A humane approach

December 28, 1990

The standard depiction of prehistoric times shows the fur-clad cave man carrying a club in one hand and dragging a woman by the hair with the other. The scene is intended to be comic, but it's probably accurate as well: Since before recorded history, men have been using their superior physical strength to brutalize women, and by all accounts the abuse of women by the men they live with continues at a deplorable rate.

In recent years there has also been an increase in the incidence of women striking back at their abusers, sometimes fatally. Generally at their trials, such women raise a claim of self-defense, but the claim often fails because prosecutors can show that the violence could have been avoided if the woman had simply abandoned the abusive environment. So the question becomes, how may women be protected from violence without doing violence to the law, which prohibits private retribution?

Gov. Richard Celeste of Ohio has found a way to resolve that dilemma. In the closing days of his governorship, Celeste granted clemency to 25 women who had been convicted of violence against male companions. Of these, 21 are to be released outright; the other four had their sentences reduced.

This is a prudent application of good law and good sense to deal with a vexing problem -- and an example all governors could follow.

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