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Till violence do us part.

Legislators have begun to recognize the destructiveness of domestic violence and the need for both tougher laws and better training of police and judges.

Natalie is 27 years old, comes from a solid middle-class American family, is college educated and is 1,500 miles from home, running and hiding from an abusive ex-husband. She was married for four years to a police officer in a large eastern city. First, he abused her verbally, then physically when she was pregnant with their first child.

Natalie went to court and obtained a protective order. When their daughter was four months old, Natalie's husband hit the baby, causing a concussion. More desperate and scared than ever, Natalie took the baby and fled. She sought help from the local shelter, from her parents, and from the legal system. Both before and after she divorced him, her husband terrorized and harassed her family.

* Studies show that up to 80 percent of wives suing for divorce cite physical abuse by their husbands.

* Between 15 percent and 25 percent of pregnant women are battered.

* Nearly 50 percent of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence.

* Women who leave their batterers are at a 75 percent higher risk of being killed by them than those who stay.

More women seek medical attention for injuries caused by a spouse than for injuries caused by auto accidents, mugging and rape combined. Spouse abuse is also a major contributing factor to other problems, including child abuse and neglect, female alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, mental illness and attempted suicide.

"The collective costs to the community are enormous, not only in terms of destroyed lives and families, but in terms of lost productivity, health care costs, and social service costs," says Elizabeth Schneider, professor of law at Brooklyn (New York) Law School.

"Domestic violence cuts across every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic line. And police time spent handling domestic violence exceeds police involvement in murder, rape and all forms of aggravated assault," she says. Reduce the incidence of domestic violence, and a host of other problems will be curtailed.

Estela Ortiz, director of public relations for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says that policymakers and judges underestimate the deadliness of domestic violence. "It is killing women at an alarming rate and women are literally scared to death--constantly afraid that they will not survive the next attack."

Often in spousal abuse situations, one or the other partner will be murdered, will lose custody of children, or will run and hide. Civil protection or restraining orders often are issued in abusive situations, but only go so far in diffusing volatile domestic situations in which there is a pattern of violence. A protective order requires that following arrest or the issuance of a citation, an abuser may not contact the victim nor enter the premises of her residence or temporary dwelling. Many abusers disregard these orders.

More responsible and accountable law enforcement as part of the system's response to domestic violence is important. Clear police procedures are necessary, along with police compliance with those procedures. To protect victims, many police departments across the country have policies that enable officers to take immediate action in domestic violence cases. The officer decides if a situation is violent enough to make an arrest. State laws vary widely: 17 states have mandatory arrest for incidents of domestic violence, 20 mandate arrest for violation of a protective order.

The most restrictive state laws allow warrantless arrests only when an officer has probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed or when an officer has witnessed a misdemeanor. A few state laws provide that police who have probable cause to believe that a felony or misdemeanor domestic assault has occurred must arrest the primary physical aggressor.

San Diego has established a new police unit to investigate cases of domestic violence, the first of its type among major law enforcement agencies.

The police unit is comprised of 16 specially trained, multi-lingual detectives and two detective sergeants. All officers have volunteered for the unit and have backgrounds in psychology. The new unit will be part of the Family Protection Section of the police department.

Courts, also, have an increasingly significant role in domestic violence. Judge Kathlene Gosselin, of the state court of Hall County, Ga., says that as recently as 1987 she heard six or seven domestic violence cases each year. Now she hears more than a hundred. Gosselin, whose background includes criminal, domestic and juvenile law, says admissibility of expert testimony on battered woman syndrome is an important way to address domestic violence in the courts today. Battered woman syndrome testimony, heard when a woman who alleges abuse is prosecuted for fighting back against her abuser, helps explain to jurors "how a battered woman might think and behave and places the behavior in an understandable light," says Gosselin.

Kansas Governor Joan Finney appointed a committee to review sentences of women imprisoned for murdering their partners to determine if they were suffering from battered woman syndrome. Fourteen other states have also established such committees. In Florida a new clemency board rule "recognizes that the battered woman syndrome is a significant factor for consideration of clemency." About 300 women are imprisoned in Florida, and national statistics suggest that as many as 70 percent probably involved abuse of some kind.

