Where Are the Cops When You Need 'Em?
I woke up late in the morning of a brilliant Saturday, anxiously awaiting a day trip to a nearby resort town. No sooner had I rubbed the crusties out of my eyes did I hear the sound of a woman upstairs from me screaming horrendously. There was a deeper voice booming nearly as loudly; suddenly, I heard several "thumps" and "whacks," and both voices doubled in volume.
I jumped out of bed, and listened for a moment at the window. My housemate stumbled into my room, dripping wet from a shower and said, "Did you hear that? I heard it in the shower, for Christ's sake!"
"Yeah, I'm calling 911," I said. "It sounds pretty bad." I picked up the phone and dialed, and was greeted by the campus police department. I explained the situation, who I was, my location, and all of the other miscellaneous details required in emergency calls. The dispatcher assured me that help was on the way.
Four minutes later, two police cars arrived, and the officers went upstairs, and the officers went upstairs. I was slightly annoyed that it took that long, as the police department was only about a 15-second drive from the apartment complex. However, I knew the statistics of police response to domestic dispute calls-- the normal response time at least twice as long if a woman is being attacked and she knows her assailant-- and I was simply glad that help was here. The officers stopped at my doors as they were leaving, saying that since the woman had no visible sign of injury, and insisted that she did not want to press charges, that they would not be able to do anything about the situation.
I was frustrated and upset, but I have seen these situations before-- with a close friend, with family, and within the feminist network in which I am active. I only hoped that the woman would not wait until it could be too late to do something about her situation.
Several weeks later, our complex was outfitted with major security precautions. Not for the students, however: for four weeks, we were sharing our living space with about 200 well-paid, high-profile male athletes. This in itself annoyed me, that these people, simply because of their name and profession, should receive all sorts of wonderful, free services from the institution that I pay thousands of dollars to attend. Again, I remained silent, as I knew the politics of the situation far out-weighed our rights-- a phenomenon far to prevalent in our society.
I didn't think about either of these two situations again until one night, when I was waiting for friends by the security booth at the front of the complex. Each car that passed through had to be verified by either a parking permit or by calling the resident that the guests were visiting. I decided to save my friends the trouble of the gate--I waited just in front of it.
While I waited, a car blew through the security check. The guard on-duty didn't recognize the car, nor did he see a visible entrance permit. He radioed the situation to the campus police department as I was looking at my watch. I took out a cigarette, fiddle around with some matches, and finally lit it. When I looked up, I was more than surprised to see a campus police car speeding up the driveway and into the complex. I looked at my watch again, and thirty seconds had passed since the guard had called for assistance.
Thirty seconds. I said it over and over in my head. Thirty seconds it took for the police to arrive to check an unmarked car. (As it turns out, the car was registered; the driver hadn't noticed that his permit wasn't visible.) Thirty seconds it took for the campus police to make sure that this car and its passengers belonged in the complex.
Four minutes it took to respond to the screams of a woman being beaten and verbally threatened in the same apartment complex a few weeks earlier. Four minutes to perhaps save a life.
Thirty seconds to stop a car from potentially interfering with the activities of two hundred rich, high profile men.
A few years ago, much to the chagrin of all of our friends, my best friend moved in with her boyfriend. We all thought he was repulsive; he was loud, unfriendly, domineering, and just plain obnoxious. We stood aside as she happily moved her things into their new apartment off-campus, not knowing until much later the full details of the hell she was experiencing. I had caught a glimpse of it earlier that year; she ran into my room crying one day, sobbing that he had thrown her up against a wall, and her back was killing her. At the time, I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to be another person telling her what to do, so I offered some suggestions lightly and helped her get some medical attention. I almost didn't want to believe what I was seeing before my very eyes; after all, Eva was a beautiful, intelligent, witty young woman who would be "smarter than that;" she wouldn't stick around if it was really bad. At least that's what I told myself. She endured what was a living hell for another year, and after she finally moved out on her own, she told me the details of the abuse she endured for those two years.
"Do you want to go to someone about this?" I inquired. (By this time, I had amassed a slew of resources I could offer her.)
"No way. It's over now, and doing that would just bring it all up again," she replied. "Besides, what would they really do to him? Bob's got the money for a lawyer; I don't. I don't have any proof anymore, except for my word, and we both know how cases like that turn out. Uh-uh."
Little did we know that it wasn't over. Bob began harassing her over the phone, in person, and blatantly stalking her. He threatened to hurt her friends, to expose sordid details of her sex life to her family, and finally, to kill her. She notified the campus police that he was stalking her, but since he was a student at the university, he was allowed to roam free on campus, whether he was bothering her or not. His final move was to press charges of aggravated harassment against her in the city court. We were dumbfounded, and lost for answers.
