By Malissa Burnette
A 30-year-old South Carolina woman received
eight stitches in her head, two stitches in her foot and
was treated for a concussion and numerous cuts and
bruises to her body. Later, while police were arresting
her husband for assault, he expressed his surprise and
indignantly said, "But she's my legal wife!"
In our recent past the law made every woman the property of her husband—a chattel, an
object to be owned. The law gave every man
the right to chastise his wife with a stick, so
long as the stick met certain specified dimensions. Today a husband's corporal
punishment rights over his wife are not
codified into statutes, but they stubbornly survive in the minds and attitudes of many in our society.
Wife abuse at last is being recognized as an overwhelming problem in
most communities. About
300 attacks are reported
to the Columbia, S.C.
police in a year. Police
officials admit that this
represents only a fraction
of the number of attacks
that actually occur. It is
estimated that only one
in 10 attacks ever reach
the police ledger.
Boston City Hospital
reports that women attacked in their own homes
account for 70 per cent of
all the assault victims
treated at that facility.
According to the FBI Uniform
Crime Reports, well over one
million women nationwide are
But it is a rare occasion when
the husband is arrested as a result of
a wife's call for help. For example, there
were no arrests made in connection with
the 25 attacks reported in Columbia in
January 1976, an alarming fact in light
of FBI reports which indicate a very
high correlation between the murder
of a wife by her husband and the wife's
previous requests for help. Of the 1,285
wives killed by their husbands in the U.S.
in 1974, most had requested police aid
at least once prior to the fatal attack.
Police attitudes vary from town to
town, but there seems to be a lack of concern, generally,
and an unwillingness to take the situation seriously. In
Columbia, I was told by the police captain that he likes
to train his officers to be "counselors" in answering a
violent domestic call. What happens all too often is that
the officer will take the husband out, calm him down
and tell him to take a walk around the block until he
feels better. When the officer leaves, the husband comes
back and beats the hell out of the woman for calling
the police. Perhaps the counselor role is safer for the
police—at the woman's expense.
Such attitudes account for the fact that some
distress calls are never answered and others are answered
many hours too late. Some women who call the police
are simply told to "come by in the morning and fill
out a form."
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PAGE 8 NOVEMBER 19, 1977 DAILY BREAKTHROUGH