DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND REFORM SPEECH
Hello, my name is Dr. Mary Nutter and I am the executive director of the
Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center, commonly known as SPARC. I was
invited here today to talk to you, the legislators, representatives and lawmakers of
our state, about the growing problem of domestic violence. I'm going to discuss
domestic violence and what can be done to help stop domestic violence, but first I
would like to tell you a little about SPARC.
SPARC is a not for profit organization in Gainesville that serves Gainesville
and its surrounding communities. SPARC's mission is to eliminate the battering of
women and children and end the cycle of violence in the community. SPARC
originates from the Rape Information and Counseling Services program, which
began in 1974. In 1977, the name was changed to the Sexual and Physical Abuse
Resource Center to reflect the broader mission of the organization. Funding for
SPARC and the services it provides comes from the United Way, the Marriage
License Trust Fund, monies that are administered by Health and Rehabilitative
Services, and the community's generosity.
SPARC offers numerous services to the community to help the women and
children who may be in need. A 24-hour hotline and counseling services are
available to those in need of someone to talk to. An emergency shelter is available
for women who may need to get themselves and their children out of an abusive
environment. SPARC also provides information, victim advocacy, community
education, children's programs and emergency food, clothing and transportation to
those in abusive situations in the community.
One of SPARC's main concerns, as well as one of my main concerns, is the
growing problems of domestic violence and abuse in the home. Domestic violence
is not a new problem, but rather an old problem that is just now receiving serious
consideration. Until the 1970s, the time of the first wave of legal reform on
domestic violence issues, an aggravated assault against a stranger was a felony but
assaulting a spouse was considered a misdemeanor. According to a 1990 gender-
bias study completed by the Florida Supreme Court, police seldom arrest domestic
violence offenders even when there are injuries serious enough to warrant
hospitalization of the victim. Although domestic violence is often a private problem,
even when the public is drawn in, like the police, not very much is done to prevent
the abuse from happening again.
I see a lot of cases of repeated abuse through the women who come to the
shelter, but one case in particular stands out in my mind. About a year and a half
ago a woman came to the shelter from a neighboring county. She was pregnant
and had two small children when she came to the shelter to escape an abusive and
violent boyfriend. Her boyfriend had repeatedly threatened to kill her and her
children to everyone In the community, including the police. She had filed
numerous reports with the local police and the police had Investigated the situation
a number of times, but still nothing was done to keep the boyfriend away from her.
Finally, after repeated threats, she left her home and the community to go to
the shelter. She felt she had to protect her children. Her boyfriend somehow found
out where she was going and followed her to Gainesville. Even in Gainesville he
persistently followed her and tried to contact her, regardless of restraining orders
and injunctions. One day he called her and told her he was going to kill himself.
She called the police and told them of his threat and asked that someone go to his
home to check on him. When the police arrived there, he was gone. That was a
year and a half ago. Even today she is still, to some degree, afraid that one day he
will return and make good on his promise to kill her. She should not have be afraid
for her life or her children's lives.
In many ways her fear is justified. Not very much was done to prevent him
from stalking her and threatening her while he was here. What would stop him from
carrying out his threats and seriously hurting her or her children? The one time the
police were involved he was offered counseling or jail time. Which do you think he
chose? Counseling. He even told his counselor that he was planning to kill his
Last year the American Medical Association, backed by the Surgeon General,
said that violent men constitute a major threat to women's health. A 1988 Surgeon
General's report listed domestic violence as the No. 1 cause of injury to women.
Domestic violence is not a problem that can be ignored in hopes that it will just go
away. Something has to be done to end domestic violence and make the problem
Statistics show that in 1991, approximately 4 million women were beaten and
1,320 were murdered in domestic attacks. Research shows that approximately 50
percent of married women are beaten at least once by their husbands. Twenty-five
percent of these women are pregnant.
Domestic violence can involve pushing, punching, slapping, choking,
stabbing, and forcing sexual activity. Domestic violence involves using the threat of
violence to control another person's behavior.
Typically, the first response to domestic violence is to ask why women stay in
abusive relationships. Many women do leave abusive relationships. Other women
may endure the violence for a number of reasons. A woman may stay because she
does not have enough money to support herself and her children; she may not have
anywhere to go; she may not have any job skills; she may be afraid her abuser will
do something worse to her or her children; she may feel it is her duty to keep the
family together; or she may hope that her partner will eventually change. Often,
women will stay in the relationship in order to keep the family together but will leave
when the violence is directed at the children. To observers the reasons for staying
in the situation always sound trivial compared to the threat of abuse. The one thing
to remember is that you never know what you will do until you are faced with the
situation. Hindsight and secondhand observation are wonderful things.
According to a 1992 Senate Judiciary Committee Report, women are six
times more likely than men to be victims of violent crimes in intimate relationships.
In 1991, more than 90 women were murdered every week. Nine out of 10 of those
were murdered by men. A 1991 report for health care providers said that medical
expenses from domestic violence total at least $3 billion to $5 billion annually.
Linda Osmundson, co-chair of a battered wives' task force for the National
Coalition Against Domestic Violence says, "Domestic violence is not seen as a
crime. A man's home is still his castle. There is a system that really believes that
women should be passive in every circumstance."
