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Women and Children Last : NEXT TIME SHE'LL BE DEAD: Battering and How to Stop It, By Ann Jones (Beacon Press: $22; 288 pp.)

January 16, 1994|Kim Wozencraft | Kim Wozencraft is the author of two novels, "Rush," and most recently, "Notes From the County Club," the story of a woman incarcerated in the psychiatric unit of a federal prison as she awaits trial for the murder of her abusive husband

Count to 12. Another woman has just been beaten by her spouse or lover or ex.

Ann Jones, author previously of "Women Who Kill," doesn't like the term domestic violence. In her new book, "Next Time She'll Be Dead: Battering and How to Stop It," she describes it as "one of those gray phrases, beloved of bureaucracy, designed to give people a way of talking about a topic with out seeing what's really going on." What atrocities have been obfuscated by the euphemism domestic violence ? Here are a few: assault, battery, rape, kidnaping, captivity. Torture and murder.

These offenses (except perhaps for rape), if committed on the streets by one man against another, or by a stranger upon a woman or child, in all likelihood would be vigorously prosecuted. But traditionally, a man's home is his castle, and what he does to his wife and children in the privacy of his own home is his own business. "Written by men for men," Jones tells us, "the law is designed to protect men from the power of the state and adjudicate conflicts between men, to preserve order in a society of men." Women and children first? Not when it comes to the right to live free from bodily harm.

In media reports, should a case be so gruesome as to merit the attention of the Fourth Estate, women "experience battering. They suffer abuse. They undergo assault. Rarely in the authoritative literature does a man hit a woman: in the gut, for instance, or the face, with his fist, hard--hard enough to split her lip, loosen her teeth, break her nose, lace her eyeball with a red web of ruptured veins--hard enough to make the blood run down the page. In real life it happens all the time." The language of the reports themselves places blame for the attack on the victim, refusing even to acknowledge that there must have been someone on the scene to do the hitting, kicking, punching, spitting.

The "passive voice of the journalists" is but a reflection of another kind of passivity. The police stand idly by, often refusing to arrest when a man beats his wife or ex-wife, his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. Even in localities that compel police officers to do so by enacting mandatory arrest laws, there are cops who will face disciplinary action rather than arrest a man who is beating up his wife. This sudden and highly unusual passivity on the part of the police is often reinforced by the courts, who will tell the bruised and battered woman standing before the bench asking for a restraining order to go home and try to work things out.

Some judges just don't like the idea of breaking up a family, even when husband is breaking his wife's bones. Jones tells us that " . . . more than half the women assaulted are injured, and at least 25% of them seek medical treatment. Ten percent of the injured visit hospital emergency rooms and many others visit private physicians to have their wounds dressed, their broken bones set, their injuries treated. . . . Of women requiring emergency surgery, one in five was battered, according to one study; one in two, according to another. Battering accounts for half of all cases of alcoholism in women. It accounts for half of all rapes of women over the age 30. . . . Battering is a cause of one-quarter of suicide attempts by all women, and one-half of suicide attempts by black women. And the Journal of the American Medical Assn. reports: 'Approximately 37% of obstetric patients, across class, race and educational lines, are physically abused while pregnant.' Among the results: 'placental separation, antepartum hemorrhage, fetal fractures, rupture of the uterus, liver, or spleen, and pre-term labor.' Pre-term labor, of course, may mean spontaneous abortion or miscarriage."

The carnage Jones documents in "Next Time She'll Be Dead," and the lack of concern, not to mention assistance, on the part of those institutions that are supposedly in place to help battered women, are enough to make us lose hope. We learn that from 1967 to 1973, "battering men killed 17,500 women and children in the United States. To grasp the enormity of that figure consider that only a little more than twice as many men--39,000 to be exact--were killed during the same period in combat in Vietnam. Thankfully the war in Vietnam ended, but the count of women injured and killed by men on the home front continues. In 1991 more than 21,000 domestic assaults, rapes, and murders were reported to the police every week."

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