On the whole, for most people, nothing is so terrifying as the threat of violence from strangers. Armed robbers, rapists who spring out of the bushes, burglars who creep into the house at night, to rob and murder innocent sleepers, terrorists who blow themselves up in crowded shopping malls, airplane hijackers. Yet these awful acts are either somewhat or very uncommon. In a similar vein, more people are afraid of flying than are afraid of driving, even though flying is much safer than driving. And in fact, violence and death within close, intimate circles affects far more people than the rare crimes that seem to haunt the public. As one writer put it, "home is where the crime is." (1)
Still, in recent times, domestic violence has elbowed its way onto the national stage; society, and the criminal justice system, began paying close attention. The attention is deserved. The National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that, in 1999, there were about 791,210 incidents of violence, inflicted, mostly on women (85 percent of the victims), by an "intimate partner." Crime survey data are probably much more accurate than police statistics. It seems that only slightly more than half of the violent incidents are actually reported to the police. (2) Current statistics suggest that violence by intimate partners, like violent crime in general, has declined. Indeed, from 1994 to 2010, the incidence fell by more than 60 percent. Most of the victims, as before, were women. (3) This is a welcome trend; but the problem has certainly not gone away. In 2008, there were 111,530 cases of "aggravated assault" by these "intimate partners;" and 458, 310 cases of "simple assault." Women were the victims in 70,550 and 406,530 cases, respectively (4) An attack with a weapon is considered "aggravated assault." An "attack without a weapon" is a "simple assault" if it causes a "less serious injury (e.g., bruises, black eyes, or cuts)" and injuries that required "less than 2 days of hospitalization." In short, for a significant number of people, mostly women, the home is not a haven of peace and a sanctuary; but a theater of pain, suffering, violence, and fear. (5)An attack with a weapon is "aggravated assault."
There are many studies of domestic violence--what causes it, how prevalent it is, and what should be done about it. A lot, too, has been written about the role police, courts, and law can play in coping with this epidemic of violence. One step has been to raise legal consciousness about the problem. The idea is that police and courts, until rather recently, were extremely loath to interfere in family situations; men (especially husbands) were deemed rulers of their little kingdoms; patriarchy was the norm; and outsiders had no business invading the family's privacy. Hence the law paid little or no attention to "wife beaters."
Recent research has cast at least some doubt on the conventional account, at least on the historical side of it. Carolyn Ramsey, for one, has shown that...