A selection of events from the late 19th century to the present day noting some of the most important events relating to domestic violence and the actions taken to deal with it


After centuries during which a woman has no legal recourse against a violent husband, the Matrimonial Causes Law is enacted. This allows a wife to secure a legal separation though only if her husband has been convicted of aggravated assault on her and the court considers her to be in extreme danger.


Helene Deutsch, a disciple of Freud, publishes The Significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of Women which argues that women derive psychic and sexual gratification from being beaten and humiliated. For a period this argument achieves academic respectability. It also informs popular culture through the narratives of a number of Hollywood films in the ’30s and ’40s where some heroines long for a good spanking as evidence of their husbands’ or men friends’ love for them.


Betty Friedan. Alamy

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan is published. The book attacks post-Second World War American conservatism which saw women achieving fulfilment solely through marriage and motherhood. Following its publication Betty Friedan receives hundreds of letters from deeply unhappy and dissatisfied American wives and mothers. By 2000 three million copies of the book have been sold and it is frequently credited with initiating second wave feminism.

Late 1960s - early 1970s

The Women’s Liberation Movement argues that what goes on within the privacy of people’s homes is highly political and coins the phrase ‘the personal is political’. This helps to shape the emerging campaign demanding public support for women’s refuges. Women’s Lib also sets out to forge new ways for women to work together. Based on egalitarian principles and group participation, it reflects the aims of the 1960s civil rights movement in the US and is influential in shaping the way many early refuges seek to operate.


Erin Pizzey and a small group of English women become aware that there are a lot of lonely young mothers in Chiswick and set up a meeting place for them in an old house where they can have coffee and chat. Unexpectedly this soon starts to be used by ‘battered wives’ desperate for a safe place to stay. Chiswick becomes the first refuge for abused women.


Penguin publish Erin Pizzey’s Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear. Employing a popular journalistic style it tells the story of how Chiswick Refuge got set up. The story is enthusiastically taken up by the media and further strengthens the demand for refuges.


Parliament sets up a Select Committee on Violence in Marriage. Much of the evidence presented sees the issue as a problem of individual inadequacy. Nevertheless, the Committee recommends that for every 10,000 of the population there should be refuge provision for a family. Easy to voice, this recommendation proves very hard to achieve.


The Manpower Services Commission offers funding for adults wanting to train to re-enter the work force. This provides a first lesson in fundraising for enterprising founders of refuges who exploit the possibilities this offers them to appoint paid workers, albeit short-term, to staff refuges.


The National Women’s Aid Federation, embracing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set up. Strongly imbued with egalitarian ideals it breaks from Chiswick Women’s Aid.


Erin Pizzey responds to this by circulating a letter to statutory social work departments claiming that Women’s Aid is being commandeered by Women’s Lib and Gay Liberation and that they should ‘look very carefully’ at groups trying to set up refuges before considering funding them. The division this creates within the refuge movement is ultimately resolved but takes many decades.


The first Asian Women’s Refuge, Saheli, opens.


The Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act aims to provide abused women with emergency support by allowing for the imposition of an exclusion order from the home on a perpetrator. If the perpetrator then breaks the order, it gives the police powers of arrest.


The Housing (Homelessness) Act is a watershed moment. Prior to this a woman who felt that to be safe, she and her children had to leave the matrimonial home, is deemed to have made herself ‘intentionally homeless’. This relieves local authorities of any responsibility for re-housing them. Now women in this situation are given priority in the allocation of housing. This enables refuges to release space for new families.


The Combahee River Collective Statement, a major Black Feminist document, is published.


Women’s Aid releases figures showing that refuges belonging to the Federation have housed 11,400 women and 20,850 children in the previous year.


Amrit Wilson’s Finding a Voice, highlighting the issues faced by Asian women in the UK is published.


Southall Black Sisters is established following the death of Blair Peach during a demonstration against a National Front rally at Southall Town Hall.


Women’s Aid sets up separate organisations in the four countries of the United Kingdom though they continue to work closely together.


