Spousal violence seen infecting children Anti-violence coalition calls for coordinated treatment.

July 18, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

Susan Jones had been beaten until her face was bruised, kicked so hard in the stomach she almost miscarried. But when she tried to take her assailant to court, the judge said she had no case.

"The judge said this has no place in criminal court, it's a domestic problem," said Jones, a pseudonym of her own choosing. "I said, if my husband wouldn't act like a criminal, we wouldn't be here.

"If a stranger had done it to me, it would have been considered a crime. Because I was married to this man, it's not a crime for him to hurt me. The court considers a marriage license a license to abuse."

Jones' case is not unique in Maryland, according to the Family Violence Coalition, a task force that today is releasing its first report, "Broken Bodies, Broken Spirits." Her husband's abuse is an unhappy legacy that still haunts Jones and may have long-term effects for their 9-year-old son.

According to the report prepared by the coalition, children growing up in violent homes are 74 percent more likely to commit crimes against others and 50 percent more likely to have drug or alcohol problems. In Jones' case, her son already is in therapy.

The solution, according to the coalition, is a more integrated approach to services for families and children that is ultimately more cost-effective for the state. For example, the report notes, child abuse often leads to juvenile delinquency, yet the agencies that address those problems seldom work together.

"There have to be wider purposes," says Michael Cenci, assistant executive director of Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland. "Programs need to look at families as a whole."

The coalition backed up its call for action with an array of grim Maryland statistics:

* In 1990, there were 16,000 cases of spousal assault. The "vast majority" of victims were women.

* There were 25,000 cases of child abuse or neglect reported in 1990. More than 8,000 were confirmed by investigations.

* Every year in Maryland, about 100 women and children die in their homes.

* Victims of abuse cost business and industry an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion nationally due to absenteeism and abuse of others on the job.

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