JUNE 12, 12:58 EDTWar Against Domestic Abuse Working
By LAURA MECKLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) Five years after the O.J. Simpson case awakened a nation to domestic violence, local police and prosecutors have been given extensive training and new tools to combat abuse. And the federal government has pitched in with more than $1 billion.
The sudden acceleration is welcome news for women's groups that labored for three decades to make the war against domestic abuse a national priority. The turning point, many say, was media and public attention from the Simpson case.
``There was a widespread belief that if your husband beat you up, you would call police and they would take him away. Suddenly people realized that's not always how it happens,'' said Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women.
The latest statistics from the Justice Department show that 20 percent of domestic violence calls result in arrests, but there are no national figures on how many of those arrested are prosecuted or convicted. In fact, federal data on domestic violence are notoriously incomplete.
Those on the local front say police and prosecutors more aggressively are pushing cases to court and are more eager to receive training.
``There are many more police officers at trainings who are ready to learn, who want to do something different,'' said Anne O'Dell, a former San Diego detective who trains officers to handle domestic cases.
On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered. Evidence quickly emerged that O.J. Simpson had beaten his ex-wife, and police and prosecutors charged that he killed them. He was acquitted.
Within months, Congress approved a $1.62 billion Violence Against Women Act, dedicating more money to the cause than ever before while creating new federal laws. Advocates say it may have passed without the Simpson case, but probably would have been pared down.
The law is up for renewal this year, and already there are proposals to toughen the current laws and authorize more money. Republicans, who often seek to cut other social spending, mostly have been supportive.
The 1994 law made several changes.
States had to honor protective orders issued by other states. It became a federal crime to cross state lines to abuse a domestic partner. Federal funding for shelters more than doubled. New grants were given to train police and prosecutors, set up special units and track incidents.
To qualify for certain grants, states had to adopt policies that encourage police to arrest offenders on a domestic call. In many states, police now must make an arrest when they go to a domestic dispute or explain in writing why they didn't.
It was not always this way.
Police used to show up, walk the offending party around the block to calm him down and leave, sometimes putting the victim in further jeopardy.
Rosemary Bratton, an advocate who trains police in Wyoming, said that for many years, police were hostile to learning new ways: ``They would challenge everything we had to say.'' The atmosphere has markedly improved, she said.
Much of police reluctance has stemmed from victims who summon police but later want the charges dropped.
Part of the training centers on a ``cycle of violence,'' where a batterer will apologize after a violent episode, promising it will never happen again. Many women want to believe this is true, so they press to drop the charges, only to see violence reoccur.
O'Dell said police are now trained to press a case even without the cooperation of the victim and to collect more evidence at the scene: witness statements, photos, and information from the initial call.
Federal grants are also creating special units to handle these cases, like one on Cleveland's lower west side.
Domestic violence cases in the city's second district are handled by special detectives, prosecutors, and a victim advocate. The cases all go to Municipal Judge Ronald B. Adrine, who emphasizes treatment for batterers and imposes jail on those who do not comply.
Many judges hate these cases and try to get rid of them as quickly as possible, Adrine said. The key, he said, is understanding that offenders ``are very manipulative. If you allow them to play you, they will play you,'' he said.
Many judges resist education and training, believing it will compromise their objectivity, he said. That sometimes frustrates advocates.
But progress continues, including heightened media coverage. The number of times domestic violence was mentioned in U.S. newspapers and magazines more than doubled in the year after the Simpson arrest and has continued to climb since.
That has helped motivate activists around the country.
``We energized and politicized a whole generation of activists whose whole job was mostly to buy toys for the battered women's shelter and never thought their job was to talk to the mayor,'' said Pat Reuss, who led a coalition that lobbied for the federal law. ``Now they're working with cops and prosecutors.''
Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.