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A conversation on Reddit mentioned that in Alabama, the law states that it's legal for a man to beat his wife as long as he doesn't do it more than once per month. If this law is still around, I assume that it's not enforced. However, I'd like to know (from a reputable source, preferably the law or repeal itself) whether this law is still on the books or not. I'm also curious to know if it was ever a law.

Some say Alabama, some say Arkansas. (Non-reputable) places that I've seen it:


To clarify: I only want to know whether the law is or was in existence. If it does exist, I'm assuming that the law is not enforced (i.e., that domestic violence is indeed illegal in both states).

  • @Articuno, that's why I tried to emphasize whether it was "on the books." Hopefully that is satisfactory. – Logical Fallacy Feb 27 '14 at 19:45
  • @Articuno, I tried to incorporate your suggestion. It's even wordier now, but hopefully it's clear at least. – Logical Fallacy Feb 27 '14 at 19:59
  • I've submitted a suggestion for a slightly clearer title, which you may find helpful. – Owen C. Jones Feb 28 '14 at 14:33
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This appears to be an urban legend since in the 2007 Arkansas Law Notes which contains "Reports to the Arkansas Bar by the Faculty of the University of Arkansas School of Law" there is an article that runs from page 113 to page 128 titled "Virtually Legal: Or don’t believe everything you see on the internet!" by Lorraine Lorne who was the Assistant Director of Law Library at the time of the articles writing.

The article is fairly long but makes for an interesting read but the relevant part comes towards the end,

Finally we return to consider, and conclude with, the stupid law with which this investigation began.

It is legal in Arkansas for a man to beat his wife no more than once a month with a stick three inches or wider . . . on the courthouse steps . . . on the state-house steps. . . .

Although gleefully included on almost all of the stupid laws websites, no such law was found in any of the various compilations of Arkansas statutes. However, after checking the various stupid/dumb/crazy laws web-sites again, the states of Alabama, Arizona, California, South Carolina appear to permit beating one's spouse within certain limited circumstances: once a month, or only on Sundays, on the courthouse steps or the State House steps, with a leather strap or a stick no wider or larger than three inches or one's thumb, with the permission of the victim!

An interesting aspect of researching this particular "law" is that I first asked a criminal law professor if he had ever heard it. He said "Of course. My criminal law professor told us that this legal concept dates back hundreds of years and is usually known as the"rule of thumb"! Wanting to follow up on this nugget of knowledge, I looked in Black’s Law Dictionary and found no entry. The Oxford English Dictionary defines rule of thumb: a method or procedure derived entirely from practice or experience, without any basis in scientific knowledge; a roughly practical method. Finally I searched one online legal periodical index for possibly relevant articles; there were over 6000 hits. Since an in-depth consideration of the rule of thumb is beyond the scope of this article, I'll leave that for the reader to delve into. However, one author wrote an interesting article that suggests that "rule of thumb" has nothing to do with punishment and very little to do with thumbs.

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    Great! So only 4 states out of 50 are BDSM-friendly? :) – user5341 Mar 3 '14 at 4:25
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    @DVK not surprising. BDSM is often a very grey area, and of course there's a lot of misinformation about it (including that it is abuse, that it always includes pain, etc..) – jwenting Mar 3 '14 at 8:09

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