenders into three tiers, keeps constant track of their whereabouts according to their tier, and maintains consistant records about each offender.

Case Law

Bradley v. Mississippi


The Supreme Court ruled that although a husband is legally allowed to control his wife, he must provide reasonable justification for the measures taken.

Delaware Ruling


Delaware case: Ruled it was unacceptable to hit his wife because in addition to having to control her, he is also responsible for affording her protection.

New York Ruling


New York Court ruled opposite 1828 Delaware decision and held that a pregnant woman can indeed be struck by her husband

State of North Carolina v. Jesse Black


State of North Carolina v. Jesse Black: the court ruled that the law permits a husband to use whatever degree of force is necessary in order to control his wife. The law will not “invade the domestic forum” and intervene unless there is a serious excess of violence or permanent damage inflicted.

State v. Rhodes


State v. Rhodes: North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that despite the fact that the act of battering and whipping a wife would be subject to penalty had the victim not been the defendant’s wife, they still cannot convict him of assault and battery.

Knight v. Knight


Knight v. Knight: Iowa Supreme Court denied a woman divorce from her husband on the grounds that he was cruel and physically abusive towards her because of her spirited personality. Ruled that physical cruelty is not grounds for divorce.

Commonwealth v. McAfee


Commonwealth v McAfee: Massachusetts court rejected a man’s manslaughter defense for killing his drunk wife. They ruled that beating and striking a wife is not one of the rights conferred on a husband by marriage.

Fulgham v. State of Alabama


Fulgham v. State of Alabama: Husbands do not have the right to physically abuse wives, even with restraint or in moderation. Wives deserve protection from husbands under the law.

State of North Carolina v. Richard Oliver


State of North Carolina v. Richard Oliver: the court expressed concern about excess of physical abuse towards wives, but again advised against interfering in domestic relationships.

Thompson v. Thompson


Thompson v. Thompson: US Supreme Court ruled that a wife has no cause for action on an assault and battery charge against her husband because it would lead to all sorts of accusations of one spouse against the other.

Mapp v. Ohio


Supreme Court of the United States declared that evidence obtained in violation of Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure cannot be used as evidence in a court of law.

Self v. Self


Self v. Self: California Supreme Court agreed with earlier court findings that a spouse’s right to sue would “destroy the peace and harmony of the house.” However, they claimed that the assumption that there is even peace and harmony in a home after spousal abuse is outdated, and therefore a spouse is now allowed to seek action against another for physical abuse.

Miranda v. Arizona


Miranda v. Arizona: The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that statements made in response to interrogation will only be admissible as evidence in a court of law if the prosecution can show that the defendant was informed of his rights prior to interrogation, and was able to show that he fully understood them. This led to the creation of the Miranda rights: warnings given by police to criminal suspects that inform them of their rights

Baker v. City of New York


Baker v. City of New York: Sandra Baker sues NYC, claiming that public officials failed to protect her from her abusive estranged husband, even though she had obtained a court order. This case expands the equal protection clause to women who need protection from their husbands

New York and California


Scott v. Hart (California) and Bruno v. Codd (New York): non-governmental agencies file for legal action against police departments in Oakland, California and New York, New York for failing to protect women from abuse.

Weishaupt v. Commonwealth


Weishaupt v. Commonwealth: Virginia courts ruled that a woman cannot be forced to have sex with her husband

Thurman v. Torrington


Thurman v. Torrington: Torrington, Connecticut is ordered to compensate Tracey Thurman after the police department repeatedly ignored her requests for protection against her husband

Booth v. Maryland


Booth v. Maryland: The Supreme Court of the United States addressed whether or not the jury can utilize and consider a victim impact statement during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial. They ruled it was an “constitutionally unacceptable risk” and violates a defendant’s 8th Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

South Carolina v. Gathers


South Carolina v. Gathers: The Supreme Court of the United States held that a defendant’s constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment are violated if a Victim Impact Statement is utilized during the sentencing phase of a trial. VIS can only be admissible if it directly relates to the circumstances of the crime

Payne v. Tennessee


Payne v. Tennessee: Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of victims to make Victim Impact Statements unless it is shown that the use of the statements is highly prejudicial and unfair. This amended South Carolina v. Gathers

Kansas v. Hendricks


Kansas v Hendricks: United States Supreme Court enacted procedures for indefinite civil commitment of sexual offenders decided to be dangerous due to mental abnormalities

US v. Morrison


US v. Morrison: Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Congress cannot enact a federal remedy in the form of the Violence Against Women Act. Individuals committing crimes motivated by gender bias cannot be held accountable on a federal level

The Estate of Maria Marcias v. Mark Ihde


The Estate of Maria Marcias v. Mark Ihde: Courts grant the first monetary award to a victim of domestic violence

People and Movements

James Kent


Claimed that Marital Unity still holds. The husband should always be the keeper and guardian of the wife. He has ultimate superiority and has the right to take away her liberties.

Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention


Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention: first movement to analyze husbands rights to chastise wives as symbols of the political system and dominance of men over women

Belton, Texas


Martha White McWhirter converts her home into one of the first shelters for abused women seeking refuge from their violent husbands

The Women's Journal


Lucy Stone publishes The Women’s Journal, providing detailed and graphic accounts of spousal abuse in an effort to bring attention to domestic violence.

Chicago Protective Agency


Chicago established the Chicago Protective Agency for Women and Children, providing legal aid, court advocacy, and personal assistance to the women seeking help.

President Theodore Roosevelt


President Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first president to publicly denounce wife-beating in his annual address to Congress

Chicago's Widespread Influence

1915 - 1920

Chicago Protective Agency: helped women secure legal separations, divorces, and equitable distribution of possessions. Women were able to spend up to 4 weeks seeking refuge and shelter. 25 various cities copied this model of Protective Agency.

Alice Paul


Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress for the first time

Hans von Hentig


Hans von Hentig: The Criminal and His Victim. He proposed that the victim can often be a contributing cause to the criminal act. He established 13 categories to sort victims in to determine their likelihood of being victimized

Benjamin Mendelsohn


Benjamin Mendelsohn: the “father” of victimology. Mendelsohn outlined a 6-step classification of victims based on legal considerations to determine the degree of the fault of the victim. Primarily used to relieve victim of culpability

Marvin E. Wolfgang


Marvin E. Wolfgang: defined victim-precipitated behavior in terms of rape. Put forth several circumstances under which a victim can actually precipitate her own rape. He said that one should not always assume a victim is a passive individual seeking to withdraw from a sexual assault situation.

Stephen Schafer


Stephen Schafer: The Victim and His Criminal. He studied the victim-offender relationship and explicitly put forth 7 categories a victim can fall into regarding how culpable they are

Menachem Amir


Menachem Amir: claimed that 19% of forcible rape is victim-precipitated. He listed various factors under which a victim “tantalizes” an offender and provokes their own attack. Suggested a victim might actually have a hidden desire to be controlled and tamed through rape

St. Paul, Minnesota


First US battered women’s shelter opened in St. Paul, Minnesota



First treatment for male offenders, EMERGE, opened in Boston, Massachusetts

President Reagan


President Regan appointed a task force on crime victims, who then reported that victims were being treated merely “as appendages of a system appallingly out of balance.”

US Surgeon General


US Surgeon General declared domestic abuse the leading health hazard for women

George W. Bush


George W. Bush, in a speech at the Department of Justice, stated that victim’s rights are equally important to the due process rights that are guaranteed to criminal defendants

National Stalking Awareness Month


The National Center for Victims of Crime creates National Stalking Awareness Month in January