‘She deserved it; she needed to be put back in her place’, ‘well she should have left if she didn’t want it’. These are still the comments that female victims of domestic violence face from the general public and their abusers.
We live in a society where the victim is to blame, either for getting herself into that position or not getting out of it. But more importantly where we blame the victim and not the culprit. We teach not to get ourselves into difficult or abusive situations instead of teaching not to be violent and rapists!
Yes, you can argue that there has been progress in gender equality across a wide range of areas, and women are finally being recognised as ‘victims’ of domestic crimes. As argued by Finch and Summerfield (1991), ‘partnership’ and ‘equality’ within marriage started to become defined as individual aspects in the mid-1940s onwards. One must note that the movement towards equality in marriage eventually led to crimes such as rape and domestic violence becoming less morally acceptable. Being criminalised, this affected the way women, now judged as ‘victims’ were to be later perceived by the Criminal Justice system.
It is hard to believe that there once was a time, when domestic abuse and sexual assault were regarded as a form of duty. Had a woman acted against what was socially characterised as ‘normal’, such as being nurturing and passive, it was the man’s obligation to discipline her. As noted by Edwards (1989), if a woman was acting ‘hysterical’ then a man would have to answer for her behaviour. Women were clearly regarded as property by their partner and husband.
Whilst domestic violence is now far more monitored and seen as a crime, the perception of the women who are in these abusive relationships often results in victim-blaming. Accusations include, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ ‘Why doesn’t she contact the police?’ Evidently, the fact that domestic violence is now recognised as a crime is progress, and is down to the advancement of Feminism. Yet, the public still blames women for not leaving, or becoming a part of an abusive relationship.
Progress has been made, well, some at least. But it is still contested as to whether the so-called ‘private’ life should be made ‘public’. During the war years in Britain, marriage and sex was something that was conceived behind closed doors, and thus considered a private matter despite the violence that may have been committed. Police were unlikely to intervene, and if anything, viewed it as a ‘waste of their time’. Why is it accepted as a crime if it happens in public but not if it happens behind closed doors?
Notably, laws have made it possible for women to be safeguarded in today’s society when reporting domestic violence, showing the progress that has occurred. Domestic violence exists due to the social constructions of society where the woman has been viewed as inferior, and as a form of property. One can note just how far gender equality has advanced, even since the 1980s, when women were expected to perform sexual acts even if they did not wish to, as this was thought by sections of British society to be one of their duties as wives. In today’s society, that would be deemed as sexual assault or rape, demonstrating the extent to which women have become slightly more protected from being oppressed by men.
It is apparent that domestic violence against men has also become less rare in today’s society, yet due to the stereotypical portrayal of men, there are less reports for fear of being deemed ‘weak’ and ‘vulnerable’. Why are such old-fashioned stereotypes affecting the way in which victims are being perceived?
Domestic violence in the United Kingdom has been an ongoing battle aiming to help advance gender equality by changing the way in which women are perceived: not as objects, but individuals. Whilst domestic violence is now most recognised as a crime against women, the changes in perceptions towards marriage has played a major role in moving the relationship between spouses into the ‘public’ eye. It is evident that domestic violence has shown a movement towards gender equality, however, crimes such as rape, whilst classified as a crime, still often result in the ‘victim’ being criminalised and assumed to have acted ‘morally’ wrong (Chatterton, 1983).
We need to move forward and help rather than criticise those who are in such a violent situation.
Chatterton, (1983) cited in Edwards, S (1989) Domestic Violence: Women, the Law and the State, Sage Publications, London
Edwards, S (1989) Policing ‘Domestic’ violence: Women, the Law and the State, Sage Publications, London
Finch, J & Summerfield, P (1991) ‘Social reconstruction and the emergence of companionate marriage, 1945-59’ in Clark, D (1991) Marriage, Domestic Life & Social Change (Eds) Routledge, London