Ways to end spousal abuse pushed Conference details sharp increases in reported domestic violence in city

January 17, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

Not only is there war in the Persian Gulf, says Assistant City State's Attorney Roni Young, there's one being fought in Baltimore.

"There's a war going on in our homes today," said Young, director of the Domestic Violence Unit of the city state's 'N attorney's office. The unit was established in 1983 to assist victims of spousal abuse.

Last year, the unit handled 4,500 reported cases of domestic violence, basically misdemeanors, in only six of the nine police districts, she said, citing a small staff of five as the reason.

Young said 33 women were killed in Baltimore last year as a result of domestic violence. In 1989, the number was 23, up from 13 in 1988, she said.

Young detailed these grim statistics at a hearing yesterday in City Hall sponsored by the 15-member State Board of Victim Services. She and several others recommended ways the city can better assist victims of spousal and child abuse.

"I submit to you that's the tip of the iceberg," Young told the panel.

"I'm seeing my victims getting killed," she said, adding that in many cases, the deaths could have been prevented if the criminal justice system had worked.

For example, she mentioned Belinda Newkirk, a 23-year-old receptionist who was fatally stabbed by her former boyfriend at her job earlier this month. He then hanged himself. Newkirk had gone to court, seeking to end the man's harassment, Young said.

Jann Jackson, associate director of the House of Ruth, which helps battered women, said victims of domestic violence are found among all races and economic backgrounds.

Nationally, a woman is a victim of domestic violence every 15 seconds, Jackson said, and 3 to 4 million cases occur each year.

She said the federal Centers for Disease Control found that domestic violence injures more women yearly than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.

Each day, the House of Ruth, the city's only center for abused women, turns away battered women because it has only 24 beds, Jackson said. Also, the charity lost a $42,000 block grant and now relies on fund-raisers for revenue.

In stressing the urgency for tougher laws against spousal abusers and protection for battered women, Jackson said, "Our system is set up to handle stranger crimes" but not crimes committed against people "you have to share the same bed with."

The victim services board is chaired by the state attorney general and dispenses no funds. It was established in 1988 by the General Assembly to monitor and assess the needs of victims.

Board members include victims and representatives of organizations that provide services to victims and the criminal justice system. By June, after regional hearings have ended, the board will assemble a report determining the needs of each region of the state to aid victims of domestic violence.

Young said there are two sure ways to help prevent spousal abuse -- protection and education.

Both she and Jackson said there is no standard profile of an abuser. Jackson added that it is the need to control their spouses, not stress and alcohol, that cause men to become abusers.

"It's not stress . . . if you want to talk about stress, talk about the battered woman," Jackson said.

Young also said spousal abusers are extremely jealous and possessive. "It stems from a cultural patriarchal society," she said, in which women and children are seen as property.

The hearing also discussed services for senior citizens who are victims of crimes, bereaved families and victims' rights in the judicial process.

Concerning victims of child abuse, the board was told of such innovations as court school, which familiarizes children with the judicial process and makes them realize they don't have to fear courtrooms when they have to testify. Also, a 15-page coloring book about objects and people they would see in a courtroom will soon be available.

"It makes them feel comfortable about court," said Sharon Duncan-Jones, of the Child Advocacy Network in the city state's attorney's office.

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