By Correia, Felicia Collins
USA TODAY , Vol. 126, No. 2630
Imagine this scenario: You are a woman walking on a street in your community this month. You file a report with the police again, although you really don't know why you bother. They know who has been perpetrating these assaults on you, but do little more than talk to him to tell him to refrain from repeating the attacks. The police officers know he will do it again, yet seem apathetic. One cop informs you that, even if they were to arrest him, he would make bond and the crime would be plea-bargained down to community service. They suggest you walk on the other side of the street to avoid him next time.
There are a number of disturbing aspects in this hypothetical situation. For one, it appears that you no longer are safe from violent crime. More alarming is the response of the police force and judiciary. This criminal is free to continue assaulting you without any fear of facing jail time. On top of all of this, you feel powerless.
You may be inclined to dismiss this vignette as something that never could happen in the U.S. Unfortunately for millions of battered American women, the situation is not at all hypothetical. This is their reality:
* Every nine seconds, a woman is abused by her husband or intimate partner. That translates to almost 4,000,000 females each year.
* Women are victims of domestic violence more often than of burglary, muggings, or other physical crimes combined.
* Forty-two percent of murdered women are killed by their intimate male partners.
Injuries received by victims of domestic violence are at least as serious as those suffered in 90% of violent felonies, notes Joan Zorza, editor of the Domestic Violence Report of the Civic Research Institute, Kingston, N.J. Yet, in most states, battering still is considered a misdemeanor punishable only by small fines and/or a short time in prison. That presumes, of course, the batterer actually is arrested and charged with the crime.
For all of the latest political posturing about getting "tough on crime," many in the law enforcement and legal communities across the nation do not respond to this type of assault as a crime. Contrary to popular belief, domestic abuse is not a family matter. It is a crime and, as such, a public matter that should involve protection for the victims and justice for the batterers. In order to attack the epidemic of family violence effectively, a concerted response from various segments of society is necessary. These include lawmakers, the police, the judiciary, medical providers, educators, employers, and the general public. As public awareness of domestic violence has increased due to growing media coverage, the time is ripe to work toward "systems" changes. It is no small task, but can be done.
The domestic violence movement in the U.S. originated in the mid 1970s as a grassroots crusade led primarily by women's advocates. Part of their agenda involved establishing state coalitions and working collectively to convince politicians and the public that the problem was widespread and serious enough to warrant legal and social attention. These early activists toiled tirelessly at improving the response to domestic abuse by creating legislation and forming domestic violence coalitions. (All 50 states and the District of Columbia now have one.) Their original focus was to encompass legislative, systems, and policy advocacy.
While the problem was being addressed by lawmakers and policymakers, the issue of helping individual victims of abuse remained. This need was recognized formally when the first shelter for battered women opened its doors in 1974 in St. Paul, Minn., to assist individuals in crisis situations and has grown to more than 2,000 shelters in communities across the country. As local domestic violence organizations sprung up, they began providing much-needed treatment and services to individual victims.
After laws to protect women were passed, the state coalitions failed to expand their role to include monitoring local protection systems to ensure that such policies were being enforced. …