WASHINGTON — There were about 1 million attacks on women by their husbands or lovers last year, a Senate committee said Friday, as 16 women's groups urged more stringent laws to combat domestic violence.
Another 3 million violent domestic crimes--murders, rapes and assaults--went unreported, estimated the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Women's lives remain controlled by fear, yet Congress has been slow to respond," said Rosemary Dempsey, vice president of the National Organization for Women. "The incidents recorded in this report are a stark reminder of the misogyny behind the statistics."
Dempsey pointed out a 1988 U.S. Surgeon General's report that listed violence as the No. 1 health risk among women. The Senate committee noted a June, 1992, report from Surgeon General Antonia Novello, which said violence is the leading cause of injury to women aged 15-44.
The statistics demonstrate the need for the proposed Violence Against Women Act he sponsored, said the committee's chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).
Biden's legislation calls for allowing women to bring civil cases for attacks committed against them because of their gender; educational programs against domestic violence and stiffer laws against spouse abuse.
He noted the bill could make rape a federal offense, but said that is justifiable if it is proven that the victim was attacked because of gender.
"It is a hate crime. My objective is to give the woman every opportunity under the law to seek redress, not only criminally, but civilly," Biden said. "I want to raise the consciousness of this country that women's civil rights--their right to be left alone--is in jeopardy."
The committee also looked at 200 cases of assault on women during the first week of last month. Twenty-four of the women either were seeking or already had obtained court orders to protect them from past or potential attackers.
The 200 recent examples were gathered from rape crisis centers, emergency rooms, shelters and police stations.
Among the September cases described were:
* A Texas mother whose husband stabbed her to death and hung himself after she tried to get a protective order and enter a shelter for battered women;
* A 46-year-old woman in New Mexico whose husband beat her and pushed her from a moving car;
* A 28-year-old New Hampshire woman whose husband tried to strangle her and break her leg, then refused to allow her to seek medical attention until the next day.
The report said domestic disputes accounted for 16% of all sexual assaults and 20% of all aggravated assaults reported in 1991. It counted 1.37 million domestic incidents.