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Battered Men - The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence
Media Coverage of Battered Men

Spouse Abuse Crackdown, Surprisingly, Nets Many Women

Associated Press, Nov. 23, 1999

By James O. Clifford
© 1999 by Associated Press. Excerpts presented here to stimulate discussion and to encourage readers to read the full articles in the The Wire at Associated Press.(select "search")


On November 24, 1999 Associated Press put on the wire a story about women arrested for domestic violence under the "primary aggressor" rule originally intended to make sure that women who finally struck back were not arrested.

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Abused Men
The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence

by Philip W. Cook
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When She Was Bad
Violent Women & the Myth of Innocence

Patricia Pearson
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Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality
by Cathy Young
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"Domestic Case Arrests of Women Rise"

Associated Press Writer
24-Nov-99 14:12 EST

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- There was a time when police officers handled a domestic violence call by telling angry men to take a walk and cool off. They still do, but the walk is straight to jail. And increasingly, it's the woman who takes the hike.

Police in at least 24 states now receive training in how to decide who is the "primary aggressor," a term that doesn't necessarily mean the person who struck the first blow or even caused the most damage, according to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

"Primary" means "most significant." The definition requires officers on the scene to go down a long checklist of things to look for, including a history of violent or coercive behavior.

Backers of the "primary aggressor" law hoped it would reduce domestic violence and the number of women arrested for defending themselves.

In 1987, women were arrested in 5 percent of California's domestic violence cases; that rate had risen to 15 percent by the time the state passed its primary aggressor law in 1997.

Last year, as overall domestic violence arrests declined in California, the percentage of women arrested rose still further, to 16 percent: 9,373 arrests compared with 47,519 for men.

Just why more women are being arrested is unclear. Social scientists and police departments are stumped. But some possibilities are that women are being more aggressive, that women are beating other women, and that male victims are increasingly likely to come forward and be believed by officers.

Another possible reason is that there are more female police officers, said Katharine Killeen, director of the California District Attorney Association's Violence Against Women Project.

"They don't just let a woman go the way some men cops might," she said. "Also, men are learning how to work the system better and bring charges."

Women's groups campaigned heavily for primary aggressor laws, which were designed to prevent battered women from also having to go through the trauma of being arrested for fighting back.

New York Gov. George Pataki made note of that in 1997 at the signing ceremony for his state's law. "Women who are the targets of domestic violence should not be victimized again by being arrested simply for defending themselves," Pataki said.

That is one reason the increase in the arrests of women under primary aggressor laws is surprising.

"This is geared to the prosecution of men," said Deputy Public Defender Lidia Stiglich, who handles arraignments in San Francisco's domestic violence court.

Whoever calls the police first wins, she said. And that is usually the woman. "If you are a man, you are toast," she said.

The guidelines police in California use to determine who is mainly responsible for domestic violence suggest she may have a point. It asks such questions as "Have you ever called a battered women's hot line?" and "Has he hit you before?"

The copy of the guide obtained by The Associated Press had the word "she" penciled in after the word "he" in one place as though it were an afterthought.


Related Stories:

New York Times Nov. 23, 1999
Spouse Abuse Crackdown, Surprisingly, Nets Many Women
by Carey Goldberg

New York Times Op-Ed response by Cathy Young
Feminists Play the Victim Game


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