Saturday, December 26, 1998

Commentary: Domestic Violence, Folk Etymologies, & "Rule of Thumb"

Commentary: Domestic Violence, Folk Etymologies, & "Rule of Thumb" 
© (1998) By  Jennifer Freyd and JQ Johnson

Like many folk etymologies, the commonly understood origin of "rule of thumb" seems to have some inaccuracy. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the phrase has been used for about 300 years to refer to measurements that are based on experience instead of exact science. However, some people currently believe that the phrase "rule of thumb" originated from English common law, and that the phrase reflects a law which allowed a husband to beat his wife with a whip or stick no bigger in diameter than his thumb.

Others have used this belief as an example of feminist exaggeration. For instance, Christina Hoff Sommers, in her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism: How Women have Betrayed Women wrote on page 203: "Because many feminist activists and researchers have so great a stake in exaggerating the problem and so little compunction in doing so, objective information on battery is very hard to come by. . .The 'rule of thumb' story is an example of revisionist history that feminists happily fell into believing."

Our reading of the literature in this area suggests that the interpretation that there was a legal standard about hitting wives that relates to the size of a "thumb," came not from feminists or grassroots activists but is much older and comes perhaps from a judge from the American South over a century ago. In recent years many people in society, including feminists and non-feminists, the popular press (and not necessarily a feminist popular press), have contributed toward the "story" of the phrase that relates it to English common law.

The reality about the history of this phrase seems to be a fascinating and complex. The best current source of which we are aware is:

Kelly, Henry Ansgar (1994). Rule of Thumb and the Folklaw of the Husband's Stick. Journal of Legal Education 44 (3) [Sep 1, 1994], 341-365.

Kelly's overall position is that the "rule of thumb" is not a principal enshrined in the law, and that this idea that it is enshrined in law derives from a 1977 book by Davidson who claims that a "rule of thumb" is a traditional justification for wife-beating. He goes further to argue that the extent to which wife beating is accepted in the law varies with the source, but that in general wife beating (whether with a thumb-sized cane or anything else) is not traditionally permissible.

On the recent history of the idea of a "rule of thumb," Kelly's argument seems interestingly inconsistent. On the one hand he traces its misuse to Davidson (1977), but on the other hand he notes that Davidson and others cite William Prosser (1971) as a source. He observes as evidence that the error starts with Davidson that what Prosser actually says is "there is probably no truth whatever in the legend that he was permitted to beat her with a stick no thicker than his thumb." Prosser thus acknowledging a tradition that DOES involve a thumb standard, albeit without legal merit.

Kelly notes that the exact phrase "rule of thumb" itself never occurs in legal history, and that the idea of the thumb as a standard appears in "only" a handful of cases.

In America he cites a North Carolina case, State v Rhodes, 1868 61 N.C. 453, as "the only case on record in which a husband was let off because 'His Honor was of opinion that the defendant had a right to whip his wife with a switch no longer than his thumb.'" [Kelly, p. 345]. The State Supreme Court repudiated this argument but dismissed the case on the basis that the husband had not actually harmed the wife substantially. In other words, the rule of thumb was illegal, but wife-beating was legal as long as it didn't inflict much permanent damage.

Kelly also cites Bradley v State, 1824, 1 Miss (1 Walker) 156, in which the justice (Powhattan Ellis) acknowledges the existence of a popular thumb standard but rejects it as justification in the particular case.

In English law, Kelly notes that judge Sir Francis Buller, in 1782 (1781?) gave credence in a legal opinion to a "thumb" standard for permissible wife beating, and that this decision was cause for production of a set of cartoons of the period critical of Buller. 

After reading Kelly, we are left with a somewhat different conclusion than his. He does argue persuasively that the "rule of thumb" has never been a widely accepted legal principal, and that the phrase itself has not had the wife-beating overtones until recently. However, his own research leads us to conclude that there was a popular (though far from universal) perception as early as 1782 that wife beating was acceptable and that a thumb standard for the instrument was appropriate.

