Domestic abuse, forcible rape, and assault represent the worst forms of violence against women. The fact that such crimes remain significant in America is an unacceptable reality.
Aside from the egregious physical and emotional damage from this violence, it has a large financial cost and political impact as well. The financial cost results from requirements for expanding prisons, additional police officers, hospital expenses and wages paid for lost workdays. Each of these eventually results in higher taxes and lowered services thereby affecting everyone.
The political cost is a level of fear and unrest from half of the American population and anger from women who rightfully expect society to protect them. Though this political cost is understandable and justifiable, it is disingenuous for a political campaign to assign blame to a political party. Neither party has been effective in curbing the violence. And claiming this as part of a so-called “War Against Women” is a non-starter.
Private organizations have had some success in lobbying for stronger punishments, and creating awareness among population groups that are most affected. Nevertheless, their ultimate effectiveness seems to be limited. Government agencies may never have funds to build enough prisons and courtrooms to manage the volume of violent lawbreakers. Nor can they hire enough lawyers to improve systems that are already bursting from an overwhelming volume of accused felons. The ultimate result is that plea-bargaining curtails most sentences and returns violent people to repeat criminal behaviors.
Politicians and community leaders need to create a fresh approach to these challenges by attacking the real causes. Most of us will agree that mentally ill or deeply disturbed people are responsible for the ongoing violence against women. The more difficult questions are: How do we identify likely perpetrators before they act, and what should we do with them?
A Lesson Learned from My Dad
Long ago, as a child in a working class neighborhood, I knew that many of our male neighbors used physical violence to control their wives. No one discussed it but it was an obvious fact of life in that era.
Though my dad never discussed this subject openly, I knew he considered men who hurt women to be reprehensible. His occasional remarks about respecting women, especially my mother, served as lifelong mental programming in our family.
I vividly recall an incident in which our next door neighbors had apparently had marital fights that were getting out of control. No outsiders knew what was happening, but there were many signs of domestic violence. The wife, normally a friendly upbeat lady could be heard sobbing through open windows on hot summer nights.
The husband, the dad of one of my closest playmates, would stomp out of the back door and would seem to be highly agitated. He was a heavy drinker and son of Eastern European parents who routinely beat their children. He was a battlefield veteran from WWII and had returned home with the emotional scars of war. In today’s terminology, he would have fit the profile of a potential domestic abuser.
My dad innately understood the domestic abuser profile and confronted the husband. I watched from a distance as he spoke to the man with obvious urgency. My dad was a mild-mannered guy, and I had never seen him in animated conversation like this. The husband listened intently and seemed to convey fearful body language.
After a day or two had passed, I asked my dad what he had said to the husband. He explained that he told the man that he seemed to be hurting his wife. My dad said he would report him to the district attorney if he saw more signs of abuse. I later learned that a report to the DA in that era was much more serious than a report to local police. Police procedures at that time usually resulted in reports citing insufficient evidence and no further actions. District attorneys were more likely to investigate and prosecute.
As far as anyone knew, my Dad’s intervention had curbed the man’s violent behavior. The wife’s sunny demeanor returned. And I had learned an important lesson about paying attention to potentially violent profiles.
Though the word “profiling” has negative connotations for some of us, profiling potential offenders is the first preemptive step in identifying violent abusers. Many of us can point to some unique characteristics shared by violent people. Psychology professionals can add evidence to complete that picture. Religious leaders and educators can help the public at large to recognize the symptoms, in the same spirit as “if you see something, say something.”
Communities must have effective means to contact and pre-evaluate future offenders in ways that do not threaten them or harm their reputations. And laws need to be available to treat high-risk people before they harm others or themselves.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX