No Court Refuge for Battered Women

January 24, 1992

Last year, 73 women and children were murdered by abusive partners or males in parental roles. Some of these tragic deaths might have been prevented had the victims been able to get court orders protecting them from their killers.

Under extremely narrow and outdated provisions of Maryland law, such protection is limited to women married to and living with their batterers or single women co-habitating with the father of their child. Yet half of the battered women seeking refuge at Baltimore's House of Ruth can't get court-ordered protection because they don't share a marriage license with the men who abuse them. Of those who petitioned for court orders last year, one-third were denied because they didn't meet the state's unrealistically strict criteria.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is backing a bill that would bring Maryland out of the dark ages. Among other things, it would make court-mandated protection accessible to a wider class of victims: unmarried women living with batterers; women seeking protection from ex-husbands or lovers; children; the elderly, and partners in same-sex relationships. Abusers would be precluded from contacting their victims at home, work or school, and temporarily barred from the home. The House of Ruth estimates that these changes could benefit as many as 15,000 women a year.

Aside from broadening the law to cover unconventional arrangements, this bill would address other necessities. At a judge's discretion, the victim could be awarded all or part of rent or mortgage payments and use of the family vehicle. Batterers could be ordered into counseling. These represent pivotal strides in dealing with destructive and dangerous family situations. Victims dependent on an abuser for food and shelter often put up with violence to avoid poverty and homelessness.

Non-traditional families exist in substantial and growing numbers in our society and are subjected to enormous problems and pressures. To deny a woman, a child or an elderly person protection from an abuser is unjust and unacceptable. The General Assembly should pass this bill.

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