On the general issue of the acceptability of domestic violence there seems little doubt that there has been a wide range of acceptance and approbation both in law and in popular culture. And there can also be little doubt that one's interpretation of the past is heavily colored by one's beliefs -- we read the same texts as Kelly and come away with an overall impression quite different from his.

We caution readers to use restraint in judging others harshly for either their use of the phrase "rule of thumb" or for their pain in hearing the phrase used and believing it refers to domestic violence. Keep in mind that folk etymologies are very often incorrect, and deriding people for a false belief in this area serves little purpose. Most importantly, the problem of domestic violence is truly severe, and our energy is best spent on understanding and preventing domestic violence.

Thursday, December 10, 1998

Case of Jacki Yazdi

Case of Jacki Yazdi

Owner - Tropicana Club, Jerusalem, Israel

Charged with raping two of his employees at Tropicana, a brothel that flourished in Jerusalem, prior to being shut down by authorities in 2003.

Yazdi has appeared on ABC's Prime Time to brag about buying Eastern European women for $10,000-$20,000 and forcing them to work as prostitutes.


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Table of Contents:  

  1. Protesters mark rights day at local brothel (12/10/1998)

  1. Pimps tell of a million brothel visits a year (03/17/2004)

Protesters mark rights day at local brothel

By Heidi J. Gleit
Jerusalem Post - December 10, 1998 (21 Kislev 5759)

RAMAT GAN (December 10) - Women are entitled to decide what to do with their own bodies, human-rights activists and the men operating a Ramat Gan brothel both agreed yesterday afternoon. However, their different interpretations of this led to numerous shouting matches during a demonstration by the Israel Women's Network and Meretz outside the city's Tropicana Club to mark International Human Rights Day.

Tropicana owner Jackie Yazdi, who has been charged with raping two of his employees, has appeared on ABC's Prime Time to brag about buying Eastern European women for $10,000-$20,000 and forcing them to work as prostitutes, said Rachel Benziman of the Israel Women's Network.

Protesters said many of the prostitutes at the Tropicana and other clubs had been tricked into coming here from Eastern Europe by promises of well-paying jobs. When they arrive here, brothel owners take their passports and force them to work as prostitutes in return for minimal pay.

"I've seen the girls. They look half dead. They're afraid to speak," sociologist Esther Elam said.

Rahamim, who works at the Tropicana and refused to give his last name, emphatically denied this and brought out an Israeli prostitute to back up his claims. The woman, wearing sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt that covered most of her face, and cut-off jeans, told the protesters that she and the other women working at the Tropicana chose to work there and are well-paid, as she clung to Rahamim. He took her inside and then came back out with a sign reading: "Wanted: Pretty girls to work."

Benziman pointed out that the woman he brought out is a native Israeli and claimed what she said does not apply to foreign prostitutes.

The group of about 20 protesters attracted a large crowd of men who work in the area, blocking traffic in front of the Tropicana.

"See all the publicity you're giving them," one of the men shouted at the protesters. "They're going to have tons of customers tonight. Just think of all the little girls they'll bring in for them."


Pimps tell of a million brothel visits a year
By Ruth Sinai
Haaretz - March 17, 2004 (Adar 24, 5764)

"Lots of religious men from Jerusalem enter our place. They look really embarrassed. Some ask me to close the establishment for an hour - and 20 of them turn up in a group."

Thus a pimp gave evidence yesterday to a special parliamentary committee on sex trafficking. The session was devoted to pimps.

Jackie Yazdi, owner of a brothel that flourished before being shut down by authorities last year, alluded to a wide variety of clients. These included husbands who come to perform types of sex acts which they are unable to pursue at home, soldiers who lack girlfriends, foreign workers, Palestinians from the territories and more.