Domestic violence legislation in Arizona provides for probable cause for law enforcement officers to arrest in domestic violence cases, and requires they provide information to alleged victims about procedures and resources. However, winning over law enforcement with such measures is not always easy, according to Representative Sandra Kennedy, who sponsored the legislation about procedures and resources. Kennedy acknowledges that Arizona, like many other states, tends to provide no additional funding to law enforcement to carry out the increased responsibilities.

Louisiana addresses the funding dilemma by requiring the perpetrator of family violence to pay all court costs, attorney fees, evaluation fees and expert witness fees, including all costs of medical and psychological care for the abused spouse or for any of the children.

A Pulitzer-Prize-winning series on domestic violence that ran in the the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader from December 1990 to July 1991 prompted significant new policy in Kentucky. Reporter Maria Henson spent more than 16 months researching and writing articles about women who required protection under Kentucky's law against wife-beating. The series, "To Hold and to Harm," detailed ways in which judges, prosecutors and police sometimes fail to protect women. Again and again in the 18 articles, Henson demanded that the state "act to shield women and children through tougher laws and better training for judges."

Kentucky now allows protective orders to be issued 24 hours a day. Arrest is mandatory in cases where protective orders have been violated.

But perhaps the most noteworthy feature of Kentucky's new policy is the establishment of a computerized tracking system that lists all civil protective orders and makes the information available to all officers in the state.

Massachusetts has also developed a new statewide database to help reduce the record wave of domestic abuse cases there. The system will allow police officers and judges to quickly find records of restraining orders issued anywhere in the state. The database will also record any warrants issued for criminal violations.

Efforts also are under way in states to enhance community services that respond to and provide assistance to victims of spouse abuse. In Hawaii, the Windward Spouse Abuse Coalition has 125 members to help fund and provide other support for two shelters that offer maintenance and protection to 550 women and children each year.

State lawmakers have made important strides in enacting measures to protect victims of spouse abuse, and the judicial process, also, increasingly seeks to deter and diminish the cycle of violence.

However, good laws may not be enough and court systems cannot be the ultimate protectors. Academicians, social service providers, judges and legislators all need to focus on "why does he batter?" and "why must he use violence to control?" says Gosselin. Education of judges, jurors, lawyers and the public on the domestic violence and battered woman syndrome is necessary, according to Gosselin. More and better services for counseling for batterers and for shelters and other support services for victims, also can help curb domestic violence, experts say.

Finally, traditional societal attitudes about appropriate roles for women in the community and in the home have, some experts say, perpetuated violence against women, and require clear directives from government. Maria Henson has said, "The law works best when courts proclaim clearly that women have the right to live free of violence and intimidation. The purpose of the law is simple: to protect beaten women from being beaten again and to free them from living in fear."

What Works in States

Today virtually all states have laws that provide for protective orders and other sanctions. In the 1991-92 legislative sessions, 123 laws were enacted addressing domestic violence. These laws provide funding for shelters and counseling, improve police procedures, protect the privacy of victims, and protect women who are not married. Eight deal with counseling (both for victims and for batterers), 10 address funding (for services and shelters) and nine have to do with victims' privacy.

Ohio Representative Jo Anne Davidson, House minority whip, says her state has passed legislation that toughens penalties for abusers and creates and funds shelters. Another recent change in Ohio law is that battered woman syndrome has been recognized as a viable mitigating circumstance in cases where a woman convicted of murdering an abusive partner may be granted clemency. In the past, battered woman syndrome has been used as a defense in criminal cases. More recently, creative attorneys have been able to apply the concept successfully to civil remedies. In 1990, the Ohio legislature codified the state Supreme Court's decision to grant permission to hear testimony on battered woman syndrome. Nine states--Arizona, California, Louisiana, Ohio, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Texas--now allow such testimony.

