Blood Ties

One out of every two women will be assaulted in her lifetime by a man with whom she lives. Texas law calls these men criminals. But our local criminal justice system puts up barriers every step of the way for women seeking protection from their batterers.

ELIZABETH GONZALES HUGGED HER KNEES CLOSE TO HER body and crouched lower in the front seat of the car. From this position, the twenty-six-year-old woman looked like a small child. She could barely see out the passenger window. Everything about her seemed helpless-her ninety-five-pound frame tucked into a fetal curl, the frightened look in her wide, brown eyes, the quiet, beaten way she spoke. Elizabeth hadn’t been back to her East Dallas neighborhood for several months, not since September 14, 1986, the day after she shot and killed Ricky Ramirez, her common-law husband, the man she had loved and lived with for eight years. She was afraid of what she might find there-the memories of her life with Ricky-and of what she might not find.

Jack Murray, a private investigator hired by Elizabem’s attorney Joe Loving, was driving Elizabeth around her old neighborhood to look for some of Ricky’s friends, guys who might have heard him talk about his relationship with her. So far, all Murray and her attorneys had was a story pieced together by Elizabeth, plus some scattered recollections from a painter she had worked for and a next door neighbor. But they needed more. The Dallas County grand jury had charged Elizabeth with murder, and it was an easy case for the state: Elizabeth had signed a confession the night of the shooting after police questioned her for nearly two hours in her kitchen with the bloody body of Ricky in full sight nearby. If her attorneys couldn’t convince a judge and jury that Elizabeth’s story was true-that she had killed Ricky only after she could no longer stand the brutal beatings he gave her-she could be sentenced to life in prison.

Elizabeth worked at a small painting company where she made enough money to support herself and Ricky. They lived in a house that had been converted to apartments in the poorer section of Swiss Avenue. Ricky hadn’t held a steady job since they had moved in together eight years ago when they were both barely nineteen. In the months before his death, he had been doing odd jobs at their apartment for the property owner.

Elizabeth didn’t have many friends. She had once gotten close to an older woman whose three small children she had babysat, but Ricky got angry and jealous when she spent time away from him. She had long ago given up making friends. It just wasn’t worth provoking Ricky. The way Elizabeth tells it, Ricky was very violent the first year they lived together. She left him once because he had beaten her, but later came back to him. Things were pretty good with Ricky until he got drunk. When he did, he got mad, they argued, and she took the brunt of his anger. On at least one occasion Ricky hurt her badly enough that she went to Parkland emergency room for treatment. But Elizabeth really doesn’t remember the details. When she tells others about the beatings, she talks in plain, passionless terms as if she is deliberately dull-ing her mind to the horror, Elizabeth can only recall a couple of tinies when others found out about the battering. Her boss noticed she; was in pain one day at work. He had a coworker take her into another room, where she found Elizabeth had bruises covering her body. After Elizabeth’s brother-in-law saw the results of one of Riciky’s angry nights, he and some of his friends went looking for Riciky to give him some of his own medicine, to teach him a lesson the only way they knew how.

But the beating Ricky got from the angry brother-in-law didn’t teatch him anything. Ricky’s violent behavior grew more frequent and, intense in the eighteen months before his death; eventually, he was beating Elizabeth at least twice a week, sometimes more often. At first he had been gentle afterward and sorry about his actions, but near the end there was no remorse. On August 25, 1986, Elizabeth called the police from the apartment of a neighbor in the building who had heard them arguing. She and Ricky didn’t have a telephone. Elizabeth told the police Ricky had beaten her, but she says the police told her they couldn’t do anything. It was a family matter, a civil disturbance. Elizabeth says that wasn’t the first time she had asked for help from the police and gotten nothing in return. But this time, an arrest might have made the difference in the playing out of Ricky’s final days.

The day after Elizabeth’s call for help, Ricky bought a gun from Ray’s Hardware and Sporting Goods. He had no problem getting the Beretta .25-caliber automatic, even though he had been convicted of terroristic threats in 1978-for threatening another girlfriend with a gun. The neighbor knew Ricky had the handgun. In those last two weeks, he had seen Ricky out in the parking lot, drunk, shooting the gun at nothing in particular. Ricky had also fired his gun inside the apartment, putting bullets into the louvered doors (hat separated the bedroom from the living room.

The night Elizabeth killed Ricky, they had started drinking about 7 p.m. She had a few beers. He was drinking beer and hard liquor. Ricky got tanked; his autopsy shows a “significant amount of alcohol” in the body-.14 percent in the blood, .19 percent in the urine-well above the .10 level of legal intoxication. As usual, an argument erupted. She doesn’t remember what started it; they were always the same. But sometime around 3 a.m. Elizabeth decided she wouldn’t take another beating She says she told Ricky she was leaving and going to her mother’s, He told her she wasn’t going anywhere. She picked up his gun off of the kitchen table and ran with it into the bedroom where she got some of her things together. Ricky, a chunky five-foot-five and 174 pounds, stood between her and the door. To gel outside, she would have to get past Ricky, who outweighed her by nearly eighty pounds, run down a narrow, twenty-four-inch-wide hallway, and then unlock three locks on the only exit from the apartment.

Elizabeth fired a warning shot from the bedroom toward the living room ceiling and then started for the door. She didn’t get very far. When Ricky grabbed her by the arm, she wheeled around and fired the gun once. The bullet couldn’t have hit closer to the middle of his forehead. Ricky slumped forward onto the floor and Elizabeth ran next door to the neighbor’s apartment to call an ambulance, screaming and crying that she thought she had shot Ricky. After they made the call, the neighbor came next door with Elizabeth and they found Ricky lying face down, gurgling in a pool of blood. He was still alive, but not for long. Richard Ramirez was pronounced dead in the apartment by a medical examiner field officer at 5 a.m. on Saturday, September 13, 1986.



ELIZABETH GONZALES’S STORY IS HORRIFYING, BUT ALL TOO common. It is the story of one violent ending to the cycle of family abuse-an ending that the criminal justice system and family violence counseling centers are designed to prevent, but too often do not. Her story is very familiar to a group of women at Mountain View prison in Gatesville who have formed a support group called Women Against Violent Endings-each killed a husband or boyfriend batterer. But far more common than Elizabeth’s case-a female killing her male batterer-is the scenario feared by the more than 85,000 women in Texas who are regularly abused by their husbands: far more often, the woman loses her life. A 1971 California survey indicated that 52 percent of all women killed in the state were murdered by a husband or lover. In 1984, two-thirds of the homicides between partners in this country were commited by husbands killing their wives. Experts who study battered women have found that in many of these incidents, women kill their attackers as a final desperate response to their physical threat, while men kill as a “logical” extension of the abuse they’ve been doling out for years.

More women are injured by battery annually than by any other cause. According to FBI estimates, one out of every two women will be physically abused sometime in her life by a man with whom she lives. These women are your sisters, your mothers, and your friends. In 60 percent of the homes where the mother is battered, the children are also abused by the batterer, Elizabeth Gon-zales is Hispanic and of low income, but battering cuts across all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Batterers are most often males; their victims most often females and children. Batterers are rich and poor, black, white, and Hispanic, blue-collar workers, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Experts suspect that many of the incidents of spousal abuse going unreported occur in white, upper-middle-class homes where fear of loss of status is as strong or stronger than fear of more battering.

Our patriarchal society has a long history of condoning violence against women, reaching back to English common law, which considered wife beating an accepted form of discipline as long as the husband used a rod “not thicker than his thumb.” From those roots springs the expression “rule of thumb.” And time after time, our society falls into the trap of blaming the female victims for the actions of their male abusers. The questions often asked of battering victims are frighten-ingly similar to the accusing questions spit at rape victims years ago. It is now an automatic, though uneducated, response for many to ask of the battered woman, ’What did you do to provoke this?” “You must enjoy it or you wouldn’t take it,” or “Why don’t you just leave?” Those questions remove the blame from the batterer and place the responsibility with the victim. People who ask questions like that are in search of an easy solution to this social disease: if the woman will just leave, the problem will go away, their rationale suggests.