Accurate records of men who resort to sex-for-pay are hard to come by. In Israel, some estimate that there are one million visits a month to massage parlors. That figure, which will be presented today to the parliamentary committee which is headed by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), is based on the following calculations: police estimate that 3,000 women have been brought to Israel as sex workers. They work 30 days a month and have at least ten clients a day. These figures do not include Israeli women who work as prostitutes; there is less information about the number of clients they have per day.

The brunt of public discussion about sex trafficking focuses on the sex workers and pimps, and not on their clients. In a position paper to be submitted to the parliamentary committee today, attorney Naomi Levenkron argues that the lack of information about clients derives from a number of reasons - the sex industry depends upon client anonymity, and cultural norms regard sex purchasers as "real men" who should be given some leeway. In contrast, the pimps and sex workers who prostitute themselves are treated as the real guilty parties; that the industry would not exist were it not for the male clients is conveniently over-looked. Levenkron has led the campaign in Israel against sex trafficking for several years. Based on testimony she has culled from its victims, Levenkron concludes that the majority of their clients are Israelis. Some are regular customers. A police raid of a massage parlor in Tel Aviv two months ago uncovered discount tickets; regular customers receive a free visit after 12 paid visits to the brothel.

The draft paper submitted by Levenkron, with the help of student workers from the institute she heads that battles sex trafficking (the paper's arguments will be amplified and published in July), argues for a revolutionary and controversial approach: Criminal prosecution of the clients. Today, Sweden stands alone for its laws which punish persons who purchase sex; they face prison terms of six months. The research carried out by Levenkron's group indicates that most states in the U.S. ban prostitution, yet tend to prosecute sex workers more vigorously than male clients.

In Israel, laws ban pimping, and also maintaining facilities for use in prostitution. But the prostitute and the male who purchases sex from her do not face criminal prosecution.

In cases in which it can be proven that there were signs the sex worker was held in a brothel against her will, and the client ignored this fact, the paper submitted by Levenkron's group recommends that the male by prosecuted for rape.



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Tuesday, December 01, 1998

The effects of multiple trauma: An exploratory study of daughters of Jewish Holocaust survivors who themselves experienced childhood physical and/or sexual abuse

The effects of multiple trauma: An exploratory study of daughters of Jewish Holocaust survivors who themselves experienced childhood physical and/or sexual abuse
By Sandra Maxine Lynton, PsyD
School of California School of Professional Psychology (Berkeley/Alameda - 1998
PAGES 189, ADVISER Curtis-Boles, Harriet; Goldman, Daryl
ISBN 0-591-89506-4  SOURCE DAI-B 59/06, p. 3065, Dec 1998
The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of multiple trauma, specifically the intergenerational impact of the Holocaust and child abuse. A sizeable body of literature focuses on the impact of various types of child abuse on later adult life. There are also numerous publications focusing on the impact of the trauma of the Holocaust on survivors and their offspring. More recently the issue of violence in Jewish families in the U.S. has appeared in the literature. However, there has been no prior research about child abuse in Jewish Holocaust survivor families. This exploratory study gathered information from ten daughters of Jewish Holocaust survivors who experienced child abuse, giving voice to their personal experiences. A qualitative case studies design was used to gain an understanding of the world viewpoints and experiences of a few representative individuals from this population through the use of in- depth interviews. All of the participants discussed having been impacted in a negative way as a result of being daughters of Holocaust survivors and having experienced childhood physical and/or sexual abuse themselves. They all had symptoms of anxiety and depression as children and adolescents. They all had strained and conflicted relationships with their parents, yet felt protective of them, or felt anguish for them because of their Holocaust experiences. They were all on extreme ends of a continuum between trust and mistrust. Another common theme was having difficulties with intimacy and intimate relationships. The common characteristics of women who have experienced child abuse and those found to be experienced by offspring of Holocaust survivors overlap greatly. What is specific to this population are the cumulative effects of experiencing both types of trauma in question. Silence and isolation are serious problems. The voices of the women in this study suggest that finding a safe place to talk openly and process both the Holocaust and child abuse is critical for healing.