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Societies have made important gains in addressing the problem of domestic violence, particularly in the area of service delivery to its victims. However, millions of women are battered by their intimate partners every year in countries around the globe.
During the 1960s, the women's liberation movement began drawing attention to violence committed against women, and the battered women's movement began to form. At its core was the outrage of women who argued that individual cases of violence against women in the home added up to an enormous and unacceptable social problem. By the end of the 1970s, statistics proved that isolated cases of abuse were part of a shocking national problem. Victims became more visible; so, too, did the inadequacy of society's response. The battered women's movement emerged, becoming one of the most powerful social justice and service movements in United States history.
Shelters and hotlines began to spring up around the country. What began as a social, service-based response to crisis began to take on political urgency. The staggering numbers of women and children turning to shelters perpetually outpaced the growth of the movement. The shelter work uncovered endless horror stories: law enforcement officials who mislabeled domestic disturbances, judges who ruled in favor of perpetrators, and health care providers who mishandled violence-related injuries. At every turn, women seeking help could expect indifference, hostility, and endangerment. It became clear that helping women in crisis required more than front-line emergency services. It required changing the established social institutions and creating or changing the laws that affected them. During the 1980s, a vibrant network of nearly two thousand domestic violence programs in the United States organized into state coalitions, formed to take on the challenge of pressuring social institutions to adequately respond to victims.
The 1990s proved to be a watershed decade. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, 1994) was passed, a major federal bill that provided more than $1 billion to assist shelters, train law enforcement personnel and judges, and support other crime-prevention efforts addressing violence against women. The decade also saw, via live television, the trial of football legend O. J. Simpson for allegedly murdering his former wife, Nicole, and her friend. Though he was eventually acquitted of criminal charges, Simpson's case prompted unprecedented media coverage of the issue of domestic violence.
Author Info: MARISSA GHEZ, LENI MARIN, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002
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