Domestic violence is a term used to describe offenses committed against an intimate partner, family member, or other individuals within the household. Such offenses may include physical, sexual, psychological, economic, or emotional attacks against a domestic partner. Generally, domestic violence is described as an attempt to exert control over the abused party and is one of the most under-reported crimes in the U.S. While the rate of family violence (domestic violence and child abuse) has dropped, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it remains a serious a problem in this country.
This article delves into the background of domestic violence with a focus on how police responses to domestic violence incidents have shifted over time.
What Defines an Act of Domestic Violence?
Legally, domestic violence cases are characterized by the relationship between the two parties and the nature of the abusive acts. For instance, the relationship may be a current or former spouse; a child, including foster children; parents of a child in common; and unmarried persons who are intimate partners. The laws recognize that victims are not always women and that such offenses are not limited to traditional family relationships.
Common acts of family violence include physical attacks, sexual attacks, psychological abuse, the withholding of financial means, isolation from others, and the destruction of property. Additionally, the act of stalking is often associated with domestic violence.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) defines domestic violence as "a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone."
Domestic Violence: History of Police Responses
Although it's a serious crime that often leaves permanent scars, the background of domestic violence indicates that it hasn't always been taken seriously by police or the courts. This is due to the antiquated idea that a husband has the "right" do whatever is necessary to "control" his wife, as if she were his property, in addition to the notion that responding to domestic disputes was not "real" police work.
But this changed after a series of highly publicized court cases were decided, including the 1972 case of Ruth Bunnell, who was killed by her husband after the police failed to intervene. The City of San Jose was sued for wrongful death after the incident; but while the case was dismissed, its publicity stoked public outrage. In a landmark 1985 ruling in U.S. District Court, plaintiff Tracy Thurman was awarded $2.3 million by a jury after the Torrington, Conn. Police Dept. repeatedly failed to intervene after she called about her abusive husband.
In another case decided in 2000, a woman named Maria Macias was killed by her estranged husband after an order of protection was issued but not enforced by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. Macias had called the police on at least 22 occasions, according to records. The lower courts held that the police department failed to honor the victim's constitutional right to safety and equal protection. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that she was denied equal protection.
Eventually, beginning in the late 1980s, police departments began to require the arrest of domestic violence suspects in cases where there was sufficient evidence of abuse. These widespread changes both acknowledged that domestic violence as a criminal offense and provided immediate safety for the victims.
Get Legal Help With Your Domestic Violence Situation Today
Although, thankfully, domestic violence is taken more seriously today by authorities, they are only able to act when they receive a report. Victims will sometimes not ask for help for fear of the consequences that a report may have on their relationships or reputation. Fortunately, there are other options such as speaking with a family law attorney in a completely confidential setting. Get started by contacting one near you today.