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7/10/05


 

VIOLENCE AGAINST
WOMEN

By David Podvin

According to government statistics, an American woman is violently attacked by an American man every nine seconds, so females might be excused for believing that al Qaida does not pose the most imminent threat to their safety. Each year more than a thousand women are murdered by their current or former male partners. Nearly one third of women have been physically abused by a husband or boyfriend. While the most widespread medical affliction among men is heart disease, domestic violence is the foremost health problem for females. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the police have no obligation to enforce restraining orders against men who maim women, so the carnage is about to intensify.

Domestic violence is not a “woman’s” issue. It is a matter concerning everyone who cares about women, which does not include America’s political class. During the last election, neither major party addressed the epidemic in a meaningful way, and neither presidential candidate bothered to emphasize it during the debates. It has been said that the opposite of love is not hatred but neglect, and in the United States the physical safety of women rarely appears on the political radar screen.

Republican politicians represent a fundamentalist theology that posits women are the property of men, so they do not address the violence because they perceive no relevant problem. Democratic politicians represent nothing but their own ambition, so they do not address the violence because they perceive no personal gain. The result is that across America innocent females are routinely beaten and raped and tortured and murdered, not because the efforts to save them have failed, but because serious efforts have not been made. To the contrary, Republicans have diverted authorized funds from the federal battered women’s shelter program, and if you have heard Democratic politicians screaming bloody murder about it your hearing is extraordinarily keen.

There are a myriad of theories that seek to explain why women are America’s piñatas, but ultimately the problem exists because of society’s willingness to tolerate the abuse. The United States has declared wars to end everything from illiteracy to obesity to drug addiction, none of which negatively affects as many citizens as domestic violence. Yet there has never been a War Against Pummeling Mother, nor is there one looming on the horizon.

The twin components of any battle against domestic violence are deterrence and support. Men who hit women are amoral cowards and must be punished severely. Batterers are not entitled to empathy or multiple opportunities to reform. Sentences that include anger management classes in lieu of hard time exacerbate the problem. Anger management only works on people who are receptive, so batterers must be made receptive by experiencing hardship. The first time a man physically abuses a woman the system should come down on him like a ton of bricks. Had this procedure been followed, countless victims would still be alive.

Equally important is the establishment of a viable victim support system. Treating females battered by someone they have loved requires the utmost sensitivity. Abused women suffer from humiliation and guilt. They are extremely reluctant to report the crimes, in part because of lingering emotional attachments to their tormentors, and in part because of the highly justified fear that a subsequent reprisal would go unpunished.

Females who are violently abused need access to a safe harbor in which they can sort out their feelings and plan a course of action. This refuge cannot consist of a hovel supervised by volunteers. It must be a high security facility staffed by experts in the field. If the program costs a few billion dollars, it can be justified in the sacrosanct Homeland Security budget under the heading of domestic defense.

The recent change in accountability for law enforcement insures that shelters will be doing a land-office business. When the Supreme Court ruled in Castle Rock, Colorado v. Gonzales that police departments are not legally obligated to enforce restraining orders, the seven justices who formed the majority sentenced many innocent females to lead lives of torment cut short by violent death.

And not just adult females. The following is excerpted from the ACLU amicus brief submitted to the high court:

“In 1999, a court granted Jessica Gonzales a protective order barring her estranged and unstable husband from contact with her and her three daughters. A month later, the husband violated the order and abducted the three children, ages seven, nine and ten. Under Colorado law, police were required to enforce the court order by arresting the husband. Nevertheless, the Castle Rock police refused numerous separate requests to take any action to find the children or arrest the husband. Even after Ms. Gonzales had made contact with her husband by phone and learned that he had the children at a local amusement park, the police failed to take action. The episode finally ended when the husband arrived at the Castle Rock police station and started shooting. After police shot and killed him, they searched his van (where they) found the bodies of three children, whom he had murdered.”

The police chose not to enforce a court order protecting Gonzalez and her daughters, murder ensued, and the court ruled that no one in a position of authority can be held liable. It is now open season on women and their children, courtesy of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, Kennedy, O’Connor, Breyer, and Souter. The last two really should know better, but misogyny is pandemic in the United States.

Decency never has been. In a society where the ruling elite considers advocates of torture to be disturbingly moderate, it is hardly surprising that barbarity against women is encouraged. Left to their own designs, both major political parties will allow the bloody status quo to continue as they collaborate on the infinitely more important matter of redistributing wealth upwards.

Violence against women can be greatly reduced, but only if people who care make clear to our elected representatives that nothing else will be tolerated. The process can begin by demanding members of Congress strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation must provide sufficient funding to address properly the needs of victims. Congress must also circumvent Castle Rock v. Gonzalez by imposing full criminal and civil liability on law enforcement personnel who refuse to honor restraining orders. After two hundred twenty-nine years of loudly proclaiming moral superiority, the United States of America should finally endow its female citizens with the legal right to live in peace.

Violence Against Women Act of 2005 (VAWA– H.R. 2876)
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