Miami Inclusion Alliance (23-03)

Purple and blue logo for the Miami Inclusion Alliance

By: Sharon Langer

Between 1988 and 1994 Congress passed resolutions that proclaimed March of each year, as Women’s History Month and since 1995, presidents have issued a proclamation announcing their support each year.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to share with you some of the history of the Battered Women’s Movement and introduce you to some of the women that have played a role in leading that movement.

The early days of the movement were in the late 1800’s. At that time women suffragettes became organized around a movement to ban alcohol. They supported the banning of alcohol, in part, because they thought that it would reduce violence against women. At the same time, there was another movement taking place, to criminalize abusive behavior by a husband against his wife.  Until 1871, it was legal to beat your wife. Women worked together to get Alabama and Massachusetts to pass the first laws that criminalized assaults by husbands on their wives. By the end of WW1 there were laws in all the states to protect wives. While these movements weren’t connected, the suffragettes believed that the men in power went along with these law changes to appease women so they would not fight for the right to vote.

This was a little progress, but it took a long time to make significant change in the way violence against women was perceived.  I came across these quotes from a 1964 article in Time magazine. It clearly shows the view of the country in 1964 on domestic violence and shows the prevailing attitude of that time, which was that it was always the wife’s fault.  “The periods of violent behavior by the husband served to release him momentarily from his anxiety about his effectiveness as a man.” “ It probably helped him to deal with the guilt arising from the intense hostility expressed in her controlling, castrating behavior”.

In the 1970’s women began to address violence against women again. Here are two examples of women who made a difference.

Dr. Lenore Walker, who received her doctorate in child abuse, heard about a woman in England who opened Europe’s first domestic violence shelter and in 1975, went there to visit it. She then began researching why abuse occurs and identified for the first time, the Battered Women’s Syndrome. Her work was revolutionary, and she is still educating providers around the world on the syndrome.

Tracey Thurman, a resident of Connecticut, was a victim of severe and repeated abuse by her husband. The Connecticut police were aware of these attacks but failed to protect her from repeated and serious abuse.  She sued the police and got a $2 million judgment. The case led to the first state Family Violence and Prevention Response Act, which defined the role of the police in responding to and preventing abuse. The act served as a model for other states that ultimately enacted similar legislation.

The next landmark development was in 1994, the Violence Against Women’s Act was signed into Law. This act added significant dollars to domestic violence groups all over the country making it easier for victims to seek protection and raising awareness of the Battered Women’s Movement.

The movement is now at another crossroads as it wrestles with intersectionality and the many ways women can experience oppression. This includes women with disabilities.

We have come a long way over the last 100-plus years but there is still much to be done to ensure a fully inclusive system of care for battered women. We still need the Battered Women’s Movement.  We still have work to do.