OWAAD (Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent) is established to represent the common struggles of Black women from different backgrounds, and to challenge their exclusions within the anti-racist and feminist movements.


Awas (Asian Women’s Advisory Service) secures funding for a refuge in South London for Asian women run by Asian women, after providing evidence of need and Asian women’s unease in mainstream refuges.


Figures are released that show that 48% of women murdered during the year were killed by a husband or partner compared to 10% of the men murdered being killed by a wife or partner. Some of the male victims also have histories of violence against women.


The long standing feminist campaign to abolish marital exemption from rape laws is finally successful. Rape within marriage becomes a crime.


John Major sets up the National Lottery. 28% of the money bet is to be put into The Community Fund and allocated to ‘good causes’. This is an unprecedentedly large funding source for many medium sized charities. Refuges immediately start to look at how to apply. Applications turn out to be very long, very complicated and take up an enormous amount of time as the government is anxious to ensure public money is spent properly. It imposes a considerable administrative burden on charities.


Amina Mama’s The Hidden Struggle is published, and highlights the needs of Black Women in refuges.


The ‘no recourse to public funds’ stipulation was part of the One Year Rule introduced in 1997, this means that those entering the UK are subjected to immigration control and have no entitlement to welfare benefits.


Women’s Aid publishes Re-defining Spaces, a report of research it commissioned to investigate the needs of Black Women and children in refuge support services and of Black workers within Women’s Aid.


Tony Blair launches The Compact with a view to giving the voluntary sector a central role as a policy partner alongside the government, while promising no loss of their autonomy. From the beginning this grand aim is fraught with difficulties. Given the imbalance between the statutory and voluntary sectors in terms of power and wealth, many in the voluntary sector increasingly see the government as eating away at their independence.


Over a 24-hour period Elizabeth Stanko organises an audit of domestic violence calls to the police. The Day to Count establishes that it is largely women who contact the police about domestic violence and that more women are living in refuges in one day than contact the police for help. This is powerful evidence of the social seriousness of domestic violence.


With the statement that A bigger role for the voluntary sector delivering local services, is central to our vision, Blair introduces the commissioning of services from the voluntary sector by local government. It requires the establishment of extensive new levels of government bureaucracy so its implementation proceeds gradually.


John Prescott launches the Supporting People programme. It offers charities some essential core funding, something traditional grant aid didn’t provide. It is to be run by local government but the services it provides will be operated by the voluntary sector. It also enables refuges to develop aftercare and outreach services.


The Community Fund becomes The Big Lottery Fund. Submitting an application continues to be very time-consuming, particularly for medium-sized charities.


Kiranjit Ahluwalia, 2007. Alamy

Provoked by Kiranjit Ahluwalia and Rahila Gupta is published. An arranged marriage in 1979 followed by ten years of domestic violence drove Kiranjit to want her husband to know what it was like to be hurt but she mismanaged things, killed him and was convicted of murder. A hard fought campaign to get her murder charge reduced was eventually successful and Kiranjit is now a writer and speaker against domestic violence.


Imkaan publish A Right to Exist which finds that over 50% of independent BMER-led women’s services have been decommissioned.


Changes to legal aid make it much more difficult for women experiencing domestic violence to obtain legal help if they wish to bring a prosecution against an abusive partner.


The commissioning of the voluntary sector to provide various social services is being steadily implemented. The old grant aid system where charities applied for funding for projects they felt would benefit their users is increasingly replaced by local authorities setting out what services they want and then inviting charities to bid for these. Bidding is complex and bureaucratic and often excludes smaller charities as bidders are frequently required to have annual turnovers of several million pounds. Commissioners also often muddle up commissioning and procurement. Both in terms of their autonomy and initiative the charity sector is changing.


The Baring Foundation produces its fifth and final report on the independence of the voluntary sector which argues that an independent sector is at the heart of a healthy democracy and that the sector’s independence has been seriously curtailed by ‘poor government decisions, … consultations, commissioning and procurement.’


Coercive or controlling behaviour is recognised as a major factor in domestic violence and is made a crime.


Work to ensure more effective measures to protect women against domestic violence continues.