By Wendy Murphy
GateHouse News Service
Posted Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:01 PM
It's October, which means it’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
But we don’t really need an “awareness month” anymore. There’s so much domestic violence, we’re in a chronic state of awareness. What we really need is a revolution.
First the facts:
- A woman is beaten every 15 seconds.
- Nearly two dozen victims of domestic violence are already dead this year alone in Massachusetts. Other states report similar numbers.
- As many as 10 million children a year are exposed to domestic violence, causing them to suffer emotional and psychological harm, not to mention that they grow up believing that smacking your spouse is part of a “normal” relationship. No surprise then that boys who watch their fathers beat their mothers are far more likely as adults to do the same thing to their female partners.
- According to the Justice Department, women suffer violent victimization more than 4 million times a year. Approximately one-third of the crimes are committed by intimate partners.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury for American women between the ages of 15 and 44.
- Among homeless women and children, half are homeless because of domestic violence.
- Medical expenses resulting from domestic violence amount to around $4 billion annually.
Now a few of the embarrassing reasons for so much suffering:
- Most cases of domestic violence are not reported to law enforcement because victims fear retaliation, are financially dependent on their abuser, or believe the justice system will not protect them and/or is useless to deter the violence.
- Of the cases that are reported and accepted for prosecution, only about half end in conviction while one-third are dismissed by the prosecutor. For the small percentage of cases that end in conviction, the punishment is usually trivial.
In sum, there are three main reasons why women are abused in such large numbers by men who claim to love them: Offenders aren’t being punished! Offenders aren’t being punished! Offenders aren’t being punished!
Some argue that punishment doesn’t stop domestic violence and that we need to do more “education and prevention” to change the way males are raised so they will learn to respect women more. These tend to be the people who get funding to do “education and prevention.” In other words, they’re paid to co-opt victims into believing that justice and punishment aren’t important even though some research shows that the only thing that stops violent men is incapacitation (read: jail).
Even if education and cultural retraining might help some day, while we’re waiting around for our species to evolve, we need to give all endangered women a .45 caliber equalizer and we need to ramp up the punishment of batterers so that beating a woman isn’t sentenced on par with spitting on the sidewalk.
Anti-incarceration advocates will tell you that prison isn’t fun – and that it often spawns a toxic mental software that makes men who enter come out worse than ever when their sentence wraps up.
But if fear of becoming a monster in prison, and respect for women isn’t enough to deter a man from beating his wife, he’s already toxic – and putting him behind bars will prevent him from infecting innocent others with his poison. Punishment isn’t the only way to stop violence, but it is a legitimate and effective feature of our legal system. Lots of research shows how states that send a higher percentage of criminals to prison have lower rates of crime, even after controlling for all of things like poverty and urbanization.
But incarceration is a dirty word in the lexicon of some liberals who claim that locking people up gives the government dangerous amounts of power and threatens the freedom of the individual.
The freedom of FEMALE individuals is actually greatly enhanced when criminals who target women for violence are incapacitated.
But our legal system doesn’t care. And despite decades of disastrous statistics, our political leaders don’t care, either. In fact, nobody in a position of leadership is even complaining about the lack of justice for victimized women.
Earlier this month, there was a big to-do in D.C. about women’s issues in the Obama administration. Lynn Rosenthal, whose responsibility it is to deal with violence against women on behalf of the president, gave a lovely talk about all sorts of things, but never once mentioned the profound failure of law to redress domestic violence or the desperate need for tougher punishments for batterers.
Obviously, the men who promised “change” and “hope” for a better society, and who haven’t shied away from talking about the need for tough punishments for corporate criminals, have little “hope” to offer women in danger. It's just more politicians in a long line of others who value stuff more than women’s lives.
Patriot Ledger contributor Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast .