Simpson Case Spotlights Spouse Abuse in US

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

`ONE woman is beaten every 15 seconds, 3 [million] to 4 million are battered each year.''

The statistics from the United States Office of Criminal Justice are splashed across TV screens leading in and out of commercial breaks for the talk show, ``Live in L.A.'' They are also on the lips of L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti and deputies as they stand before scores of cameras broadcasting each new wrinkle in the case of accused murderer O.J. Simpson - who was fined by a court in 1989 for abusing his wife.

Across the US, the hottest topic of the year has become domestic violence.

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``Guilty or not guilty, the O.J. Simpson case has brought the spotlight of the world to the issue of battered women as never before,'' says Barbara Blunt, board member of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a national, grass-roots organization headquartered in Washington D.C.

On average, 10 women a day are killed by their batterers, the National Organization for Women has reported.

From larger organizations like Ms. Blunt's to smaller ones such as the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, groups across the country are mobilizing to harness national attention for renewed public support. Some will increase lobbying of local, state, and national legislators for tougher laws against spousal abuse. Others will work harder to educate judges on how to better spot chronic abuse patterns and how to sentence convicted batterers so as to minimize economic hardship to families - and to minimize further violence.

A bill before the US House that would give money to state coalitions to educate judges and police about domestic violence - the Family Violence Prevention and Service Act (HB 4209) - has received a significant boost in recent days, according to activists. And the California state Assembly this week approved a resolution requiring judges to learn more about the importance of domestic violence cases by attending a one-day training session each year.

By unanimous vote, an Assembly committee also approved minimum sentencing for men who beat their wives, making California the third state to do so in recent months. Because of public attention arising from the Simpson case, the measure is expected to win quick approval from the full legislature.

Assemblyman sponsor Bob Epple (D), of Cerritos, says the judge who gave O.J. Simpson a light sentence in 1989 - a $200 fine, psychiatric counseling, and community service after hospitalizing his wife with bruises - ``was not familiar with domestic violence. He felt it was a family matter.''

But telling the public exactly how common it is, is the biggest weapon against abuse, most advocates say:

* Each year, over 1 million women seek medical assistance for injuries caused by battering (Office of Criminal Justice).

* Battering is the largest cause of injury to women in the US (US Surgeon General, 1984).

* More than 50 percent of women are battered at some time in their lives. More than one-third are battered repeatedly every year (Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women).

* Women are four times more likely than men to be killed by their spouses or domestic partners according to the NCADV.

``Hopefully the O.J. Simpson case will keep this issue before the public eye even to a greater extent than Anita Hill brought us the issue of sexual harassment,'' says Marina Angel, a Temple University law professor who has just completed a two-year study on spousal abuse. ``Only when we admit these problems exist can we begin to try to deal with them.''

The spotlight is likely to shine for some time.

Mr. Garcetti, for example, has gone out of his way in several press conferences and talk shows to emphasize that one woman is killed in L.A. County every nine days in an episode of domestic violence.

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