Linda White turns her wrist over and touches the half a dozen or
so thin scars on her forearm.
"You can still see them," she says, sounding almost surprised.
"That was from one of the times he tied me up. He also cut me."
"He" is her former boyfriend. A man named John Strouble. In 1989,
after a year of severe psychological and physical abuse, Ms. White
fatally shot him.
She used his gun - one that she says he routinely shot out the
window, then put to her head to let her know he could and would kill
White pleaded self-defense, but was convicted of second-degree
murder and was given 17 years to life in prison. But after serving
more than 12 years, she has been granted clemency by New York Gov.
Like all stories about battering and abuse, hers is complicated.
But it also provides a lens to illustrate the strides made as well
as the setbacks within the nation's criminal justice system in its
dealings with battered women over the past 20 years.
There are now hundreds of domestic-abuse hot lines and battered-
women's shelters. And there have been major reforms in the criminal
justice system, from special training for police to the
establishment of protection orders in the courts.
But experts say that even as those advances raised public
awareness and helped thousands of individuals, their effectiveness
remains spotty. And they've also had an unintended consequence:
Experts say they've fueled a backlash that makes it more difficult
for women like Linda White to successfully plead self-defense.
"People had hoped that all of the interventions would make police
and prosecutors and judges more savvy about what happens to battered
women in violent relationships," says Holly Maguigan, a professor of
political law at New York University. "But it is still very hard for
people to understand that a woman like Linda White who uses serious
force may be reasonable and justified."
By the numbers
During the 1990s, reported domestic violence dropped, although
not as precipitously as the overall crime rate. In fact, Justice
Department statistics tell a surprising story about the impact of
increased awareness and services: They may have saved more men's
lives than women's.
In 1976, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1,357 men
and 1,600 women were killed in what the FBI refers to as "intimate
partner" homicides. By 1999, the number of men killed by spouses,
former spouses, or girlfriends had declined to 424, a drop of 69
percent. But the number of women killed decreased to only 1,218, a
drop of just 24 percent.
Experts believe that's because shelters and hot lines have given
women with access to them the ability to leave before they reach a
breaking point. But abusive men do not have similar resources at
their disposal. And studies still show that it is when an abused
woman decides to leave that her batterer is the most likely to kill
"Women tend to kill when they're defending themselves, and the
increased services have helped give women with access to them other
options," says Sue Osthoff, director of the National Clearinghouse
for the Defense of Battered Women. "But men haven't really changed
A characteristic case
Linda White is an example of a woman who tried to leave but says
she couldn't for fear of her life. Her interactions with the social-
service system also exemplify the advances, as well as the huge gaps
that remain in providing help to battered women.
To start, she says she'd never heard of a "battered woman"
syndrome when she met Mr. …