Since ancient times, the perception of the world was based on a hierarchical basis, on the top of which there was masculinity. According to this theory, at the top of this system stood the gods, then people and animals, while men and women, slaves, and free citizens, as well as children and adults, were unequal in their rights (Dartnall & Jewkes, 2013). Such inequality caused violence against women (VAW) that was perceived as a norm in many cultures throughout history, yet some laws and regulations still existed to protect females.
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The social system of the Roman Empire was considered patriarchal as men had a paramount influence on the order in the state. At the same time, women enjoyed some legal protection unlike slaves and citizens of foreign countries. The status of women was determined by the position of their fathers or husbands (Gaca, 2014). Women in ancient Rome, as evidence shows, were more independent than in Ancient Greece or the Middle East, although freedom of Romans was significantly limited compared to the current concepts. They had the right to physical and sexual inviolability, and rape was considered a crime and punished by law.
There was a presumption of a woman’s absence of guilt while considering such cases. Glendinning (2013) notes that the reason for the adoption of this act was the story of the rape of Lucretia, who committed suicide after her speech against the arbitrariness of power, expressing a political and moral protest to the existed order. This was the first call for the establishment of a republic and the overthrow of the patriarchy (Glendinning, 2013; Webb, 2013). A woman with a low position in society was protected from physical assault by the contract of her sale. For the rape of a slave, an owner was entitled to reimbursement for material damage.
The prominent Greek philosopher Aristotle offered a theory, according to which a new thought emphasizing the dependence of women on men was presented. Olasope (2014) argues that the Ancient Greece legislation did not reject femininity yet suggested that it was to be taken under control since women were created to serve men and should benefit the family and the state, and, therefore, their functions should be monitored (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2013). VAW was punished merely by a fine to a woman’s husband or father.
A witch-hunt should be noted as another expression of severe VAW in the Middle Ages as, according to some researchers, millions of innocent women in consistence with the theory of original sinfulness were exterminated (Johnson & Koyama, 2014). Due to the widespread myths about witchcraft, the church hindered the liberation from the dependence of women from men in the residence of women. Quilter (2015) mentions that in the 18th century, the development of the economy caused changes in the legal systems of Europe and America, yet the position of women remained unchanged in the family relations.
Historically, many civilizations and socio-economic formations have divided men and women into two unequal groups based on traditions and foundations of society. According to this, men, as a rule, served the society, and women were limited to the family. Therefore, a woman was not an independent person, but was the serving staff of men – father, husband, and was constantly in a dependent position, being considered an indirect social element. Such a violent attitude towards women was especially rooted in the family sphere accompanied by physical violence up to the 20th century.
Chesney-Lind, M., & Pasko, L. (2013). The female offender: Girls, women, and crime (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Dartnall, E., & Jewkes, R. (2013). Sexual violence against women: The scope of the problem. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 27(1), 3-13.
Gaca, K. L. (2014). Martial rape, pulsating fear, and the sexual maltreatment of girls, virgins, and women in Antiquity. American Journal of Philology, 135(3), 303-357.
Glendinning, E. (2013). Reinventing Lucretia: Rape, suicide and redemption from classical Antiquity to the Medieval Era. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 20(1-2), 61-82.
Johnson, N. D., & Koyama, M. (2014). Taxes, lawyers, and the decline of witch trials in France. The Journal of Law and Economics, 57(1), 77-112.
Olasope, O. O. (2014). Rape and adultery in Ancient Greek and Yoruba societies. Journal of Philosophy and Culture, 5(1), 67-114.
Quilter, J. (2015). From raptus to rape: A history of the requirements of resistance and injury. Law & History, 2, 89-113.
Webb, M. (2013). “On Lucretia who slew herself”: Rape and consolation in Augustine’s De ciuitate dei. Augustinian Studies, 44(1), 37-58.