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Women's Rights

Domestic Violence

The right of women to be free from DOMESTIC VIOLENCE has drawn increasing concern and support since the 1970s. As a result, the issue of spousal abuse, in which most of the victims are women, has led to changes in state and federal law. For example, many states have repealed laws that prevented a wife from filing a marital rape charge against her husband.

In addition, most court systems have attempted to be more consistent in enforcing and prosecuting these toughened domestic violence laws. For example, a spouse who has been attacked or harassed by a marital partner may obtain an order for protection, which prohibits the aggressor from contacting the victim. The federal VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT (VWA), passed in 1994 (108 Stat. 1796, 1902), sought to ensure that orders for protection are given FULL FAITH AND CREDIT in every state, not just in the state where the order was made. Persons who commit domestic abuse are banned from possessing a firearm and anyone facing a RESTRAINING ORDER for domestic abuse is prohibited from possessing a firearm. In addition, the law established a federal CAUSE OF ACTION for gender-motivated violence, which means that victims of gender-motivated violence were allowed to bring a civil suit for damages or equitable relief in federal or state court.

However, the Supreme Court, in Brzonkala v Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 120 S.Ct. 1740, 146 L.Ed.2d 658 (2000), struck down this section of the act (42 USC section 13981). The Court held that Congress did not have the authority to enact the section under either the COMMERCE CLAUSE or the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been identified by Congress as the sources for its authority. The VWA provision had nothing to do with interstate commerce or any type of economic enterprise. In addition, the Fourteenth Amendment could not sustain this section of the VWA because the amendment only applies to the actions of state governments, not private persons. The Court concluded that the suppression of violent crime and the "vindication of its victims" had, in its view, always been the responsibility of state governments.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Alyce Faye Wattleton to Zoning - Further ReadingsWomen's Rights - Nineteenth Century Women's Rights Movement, The Campaign To Defeat The Era, Domestic Relations In The Nineteenth Century