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Resolution 590: Why is Congress ignoring the needs of abusive women?

By Carey Roberts
web posted August 27, 2007

Mary Winkler of Selmer, Tennesseewas set free last week. Winkler had admitted to gunning down her husband, the popular town preacher, in March 2006 while he was in bed asleep. As he lay dying with blood foaming from his mouth, the man of the cloth incredulously asked her, "Why?"

With that, Mary packed their three daughters into the car and drove down to Alabama for a beachside vacation.

If Mrs. Winkler had been convicted of intentional murder, she could have been sentenced to 60 years of hard time. But all she got was 67 days in a mental health facility. Stunned by that wrist-slap of a sentence, former New York district attorney Jeannine Pirro fumed, "Justice was definitely not served here."

Apart from its farcical mockery of our legal system, the Winkler case raises another question: Are we doing enough to help abusive women to prevent future disasters like this?

Recently Representative Ted Poe of Texas introduced a bill on domestic violence. Known as House Resolution 590, the bill laudably calls on Congress to support Domestic Violence Awareness Month, observed every year in October.

But is there any mention of the pressing need to help the perpetrators of domestic violence resolve their anger, to resolve their emotional pathology, or kick the drug habit? No.

A clarion call to help for persons like Mary Winkler before they reach their tragic breaking points? Sorry to disappoint.

Or even a passing mention of the existence of such women? Wrong on all three counts.

The resolution states, "Whereas male children exposed to domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners." But research shows that girls exposed to domestic violence are also at much greater risk of perpetuating the cycle of violence – why does the bill include no mention of that?

In some places, the resolution misleads, such as its claim that "adolescent girls who reported dating violence were 60 percent more likely to report one or more suicide attempts in the past year." But in truth, it's adolescent boys subjected to dating violence who are more like to attempt suicide, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

And in other places, the resolution is flat-out wrong, like its claim that "one in four teenage girls has been in a relationship in which she was pressured into performing sexual acts by her partner." The actual figure is 12% of teenage girls and 6% of teenage boys.

Our elected officials in Washington earn a pretty decent salary – can't they at least get their numbers right?

A few years ago family violence researcher Murray Straus wrote an essay called "Women's Violence toward Men is a Serious Social Problem." Not only did women engage in partner violence at least as often as men, but women were actually more likely to deliver the first blow. Indeed, "every study finds that women initiate violence in a large proportion of cases," Straus noted.

Apologists for female violence will try to tell you that women who attack their partners are only acting in self-defense. But research shows that accounts only a small fraction of cases – maybe one in five.

Nicola Graham-Kevan of the University of Central Lancashire reveals, "self-defense is cited by a minority of women." And Daniel Whitaker of the Centers for Disease Control notes in his recent research, "studies of community samples found that a relatively low percentage of women endorsed self-defense as a primary motive for violence."

So why are services for female batterers as rare as a hailstorm in August?

Part of the problem stems from the Violence Against Women Act, which blithely pretends the problem doesn't even exist. If a woman calls a VAWA hotline to get help, she's likely to get a dismissive "He must have done something to provoke you" brush-off.

Dr. Laura Petracek is a San Francisco-based psychologist who specializes in treating angry and violent women. She says the lack of female-specific services can be traced back to widespread social denial. "Women are raised to be caregivers and to be nurturing and loving. Society has a very difficult time seeing women in an aggressor role." Petracek explains.

As a consequence of this collective tunnel vision, female batterers have nowhere to turn. For that, countless innocents have paid dearly.

Meanwhile back in Tennessee, the three daughters of Matthew Winkler still mourn the fact that they will never see their loving father. And the jarred memories of the Selmer residents will take many years to heal.

But one thing is clear -- the framers of House Resolution 590 should not allow this terrible legacy of neglect to continue. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

 

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