Spousal AbuseThe Problem
Although American society no longer gives men the right to control their wives, remnants of the nineteenth-century patriarchal view of society still exist. Despite women’s growing liberation in modern day, nuclear family ideals still keep some women subordinate to men in the household. Some men today, just as they did during the Victorian period, believe that this idea of superiority over their wives gives them the right to control her actions through violence. Although Victorian and modern domestic abuse survivors share similar reasons for becoming trapped in their violent situations, contemporary laws have greatly shifted toward protecting the victim.


Domestic violence has plagued marriages since before the nineteenth century. In a time when slave cruelty was a controversial issue, several Northern abolitionists who were strongly opposed to such brutality had no problem using violence against their own wives. Forty percent of divorces granted during the Victorian period were the result of “marital cruelty,” showing that women and society were starting to become intolerant of such acts. However, even in the present when women have gained equality and violence in households is strongly looked down upon, intimate abuse is still a growing problem. Domestic assault affects 6 million women in the United States each year. Most of these abuse victims are between the ages of 16 and 24. Since the Victorian period, domestic violence has shifted from a problem resulting from social standards to one based on personal values of human rights.

Factors Contributing to Domestic Violence
Nineteenth-century religious beliefs encouraged women’s subordination in the household and, therefore, contributed to domestic assault. These principles often led husbands to justify their “right” to use violence to control their wives. In addition, these ideals created social tolerance of domestic assault. The Victorian period was a time of great religious following. People during the nineteenth-century believed that the Bible supported women’s submission and often used biblical quotes to defend such claims. This emphasis of religious based subordination suggested that, for a woman to be virtuous and serve God, she must follow the lead of her husband. In addition, this gave men the impression that they had a God given right to control their wives, even if this meant through use of physical correction.


During the nineteenth century, domestic principles were based on a patriarchal system. The husband was seen as the superior being in the house. The wife was viewed as being property of her husband, just as one of his slaves or children. As owner of his wife, a man could do as he pleased with and to his spouse because she lacked the power to control her own actions. It was considered a husband’s duty to protect his wife, therefore, he was given the right to control and limit her behavior. This authority also allowed him to use violence, if necessary, in order to keep her in line. These standards a man’s domination over his wife created social acceptance of moderate martial cruelty.


Nineteenth century laws also led to a woman’s oppression in regard to her husband. Most states enforced a common law, which stated a husband had the legal right to control his wife and all her possessions. This meant, upon marriage, a women lost control over her children, inheritance, wages, all her belongings, and, in effect, herself. In addition, it was widely accepted around the world that “wife-beating” was included in a man’s legal right power over his wife and her property.


In modern day, however, American women are no longer limited by society’s patriarchal views. As a result, factors contributing to domestic violence are now based more on personal rather than social standards and situations. Substance abuse can often play a role in domestic violence. Alcohol and drugs can increase aggression in an already violent person. As this person becomes less inhibited, they may be more likely to use violence to express their emotions.


In addition, poverty and unemployment can contribute to modern day domestic violence. Women in lower-class societies suffer a greater amount of domestic violence than their middle and upper class counterparts. In some cases, the violence becomes more severe once the man becomes unemployed. Furthermore, abuse often escalates if a woman has received a better education or higher paying job than her husband. This prevalence of violence