The Women of Ellensburg
Issues of Women in Washington State
Violence Against Women
The Emerging Problem: Violence Against Women at Home
In the last few years, Americans have become increasingly aware of violence inside the home - violence overwhelmingly perpetrated against women. A 1976 study of 2,143 American families showed that, during the year of the study, one out of every six couples experienced a violent episode, including slapping, kicking, or throwing things. Almost 4% of spouses interviewed used a knife or gun to attack their partners. The victims of these attacks were almost always women.
The researchers stated that their figures probably underestimated the amount of violence taking place in American homes. The former director of Seattle's Shelter for Battered Women believes that some form of abuse occurs in one out of two relationships and sees women who feel trapped in such situations turning to tranquilizers or suicide as the way out.
Profile of an Abused Woman
A woman involved in a relationship in which she is being abused by a husband or a lover is much more likely than other women to have been raised in a violent home and may be unwilling to accept the possibility that she does, in fact, have other options. She may further be deterred from leaving when the male abuser becomes genuinely remorseful and promises never to hurt her again. When the situation does become intolerable, the woman is hampered from leaving by both her conditioning and by reality. She may believe that she is unable to be independent. If she has children, she may have nowhere to go for more than a few days. She may have no car and no job skills, or she may be unable to work and pay the high cost of child care. (National figures show that only one-fourth of divorced women having custody of children regularly collect child support).
The women who do file criminal charges by asking police to come to their homes during a battering episode find that police officers can do little except diffuse the situation and remove the male unless she presses charges. Evergreen Legal Services Battered Women's Project in Seattle has documented evidence that police are inclined to see the assault as a domestic dispute. Of 357 battered women calling Legal Service for help, over 300 had called the police at least once for protection.
Problems in the Legal Process
The months that pass between a woman filing charges and action being taken against her abuser greatly concerns battered women. Men arrested for assault against their wives or lovers are frequently released on their own recognizance - and freed to possibly attack these women again. Four months may pass between the incident and the trial; if a guilty verdict is appealed, another 12 months may pass. A court order restraining a man from seeing the woman during this period is usually inadequate. Though violating such an order is a criminal offense, many women have learned that a piece of paper will not stop some men.
During a trial, other legal problerns arise. The victim's testimony must be backed up by evidence such as photographs and/or medical Testimony of her bodily injury. In addition, the intent of the accused must be proved. Witnesses may be few or unwilling to testify, and the public prosecutor in municipal court has little time to prepare cases.
The Shelter Solution
More than having their assailants punished, battered women need a safe place to go to escape further violance. They need adequate police protection and secrecy as to their whereabouts, as well as a physical shelter for themselves and their children.
Shelters for battered women are just beginning to take shape in several cities throughout Washington. Concerned groups in Olympia, Auburn, Yakima, Walla Walla, Everett, Vancouver, Tacoma, and Seattle provide some form of housing assistance to abused women. In Seattle, a building capable of housing 10 women and children has grown out of a need that was initially recognized by the Seattle Office of Women's Rights. For adequate service in all reaches of the state, a stable network of shelters must be developed statewide.
Ongoing funding for shelters for battered women has been very difficult to obtain. Recently, CETA program funding has helped staff at least one shelter, and the U.S. Congress has so far allocated about $1.5 million in Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAN funds for shelters.
Education and Laws
Laws concerning battered women need to be enforced rather than changed. Since the attitudes and behavior of police and judges are shaped by public opinion, public education is vital to create a climate in which assaulting women is unacceptable. One way in which the City of Seattle has responded to interest in battered women has been to train Community Service officers to respond to cases of domestic violence and deal with them effectively.
The Fastest Rising Crime
Rape is the fastest rising crime in the United States. More than 56,000 rapes were reported in 1975, but it is estimated that only one out of 10 rapes are reported. In the city of Seattle, the incidence of rape has increased over 400% in the last 10 years, and at the Harborview Sexual Assault Center 86 rape cases were treated in the month of August, 1977, alone. Even in areas of the state which have previously been considered safe, women now are afraid to venture out alone at night.
Fighting the Problem
A speak-out on rape attended by many women was held at the University of Washington five years ago. As a result of that speak-out, eight Seattle women who were concerned about the problem of rape formed a committee that studied the problem and began a rape crisis clinic that operated on weekends. In September, 1972, these women joined with the local YWCA and, with support from city government, became the first rape program to receive funds from the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). With their four-year grant, they established the Seattle Rape Reduction Project. Then, as now, Rape Reduction had three branches: the administrative arm that worked on legislative lobbying and a funding search; Rape Relief, which operated a crisis phone line 24 hours a day, provided counseling to victims of sexual assault, and did outreach (public speeches, public housing project organizing, etc.) to encourage victims to report rapes and seek help and teach police how to handle sexual assault victims; and the Harborview Sexual Assault Center, which specialized in sensitive and legally helpful methods of treating the rape victims who are referred there from every hospital in the city. This rape reduction program has been a source of ideas and experience used by numerous other cities around the country. In Washington state alone, there are today about 15 sexual assault programs.
