Of laws and reason

July 11, 1994|By Michelle Malkin

Los Angels -- WHAT LOVE Canal did for toxic waste, what Anita Hill did for sexual harassment and what Magic Johnson did for AIDS, the O.J. Simpson saga is on the verge of doing for domestic violence. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this is not a good thing.

Special-interest advocates argue that what each of those high-profile cases of victimization did was "raise awareness" about sensitive issues. True enough. But any real gains that came from heightened public attention to those problems have been erased by a destructive tornado of expansive government intervention, irresponsible public policy, profligate spending and widespread miseducation.

Just look at Superfund -- or at the absurd sexual-harassment codes at your nearest college campus that have attempted to ban leering or "inappropriate laughter." Or the misleading propaganda about the supposedly nondiscriminatory nature of AIDS that pervades the public school curriculum as fact.

And so it is now with the ugly issue of domestic violence. The worldwide publicity generated by O.J.'s abusive relationship with the woman he is now accused of murdering may lead to some much-needed improvements in the criminal-justice system -- but at the same time, it unfortunately has breathed new life into some very bad legislation and misperceptions about domestic abuse.

For example, the Violence Against Women Act, which would make "gender-based" assaults a federal civil-rights violation, has picked up steam again. Supporters of the legislation refer to alarming statistics, like those from the 1985 National Family Violence Survey, showing that about 1.8 million women suffer at least one act of severe domestic violence.

On the other hand, the same survey shows that more than 2 million men are assaulted by their wives or girlfriends each year. And according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about one-third of women in prison nationwide for homicide have killed a spouse, ex-spouse or boyfriend.

The Violence Against Women Act, as the title of the act indicates, obviously doesn't do much for the little-publicized aspect of domestic violence against men.

In California, many ideologically driven domestic-violence mandates have been revitalized as well. One proposal would mandate sensitivity training for judges -- without identifying the funds to pay for it. Another bill would enact strict gun-control measures against convicted spousal abusers. But that wouldn't bTC do much good for victims whose abusers use their hands -- and anything else they can get their hands on.

Fortunately, not all of the legislative action spawned by the O.J.-Nicole Simpson tragedy is as ill-designed. But it must be handled with good fiscal sense. During the July 4 holiday, for instance, the state legislature passed a new budget that includes a $30 million windfall over the next two years for domestic-violence programs throughout the state. The bulk of the money will go to fund emergency shelters for battered women and their children, as well as transitional housing programs. The rest will go to counties and cities for domestic-violence prosecutions.

The need for more shelters is urgent and real.

Betty Fisher, an official at the 30-bed Haven Hills facility here in the San Fernando Valley, notes that Los Angeles County's 16 shelters are chronically overcrowded.

As for improving the prosecution side, it's not a simple matter of curing rampant sexism among male judges. Real solutions will be mundane and unsensational and won't fit any extreme ideological agenda. As Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner has pointed out, for example, there is a serious lack of standards in the domestic-violence prevention programs to which the courts sentence domestic-violence offenders.

Michelle Malkin is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News.

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