Monday, March 23, 2009

Domestic Disturbances

“Did I tell you about the shooting behind J.D.’s house the other night?” my husband asked the other night.

“No! What happened?” I asked. A shooting in our small cluster of towns north of Philadelphia, rated one of the top 100 places to live nationwide, was pretty shocking.

J.D. (not his real name) is my hubby’s work buddy and carpool partner, and he lives a few miles from us in a middle-class neighborhood much like ours – hilly, tree-lined streets with post-war split-level homes occupied by young families and older retired couples.

“There was a domestic dispute between this guy and his wife, and he was beating the shit out of her, according to the neighbors. Then he pulled a gun on her,” my husband explained. “Someone called the cops and when they got there, the guy fired on them, and then they shot him,” he said.

“That sucks,” I said, “But what’s really fucking awful is that he’ll get more jail time and harsher punishment for shooting at the cops than he ever would for beating his wife. And I don’t think that’s right.”

“Wait … so you’re telling me you think this guy’s abusing his wife is a worse crime than shooting at the cops,” hubby said, and shook his head. Well, yeah, I replied, For many reasons, I do.

Now, before you go all medieval on my husband, understand that, even with the high-profile passage of the 2004 Violence Against Women act, even with increased awareness about the severity and prevalence of domestic violence, it often isn’t taken seriously as an offense in and of itself. It’s still viewed by much of the mainstream population as something that happens to “The Others,” a kind of a “Not in my backyard” mentality that can extend even to highly educated, progressive people who are otherwise well-informed (like him).

And before you go all medieval on me, let me explain my position. You know what you’re signing up for when you enroll in the police academy. You are aware that there’s real danger involved; that you may end up facing down violent criminals and that you could lose your life. You understand the risks and the consequences.

Not so victims of domestic abuse, many of whom have been raised by abusive parents or for various other reasons lack confidence and self-worth and are often singled out by abusers for those exact characteristics. Many don't know any other way of life. Victims are systematically isolated from their friends, family and other support systems, making it more and more difficult to reach out for help. And even those who may be strong enough to try to leave their abusers face the very real possibility that they'll be stalked and killed.

And because of the stigma and shame abusers heap on their victims and the tendency for many abusers to ensure that any bruises, scratches and other physical signs of abuse are in places easily covered or explained away, many of these crimes go unreported, leading the general population to believe that the problem isn’t serious or widespread.

The truth is, according to the American Institute on Domestic Violence, ( 5.3 million women are abused each year. Let that sink in for a second. Five point three million. And the leading cause of injury to women is domestic violence. Chances are, someone you know is being abused by her husband, boyfriend, partner, or someone she’s dating.

Compounded by the usually dismissive way the justice system treats victims of abuse, assault, harassment, stalking and other crimes of this nature (of which the majority of the victims are women), the measures that are put in place to protect victims are so ineffective as to be pretty much useless – unless the offender commits another crime in the process.

Restraining orders? Difficult to enforce with light penalties. Legal avenues? If a victim does press charges, most court appearances turn into a case of “he said, she said,” since there are often few witnesses to domestic violence.

I’m clearly making assumptions about the situation that took place near my home. But really – you don’t just pick up a gun, point it at your wife and then take a couple shots at the police for shits and giggles. This guy was a ticking time bomb – why does it take an incident like this for his violent potential to be recognized?

Perhaps more importantly, why is the fact that a violent man being gunned down by police more shocking and noteworthy than the fact that this man was abusing his wife?


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