Wife beating has been condoned throughout most of history. Until the nineteenth century British Law gave husbands the right to beat their wives for what was called 'lawful correction'. This tradition was summarised by Blackstone in the late eighteenth century as follows: The husband also might give his wife moderate correction. For as he is to answer for her misbehaviour the law thought it reasonable to entrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct hi servant or children. (Blackstone, 1996,vol1,432, cited in Pahl 1985)
It was not until 1891 that the right of a husband to beat his wife was abolished. Throughout this essay I will be considering the more recent changes and challenges presented to police by the developments in the social acceptance of equality between partners and the development of a more victim orientated style of policing the domestic dispute. I will also be considering whether the current policing response is appropriate and what can be done in the future to identify and reduce domestic violence and assist victims. History of Domestic Violence Policing
Prior to the 1970s violence against women in the home was generally thought of as a private matter. Couples were left a lone to sort out their differences except in cases involving serious injury. In 1975 the police considered the powers they had were quite adequate to deal with the problem. 'The offences against the person Act 1861, which in the main covers the whole field of this subject, has been in operation for many years now and the penalties and powers under that and other acts appear amply adequate. ' (Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, 1975 p377, cited in Pahl)
Even as late as the 1980s (Pahl, p115), noted the police response was often a chauvinistic one. When dealing with an allegation that a husband was being unfairly derogatory to his wife, officers were noted as giving advice 'to forget all about it and start worrying about the children' Reiner found officers struggled between what was expected of them and what happened in reality situations. He found 'the logic of officers in many cases was along the lines of why take it seriously if the victims are not taking the matter seriously. (see Reiner 2000, p. 135).
In Pahl (1985) several cases were discussed, having been witnessed by the author, Where following a man being arrested for domestic violence and a case being prepared for court the victim, in most cases the wife withdraws support for prosecution. The police view is summarised as follows '… From the police view we've got no axe to grind, we couldn't care less, but it does seem a lot of public money being wasted in prosecution which when it gets to court she is all for having it scrubbed… ' (Pahl p117) It is also worth thinking about the nature of domestic violence in relation to how it is viewed within society.
We have already noted that there has been a shift from treating domestic violence as a private, civil matter towards being a criminal, public concern. However, the Government has stated that we need to go beyond this framework and see domestic violence as "unacceptable in itself" (Home Office 1999). This is expressed further within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in which local authorities, through partnerships with the appropriate local bodies, must "actively identify the nature and profile of domestic violence" (Home Office 1999).
To assist they gave the following definition of what constitutes domestic violence. "The term 'domestic violence' shall be understood to mean any violence between current or former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever and whenever it occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse" (Home Office 1999). This change in attitude reflects a move from a utilitarian approach towards a more principled approach to policing domestic violence.