Domestic abuse in the United States is a large-scale and complex social and health problem. The family is perhaps the most violent group, with the home being the most violent American institution or setting today (Lay, 1994). Sadly enough, the majority of people who are murdered are not likely killed by a stranger during a hold-up or similar crime but are killed by someone they know. Not surprisingly, the Center for Disease Control and prevention has identified interpersonal violence as a major public health problem (Velson-Friedrich, 1994).
Current estimates suggest that three to four million women are the victims of physical abuse by their intimate partners (Harris & Cook, 1994). According to the FBI, some form of domestic violence occurs in half of the homes in the
Historically, domestic violence has been a downplayed and, often times, culturally condoned, American tradition. In the colonial period, laws derived from English common-law permitted a man to beat his wife when she acted in a manner that he believed to be inappropriate. For example, the so-called "Rule of Thumb" law, which permitted a husband to beat his wife with a stick that could be no larger than the circumference of his thumb, was in effect until the end of the nineteenth century (Dickstein, 1988).
The issue of domestic violence, especially wife abuse, first gained national attention in 1974 with the publishing of Scream Quietly or...