Women in Hawaii championed passage of that state's Crimes Against Women package, a project that took many years and involved not only legislators but also professionals in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault. The package includes 38 bills that address counseling, protective orders, victim privacy and funding for services. Representative Annelle Amaral of Hawaii recently sponsored two successful protective order laws. The first provides police authority to order a domestic abuser to stay away from a victim's residence for up to 48 hours. The second law extends the duration of protective orders in domestic abuse cases from six months to three years.

Thirty states now have laws creating the crime of "stalking," or repeated following, intimidation and threats of violence. Most of those laws were passed in states in 1992, and many states enhance penalties for stalking when a protective order is violated.

In Kentucky, within 48 hours of learning of an actual or suspected domestic violence incident, law enforcement agencies must report it to the Cabinet for Human Resources. And a battered woman facing criminal charges may have admitted into evidence the existence of any prior acts of domestic violence by the person against whom the victim is charged with using physical force.

Georgia created a State Commission on Family Violence, New Mexico established a Domestic Violence Pilot Program, and New York set up an Office for Prevention of Domestic Violence.

California has also enacted a law that changes the legal term "domestic violence" to "family violence" to expand legal protections to people who are not related but live in the same household. Another California bill allows judges to require the presence in court of individuals charged with a misdemeanor family violence crime. Formerly, a person had only to be represented by a lawyer.

Minnesota now requires Supreme Court education programs for district court judges to focus on domestic abuse laws and related civil and criminal court issues, Another new Minnesota law requires domestic abuse prosecution plans to be implemented in each city and county by June 1, 1994. The plans must include written policies for arrest procedures in domestic abuse incidents and procedures that encourage prosecution of all domestic abuse cases if a crime can be proved.

What Works in Court

Many abused women, intimidated by the court process, are slow to bring charges, and many, out of fear, drop their cases. Although most courts issue restraining or protective orders against an abuser, few men who violate the orders are convicted. But since 1987 in Massachusetts, the Quincy Court, which serves seven cities and towns in the suburbs of Boston, has been giving battered women the support they need to bring charges without fear.

The entire criminal justice community works together to ensure the victim's safety and help her understand how to use the system. Under the leadership of Justice Albert Kramer, the Quincy Court has built a network of protection, support and supervision. Judge Kramer says his aim is to make the system more helpful to victims and tougher on abusers.

Sarah Buel, herself once a victim of an abusive spouse, heads the prosecution team. She says that before a woman goes into court, she is briefed on procedure and an advocate accompanies her to court, standing at the bench between her and her abuser. A separate office, staffed by women who are experts, helps victims find support services.

In the Quincy Court, domestic abuse is treated as a violent crime committed by a dangerous individual. The sentencing is tough. An abuser forfeits his weapon, is forbidden to use drugs or alcohol, is ordered to enter and pay for counseling and treatment and is monitored by a probation officer to see that he is observing the court's order to stay away. Any violation brings a tightening of restrictions on the abuser's behavior that can include incarceration.

The best indicator of the Quincy Court's success is the decline in deaths from battering. There were no domestic homicides in the court's district last year, while a nearby county reported 15.

Department 303W is a new protective-order court in Denver, set aside to hear day-long tales of domestic abuse and pleas for restraining orders. Judge Jacqueline St. Joan oversees the proceedings, which run for hours without guidance of attorneys for either side. She sometimes hears urgent cases out of order.

Researchers commend this single docket approach as a way to reduce conflicting court orders and allow for the development of legal skill in the area of domestic abuse. Community volunteers working with battered women are grateful that they can concentrate their resources and efforts in a central location, rather than having to distribute support services to several scattered courtrooms.

Judge St. Joan says women in her court are taking a first step in a patriarchal society toward telling men "they don't have access, for the taking, to everything a woman has and owns and is." Most women who come to Department 303W can't afford the court filing fee, much less an attorney.

The authority of the court is underestimated if anyone calls the protective order "just a piece of paper." Anyone who ignores the terms of the order is committing a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The court's data show that there are 200 requests a month for temporary restraining orders and almost as many for permanent orders. "My bailiff calls us a court of last resort, and she is right," says Judge St. Joan.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; domestic violence
Author:Thaemert, Rita
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:2577
Previous Article:Federal entitlement reform and the states.
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