We called every resource on my list, but for the first part of our search, no one could offer her any help. The campus lawyer couldn't take the case because Bob was a student at the university. The victims' assistance programs in the city couldn't help because she was the alleged perpetrator of the harassment. Her world seemed to be crumbling until we called the domestic violence shelter, which immediately set up an appointment with a court advocate. The advocate was like a messenger from the heavens at the time; she arranged for a meeting with the D.A. and walked Eva though the court appearances. Luckily, the case never went to trial; thanks to the advocate, Eva was able to tell her side of the story, and in the end, she received a permanent order of protection against Bob. But through the days of sitting in the city court, watching countless cases pass through, we witnessed a number of other domestic violence initial hearings take place. We watched the women who weren't as "lucky" as Eva; who had the bruises to prove their injuries, but no money for a lawyer, and thus, no chance at safety. I must say, however, that the presiding judge of the cases was quite remarkable. We could see that he truly sympathized with the victims. We also saw that his hands were tied by the law.
The timing of police response to domestic violence calls and the subsequent action within the legal system is a symptom of a much larger problem in our society. A gross oversimplification of the situation would be to say that women in general aren't as valued as men in America; however, this statement doesn't seem to offer any structure or means to obtaining a solution. Looking at a historical perspective, the "custom" of wife-beating is as old as marriage itself. During early-recorded history, wife-beating was openly encouraged and sanctioned by the laws of many cultures. Thus, it is rooted deeply in the history of our own culture, making it all the more difficult to address. It has been (and, to a large extent, still is) viewed by society as an interpersonal conflict involving a batterer and the victims. But is this really the case? Hardly. Domestic violence is a manifestation of a exceedingly subtle power structure of American society known as the patriarchy. As a societal system, it is largely responsible for many of the broader issues that we face: sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, etc. As a means of describing social hierarchy, upper-class, white, heterosexual males are placed at the top of the pecking order; those who deviate from these standards of normal (e.g., women, people of color, gay/lesbian/bisexuals, etc.) are placed lower and lower in the structure, enabling all of the "-isms" previously mentioned. This is not a description designed to place blame on any one individual or group (typically white males); instead, it is a tool for examining our society as a whole.
Looking at domestic violence through this patriarchal window, we can see how the legal system specifically deprives women the essential security and safety fundamentally guaranteed in our nation. Unknowingly, we are all socialized into the patriarchy from birth, and we "buy into" the structures and ideals that have been in place for thousands of years. These structures and ideals are what influence the creation of laws, legal codes, and naturally, police force codes. These codes are written in the voice of the patriarchy, and support the highest-ranking member of the system. It is this structure which supports the rights of the privileged few.
Take a look at these statistics, and think about the source of the problem, and who is most affected by this system we call "normal":
Taken from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey in 1994:
During 1992 approximately 28 percent of female homicide victims (1,414 women) were known to have been killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends. In contrast, just over 3 percent of male homicide victims (637) were known to have been killed by their wives, former wives or girlfriends.
Women in families with incomes below $10,000 per year were more likely than other women to be violently attacked by an intimate.
Police were more likely to respond within 5 minutes if the offender was a stranger than if an offender was known to the female victim. (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report," January 1994, p. 9)
Annually, compared to males, females experienced over 10 times as many incidents of violence by an intimate. On average each year, women experienced 572,032 violent victimizations at the hands of an intimate, compared to 48,983 incidents committed against men. (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report," January 1994, p. 6)
"The private nature of the event, the perceived stigma and the belief that no purpose would be served in reporting the crime keeps an unknown portion of the victims from talking about the event."
Taken from WWW sources: Domestic Violence Info Pages (www.iquest.net/~gtemp/domvi.htm) and SafetyNet ™ (www.cybergrrl.com/dv.html):
"There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters." (Schneider, 1990).
"Women charged in the death of a mate have the least extensive criminal records of any people convicted. However, they often face higher penalties than men who kill their mates. FBI statistics indicate that fewer men are charged with first- or second-degree murder for killing a woman they have known than are women who kill a man they have known. Women convicted of these killings are frequently sentenced to longer prison terms than are men." (Angela Browne, When Battered Women Kill, New York, NY: The Free Press, 1987, p. 11)
"90% of all family violence defendants are never prosecuted, and one-third of the cases that would be considered felonies if committed by strangers are filed as misdemeanors (a lesser crime)." (News from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, September 2, 1993)
What do these words say to you? Where are our judicial and law enforcement systems focused? What has our society taught us to believe about domestic violence? It has taught us to believe that it is the fault of the woman, and that she essentially has no legal recourse to save her own life.
Domestic violence is ugly. What makes it hideous is the defacement of the victims and their rights, and this hideousness is reflected in our own visage as a nation. Even worse is the fact that domestic violence is only one small piece in this structure we call civilization. Thousands upon thousands of other stories, facts, and similar arguments can be made for sexual assault and harassment, racial hatred crimes, and many, many more. All of the events that I have described to you have taken place on a university campus. A university spearheads enlightenment; it is up to the individual to take that imparted knowledge, hopefully the knowledge I have given you in this piece, and make the necessary changes.