Responding to domestic abuse State commission findings: Changes in services will make big difference for families.

November 29, 1996

HOME SHOULD be a haven, but in too many families home is a dangerous place. According to the American Medical Association, the annual toll of domestic violence in this country includes physical abuse to at least 2 million children, up to 4 million women and 1 1/2 million older adults. A 1993 Commonwealth Fund study found that abuse by husbands or boyfriends is the single largest cause of physical injury to women in America, more common than burglary, muggings and other physical crimes combined.

For too long, society has drawn distinctions between violence committed against family members and other forms of violence. But as the toll of domestic abuse becomes more evident, so does the inadequacy of the response from government, health care providers and social service agencies.

With the release this week of a comprehensive review of the state's approach to domestic abuse cases, Maryland has taken an important step toward improving its response. The Family Violence Council, headed by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., has provided a valuable service by surveying the problem -- and especially by setting out recommendations along with action plans for putting them into effect.

These range from improving the recruitment procedures and training for 911 dispatchers to establishing an automated, statewide system to notify victims when accused abusers are released from custody. The panel also found flaws in police policies and in state law that need to be fixed to provide stronger protection for people threatened by abuse. The council also challenged health care providers and the business community to educate the public about the seriousness of domestic violence and the availability of services for victims and rehabilitation programs for abusers.

Domestic violence in Maryland is rising. We need to reverse that trend. This report, with its clearly defined challenges and its emphasis on turning its recommendations into reality, is an important step. And if a year of two from now the incidence of domestic violence in Maryland has actually fallen, the panel can rightly take much of the credit.

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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