Family Violence and Law

Nancy’s husband, Richard, terrorizes her. She is isolated. Richard does not allow Nancy to communicate with friends or family. He does not allow her an automobile. She only goes shopping when she is with Richard, who also controls all the money. Richard continually puts her down, calling her names to humiliate her, is hypercritical of everything she does, indicating how worthless she is. On the other hand, Richard never hits Nancy, although he tends to make his point by pounding his fist on the table, the wall, or any other available surface.

How would you categorize Richard’s actions? Has he committed a crime? Can he be punished for his actions? Do you believe crimes should be defined by the extent of physical harm done? Why or why not?

Mary, age 11, was caught stealing food at school. Her parents decided that the only way to “control” her behavior was to lock her away. Mary’s room contained no furniture, the windows were covered with foil and sealed shut, and the carpet was removed leaving only a rough plywood floor with strips of nails, once used to hold the carpet in place, around the perimeters. There were no light bulbs in the room, and with the windows covered and sealed, there was no natural source of light. When found, Mary weighed only 59 lb, about 30 lb shy of the average weight for her age and height.

The local police were notified. How do you think the police would react to this situation today? How, in your opinion, would they have reacted in the early to late nineteenth century? Compare both the reactions, and discuss how the evolution of child welfare laws affects child protection today.


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