Restraining Hearts Too Full of Violence

Article excerpt

THREE months ago, a young woman in San Francisco who had endured 10 years as a battered wife stood poised to begin a new life. Her divorce from an abusive husband - who once forced her at gunpoint to leave a battered women's shelter and return home - was nearly final. And her dream of owning a small restaurant was becoming a reality, through help from two local agencies.

I interviewed this fledgling entrepreneur in her restaurant in November, two weeks after it opened. Her eyes danced as she talked about her new business. Already she was looking forward to earning enough money to give her two small children a good education.

Two days after Christmas, that happiness was tragically interrupted. Defying a restraining order, her former husband burst into the restaurant and reportedly told her, "If I can't have you, no one is going to have you." Then he repeatedly stabbed the woman and her parents, who were working with her. The struggle ended when the police arrived after her seven-year-old son called for help. The three survived, but face more medical treatment.

Three thousand miles away, in Winchester, Mass., another restraining order proved equally useless this month. A man whose girlfriend had ended their relationship allegedly shot and killed her mother in the family's driveway, then abducted the young woman. He held her for five days before she escaped.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of American women seek restraining orders to prohibit abusive husbands and boyfriends from making contact with them. For some, like the two women in California and Massachusetts, these court documents prove to be inadequate protection. What they need is a bodyguard. But considering the number of restraining orders - 29,000 in Massachusetts alone last year - that solution seems unrealistic.

Unless you live in Sweden. There, women threatened by violent men, including former husbands, may soon receive protection from government-funded bodyguards. The justice minister maintains that citizens threatened with violence should have the same right to protection as public figures.

Canadian women, too, might eventually receive more help. …