Women will be forced to endure physical abuse until people stop suggesting
that battered women who stay in abusive relationships deserve the violence and
instead focus on the real issues.
Often, battered women are forced to respond in self-defense to the violence
they experience. Currently, there are 2,000 battered women in America who are
serving prison time for defending themselves against their batterers. According to
Angela Browne, in When Battered Women Kill, FBI statistics indicate that women
convicted of killing their male partners are frequently sentenced to longer prison
terms than are men convicted of the same crimes.
How do we stop domestic violence? Is it possible to end the cycle of violence
In our community? These are common questions. Statistics show that, in the more
recent past, we have not been effective in stopping domestic violence. We have
found ways to help people cope with domestic violence and offered people
alternatives so that they can help themselves in violent situations, but the problem
Part of the answer can be found in the recent movement for clemency. The
recent laws passed by Florida's legislature are a step in the right direction. The new
laws help define domestic violence and who can be involved in domestic violence.
The law expanded the definition of domestic violence to include any criminal offense
that causes injury or death to any family member. The law also redefined the family
to include people who are living together or have lived together as a family, or who
have a child together. These reforms in the existing laws will help define the
situations so that law enforcement officials can better respond and handle them.
Florida's stalking laws will also help curb the violence because stalking is very often
a part of domestic violence.
A movement that has emerged as an alternative to the clemency movement
is the movement for more preventive measures to curb domestic violence, as well as
try to prevent it. This movement suggests increased penalties for federal sex
crimes; increased monies to police, prosecutors and courts to combat domestic
violent crimes; and reinforcement of state domestic violence laws.
There are many other ways to curb domestic violence. Providing shelters for
victims of domestic violence is one of the ways most commonly used. Shelters,
contact with shelter employees and contact with victims in similar situations help
breakdown the isolation that prevent many domestic violence victims from leaving
abusive situations or from getting help. Research shows that women who resort to
violence in self-defense are generally the ones that are the most socially and
Another way to curb domestic violence would be to wage a "war on violence."
In the past a "war on drugs" has been waged and, although not totally effective, has
brought about some favorable results. Community education and increased
community involvement are two factors that came out of the effort that can still be
seen today. This type of community effort and education could also help with an
issue like domestic violence.
For example, I'm sure many of you did not know the magnitude of the
domestic violence problem until today. The numbers I told you are not the most
important factor here. The magnitude of those numbers is what is important. Many
of you probably don't remember the exact numbers, but I'm sure many of you do
remember that the statistics were surprising and a little bit frightening.
Increased community education is certain to help an issue like domestic
violence because not many people are familiar with the magnitude of the problem.
Only the people directly involved in the issue, whether they be a victim, a volunteer
or a friend of a victim, realize the depth of the domestic violence problem in our
society. Community education could help everyone realize the depth of the
Another factor of the "war on violence" would be to show the batterers and
others involved In violence that society will not tolerate parents who abuse their
children and spouses who batter each other. That type of behavior should be
Reform in prosecution and investigation of domestic violence disputes is an
area that some states have shown interest in to help curb domestic violence and
best deal with the present violence. Minnesota was one of the first states to institute
mandatory arrests for domestic disputes. Even if the victim does not wish to press
charges the police are obliged to make an arrest if there is evidence of abuse. This
would help in the situations where victims are afraid to press charges after calling
the police or after being confronted by police. Also, the increased use of the
arresting officer as a complainant in the case against the abuser would help prevent,
the case from being solely dependent on the frightened testimony of the victim.
The reluctance of prosecutors to plea-bargain assault cases down to disorderly
conduct would increase the likelihood of stiffer penalties for the abuser.
Another way to more effectively deal with the domestic violence we have
today is better training of law enforcement officers, judges, emergency-room
personnel and others who come in contact with victims of domestic violence.
Better training would help all of these professionals be more aware of the problem
and of what domestic violence looks like. Each year more than 1 million women
seek medical treatment for injuries caused by their husband, boyfriends or
significant others. Only 4 percent of those injuries are correctly identified by
doctors as resulting from domestic violence. This training could also help law
enforcement officers learn better how to deal with the very volatile situations in
Victims of domestic abuse are often not the only victims in the situation.
Batterers are often victims themselves. Research shows that the behavior exhibited
by batterers is a learned behavior. Many batterers were victims of abuse while
growing up and have learned, by example, that it is acceptable behavior. Programs
to reform the behavior of the batterer would result in more productive members of
society. Teaching batterers anger and stress management, as well as teaching
them to redirect their anger and to recognize the signs of abusive behavior, could
help them in self-assessment and in revising their own behavior.
Domestic violence and spouse abuse are obvious problems that we are
going to have to confront sooner or later. We need to confront these problems
now, before they escalate further. There are too many victims of violence today.
The last thing we need is more victims. You, the legislators and representatives of
this state, have the power to institute reform to curb the growing problem of
domestic violence. Help stop the problem before it gets worse.
I would like to leave you with a quote by Carlyle about reform.
"Reform, like charity, must begin at home. Once well at home, how will it
radiate outwards, irrepressible, into all that we touch and handle, speak and work;
kindling every new light by incalculable contagion, spreading, in geometric ratio, far
and wide, doing good only wherever it spreads, and not evil."
Thank you for your time and attention.