Some readers may have thought I came down a little hard on my last post about domestic violence being a crime. Look, everyone, I know this is a tough subject to talk about or read about. But, imagine how hard it is for the person or family going through it. Imagine trying to make sense of things, trying to find someone you can talk to who will not blame you for what has happened and help you figure out what to do.
The reason I have a part 2 to this post is that domestic violence was not always a crime. Did you know that? Domestic violence did not become a criminal, prosecutable offense until the 1960’s. As a matter of fact, until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed in 1920, women had no legal rights. They couldn’t go to court to get a divorce; they could not claim an inheritance without a male relative and if their husbands divorced them he didn’t have to give her custody of her own children. If she contacted authorities about her husband’s abuse the court did nothing unless there was severe physical injury or death. Basically, whatever happened in the home was off limits to the legal system. A man was able to treat his family any way he pleased.
Even when domestic violence laws began to be drafted they were slow to come and inconsistent from state to state and enforcement inconsistent from community to community and even from officer to officer. A woman never knew who she could trust. Once, when my oldest child was about two we were at my in-laws home. My husband and his father got into a violent fight and his mom called the police. They came and “took him for a walk around the block to cool him off.” Then, they had the nerve to tell me he was ok now and was I ok to go home with him. Question: Where did they think I could go; how did they think I could go anywhere? We had only one car and he had made me quit my job so I had no personal resources. I was terrified but I was trapped. I was a young wife with a young child and I had no idea what to do or how to do it. Thankfully laws are improved as is the response of police. But, the violence continues and laws only deal with the crime after the fact; shelters and counseling treat the problem but don’t stop it. It will take a shift in society’s values to stop the violence. It takes each person, each church, each organization, each court to take a stand and make a bold statement that violence in the home will not be tolerated.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea that I am a feminist or a man hater let me say that I am neither. The reason I like to speak to men as well as women about domestic violence isn’t that I want to punish all men for the sins of some men. The reason I like to speak to men about domestic violence is that I know there are good men in this world. I know men who treat their wives like queens and their daughters like princesses and honor their mothers every day of their lives. It is these men who have hope of reaching the violent men. After all, if a man disrespects his mother, wife and daughters he will not listen to a woman about his behavior. But, a man who is responsible, respectable and honorable can speak to that man or that boy and teach them that being a man doesn’t mean manipulating, controlling and mistreating those he claims to love. We women can speak out about what’s wrong and we can take care of each other when tough times happen. But, it takes a real man to teach a boy how to be a man. I hope there are men who will read this and take the challenge to try to influence other men and boys to grow up respectable, responsible and honorable.
My dad was a great man to me. He worshipped the ground my mom walked upon. He worked hard to provide for her and my brother and I even when she was suffered several nervous breakdowns. She was very difficult to deal with during that time. But we always had food, clothing, shelter and a safe home. No matter how difficult my mom could be when she was sick my dad would never have considered hitting her and wouldn’t have tolerated anyone else hitting her. My dad had only been dead a couple months when the events mentioned above happened so I don’t think he ever knew of my husband’s abuse. My dad was not a religious man but my dad was a loving, considerate man.
For all the blame that is attributed to women for their abuse my dad had a code that he lived by. A man’s behavior to women was not about how they behaved to him. A man’s behavior to women was all about his core beliefs. All women were to be treated as if they were a lady whether they were or not. I remember when my brother first came home from military boot came he was all excited and wanted to tell a “man’s” joke. My dad took him in the other room and said he had to tell him the joke first and he would decide if he could tell it in front of Mom and I.
Legal rights is about all people being treated as a human being. No one, male or female, deserves to be abused. We are each responsible for our own behavior and we, as a society must make a moral stand against abuse.