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Study in Violence: Battered Women Often Reluctant to Accept Aid

January 12, 1987|MIKE GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — On a recent weeknight, the San Diego Police Department and the Center for Women's Studies and Services were co-sponsoring a seminar on battered women. The doors to the "storefront" office of the Kensington police substation were open. Battered women or anyone else interested in the problem were invited to come in and "tell a story," in the hope that the ranks of battered women might diminish by at least one.

No one showed up.

Joyce Faidley from the center was there, as was John Slough, a police officer in the Kensington substation. Faidley said indications by telephone pointed to a good turnout. She also said that for no one to show was not entirely unanticipated or unusual. It takes a lot for a battered woman to admit the problem, she said, much less air it in a public forum.

As a result, the center is reevaluating its policy on such seminars, Faidley said, reaffirming that "getting a handle on the problem of battered women is difficult at best."

The Center for Women's Studies and Services offers a 24-hour hot line for battered women, as well as counseling and legal aid. The latter includes helping women seek temporary restraining orders as a way of stopping the violence.

"That's a legal order that kicks him out," Faidley said. "He can't come within 100 yards of the home, the children's school, the wife's place of employment . . . any place she feels endangered."

The problem of battered women is getting worse, Faidley said, even as awareness continues to grow. She offered a number of statistics culled from research by the center:

- Somewhere across the country, a woman is battered every 18 seconds, and 25% of all women who report such assaults are pregnant.

- Twenty-five percent of the murders in the nation happen within the family.

- Children are battered in half of the families in which the mother is being beaten.

- Of boys ages 11 to 20 who are arrested for homicide, 63% have murdered men who were assaulting their mothers.

- Fifty percent of California women will be assaulted by their husbands, lovers or sons at some time in their lives.

- Battery is the single major cause of injury to women, exceeding rapes, muggings and auto accidents.

- Battering tends to escalate over time, leading in some instances to homicide or suicide. According to the FBI, one-third of female murder victims in California are killed by their partners.

-Eighty-five percent of batterers were either battered as children or witnessed assaults on their mothers.

Faidley said the problem is getting worse in the elderly community, where the center's efforts are being concentrated in coming months. The center also conducts seminars in high schools, she said, hoping to influence young women against "ill-advised marriages."

The problem also affects police. Faidley said part of the effort is targeted toward "sensitizing" police officers, most of whom loathe intervening in such cases.

A new law passed last year mandates eight hours of domestic violence training in police work. The center is involved in that.

"A lot of officers don't like going out on those calls, because they're dangerous," Faidley said. "A lot of officers are killed or injured in the line of duty, and they never know what's going to happen in a battery case. They feel they're in a no-win situation. I sympathize with them--it isn't easy being tossed in the middle of two people fighting.

"Battery cases offer so many ironies and bizarre contradictions. There have been cases where they'll be handcuffing the batterer, and the wife is putting bail money in his pocket. Police officers tend to lose hope at those moments."

After the legislative mandate of January, 1986, officer Robert Stinson put together a program for the San Diego Police Department. He simplified the law, saying it forces police to view family violence in a criminal rather than domestic context.

"If a stranger on a street corner hits someone, that person gets arrested," Stinson said. "Now the same law applies to a husband slugging a wife in a home. I'd say the law is working very well, because a police officer now feels he can do something."

Still, enforcement of domestic violence is difficult. An officer walks into a highly charged emotional atmosphere where two people are often hopelessly irrational. He might be making an arrest, Stinson said, and suddenly, the wife starts hitting the officer--she resents seeing a "loved one" apprehended.

Stinson said about 2% of all arrests involve domestic violence. He said the problem is getting worse in San Diego, although awareness is increasing dramatically. From January to September of 1986, after the law took effect, San Diego police responded to 3,111 calls involving domestic violence.

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