On-going support of rape reduction programs is being sought at several levels of government. At the federal level, new legislation dealing directly with funding for such programs is being instigated (in the Senate) and an amendment to include sexual assualt victims as recipients of crime victim compensation is also being proposed in the Senate. In Washington State, the Department of Social and Health Services is supporting attempts to get Title XX funds allocated for sexual assault programs, and Substitute House Bill 820 proposes a statewide plan of education and consultation of rape and sexual assault. At the city level, Seattle's mayorhas included a $180,000 allocation for Rape Reduction in his proposed city budget for calendar year 1978.
Washington's Rape Law
In September, 1975, a new state law regarding rape was adopted. In it, the definition of forcible sexual intercourse was expanded to include vaginal, anal, or oral intrusion of the penis or anal or vaginal intrusion by an object without the consent of the victim. Corroboration of the victim's testimony is no longer required for conviction, and "forcible compulsion" now includes the threat of harm as well as actual physical force. The past history of the victim is inadmissable as evidence, unless it includes sex with the accused. Sentences are based on the age of the victim and the rapist, the type or degree of physical harm or threat, and whether deadly weapons were involved.
This model rape law, which was applauded by those who've worked on the problem of rape, has made more convictions of rapists possible. However, an average prison stay for men convicted of second-degree rape is only 18 months, a fact that is discouraging to rape victims. And in Washington a woman still cannot charge her husband with rape, even if she is separated and has filed for dissolution of the marriage.
In society, the myth that women are somehow responsible for rape - that men can't and shouldn't be expected to control themselves and that women provoke rape by their behaviour or dress - is not dead. This was pointed up again in a recent, highly publicized, case in which a judge used these very myths as a basis for his light sentencing of a teenage rapist. It is equally notable, however, that the public, though a decisive recall vote, refused to allow the judge to operate with this myth. Changing attitudes among police and prosecutors, along with changing laws, mean that victims are now less likely to be accused of being responsible for the crime committed against them. Further public education is still needed to increase this kind of awareness of the facts about rape and to teach women basic skills for defending themselves against attempted rape.
Roots of Violence Against Women
Stereotypes Encourage A Grim Reality
The stereotype of the male aggressor and the willing female is reinforced from early childhood throughout life. In at least some measure, this stereotype can be assumed to play a part in the incidence of violence against women.
Lessons from Textbooks
A 1973 study of 134 elementary school textbooks showed, for example, that girls are conditioned to be passive, dependent on males, and ridiculed as inferior characteristics which make it difficult for a battered woman to fight back or walk out on an abusive husband and begin an independent existence.
Some of the depictions of girls and boys identified by the study were:
- Girls won games half as often as boys, after being allowed to compete only half often.
- Boys were shown in positions of power, bestowing rewards, prestige, and jobs, and setting norms for acceptable behavior.
- Girls exhibited mild, soft, spiritless behavior six times as often as boys.
- Females were subordinate to males, depending on them even to do things the girls could already do.
- Girls were demeaned and humiliated by boys as members of an inferior group (yuck, a girl).
The Perverse Lessons of Television
According to Dr. Ronald G. Slaby of the University of Washington, television teaches perverse lessons about violence. It is rampant. It works. It is often justifiable. It is clean. It is often funny. It is often done just for the fun of it. It is sometimes done in new and unique ways. And, violence is more appropriate for males than for females. In addition, a broad base of research shows that TV violence can and often does cause the viewer to be more aggressive or violent.
New Twists to an Old Lesson
In addition to television, movies, and magazines media that have long depicted violence against women record promotions have become a new, hard-to-control vehicle exploiting violence against women. A billboard advertising the Rolling Stones' "Black and Blue" album portrayed a bruised, smiling woman with legs tied open and arms bound above her head. The caption read, "I'm black and blue from the Rolling Stones and I love it." The Ohio Players' "Pleasure" album shows a woman whose hands are chained over her head. A recent Montrose album pictures a woman's pubis and the title, "Jump On It."
Women's Response to Teaching Violence
Using preventive measures and protest actions, feminists have begun to combat the teaching that violence is acceptable against women. Textbooks that include 11 girl-baiting" stereotypes have been identified, and in-service training for teachers to help them avoid perpetuating the male-aggressor/female-victirn stereotypes has been provided. In addition, women in Los Angeles recently formed an organization called Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAQ which has mounted campaigns boycotting recording companies (such as VVarner/Elektra/Atlantic) and protesting offensive billboard displays.
Conservative women believe violence against women is at least partially a result of increased sexual freedom, As a solution, they encourage that sex education in schools be controlled by parents and that schools teach that sex is sacred.