But the statistics tell a very different story- the batterer just moves on to another victim. A large percentage of batterers who are forced into counseling by their wives or the courts reveal that their current abusive relationship is just one in a long line. And this argument ignores realities: many of these women can’t leave their battering partners due to their financial dependence, the presence of children, religious reasons, or a type of brainwashing that experts call “learned helplessness.1’ These women are first isolated by their batterers, kept from making friends, in some cases never left alone even to go to the bathroom. Then the batterer inflicts random, controlling abuse on the victim, stripping her of any sense of control over her life. She begins to see the world only through his eyes-a warped view that blames her for his battering, that insists that she is worthless and deserving of this grossly violent treatment. When she comes to believe him, he is in total control.

In The Battered Woman. Lenore E. Walker, one of the first researchers in the field, describes the laboratory studies that led to this conclusion: “Once we believe we cannot control what happens to us, it is difficult to believe we can ever influence it,” Walker writes, “even if later we experience a favorable outcome. This concept is important for understanding why battered women do not attempt to free themselves from a battering relationship. Once the women are operating from a belief of helplessness, the perception becomes reality- . .they allow things that appear to them to be out of their control actually to get out of control ” Walker’s groundbreaking book is nearly ten years old; her theories are widely accepted in psychiatric circles and have been used in rewriting policy in police departments and district attorney’s offices across the country. But these theories are only now trickling through our local criminal justice system. To truly understand this problem and its solutions, one must first face the horror these battered women deal with on a daily basis.

Many of the extreme examples of rage and perversion in family violence are unprintable. But even a selective catalogue of the mayhem some women face will demonstrate the gravity of the problem. In one month last year, the following incidents of physical abuse were reported at the Genesis Women’s Shelter, a program of Shelter Ministries of Dallas: one woman was beaten frequently, tied up, and raped while having epileptic seizures. Her husband placed mousetraps and clothespins on her nipples. Another woman, three months pregnant, was beaten in the stomach and stabbed in the throat and chest with a fork. One woman was choked until blood vessels in her eyes burst; when she passed out, the man attempted to run over her with a car. Another woman was beaten continuously for three days. She arrived at the shelter from a five-day hospital stay with a cracked sternum, broken ribs, blackened eyes, facial cuts, and extensive cigarette burns on her breasts. Another woman reported being hit, slapped, and shoved, then held on the floor while her husband spit and urinated on her face. Many of the incidents of physical abuse culminate with sexual abuse. Anal rape is common, as are blows to the stomach of pregnant women, threats to kill children or other family members, and threats with knives and guns.

These women are not just being slapped around by some high-strung guy who’s had a bad day. Their horror is real. But who’s to blame? The policemen who don’t arrest bat-terers? A district attorney’s office that claims it lacks the time or money to give these women special assistance? Unenlightened judges and jurors? No single component is wholly responsible, but rather the problem is systemic: the complaints of battered women have become commonplace to those who should provide them with answers-the police, the prosecutors, the jurors, and the judges who make up our criminal justice system. And while other cities have long ago come to the aid of battered women, the criminal justice system in Dallas continues to offer not answers, but barriers at every turn for the battered woman seeking a way out.

“The entire criminal justice system regards the female victim of abuse as a second-class victim,” wrote James Bannon, executive deputy chief of the Detroit Police Department, in the late Seventies. “She is treated more as a ’leper’ than anything else. She embarrasses the system and, judging from community reactions, the society as well. In fect she is accorded the same type of treatment reserved for those with some sort of social disease who have become ill due to their own vice. We turn our heads and close our ears to her screams.”



THE FIRST CALL FOR HELP

“We want to reach out to others and to the ’free world’ in hopes of educating the public as to what can be the result of family violence.. .we call ourselves ’Women Against Violent Endings,’ We don’t want to see women handling their situation as we did. In such a case everyone involved suffers; mostly our children and ourparents.. .Each story is different, but in each case the police was contacted once or several times prior to the crime. We are fifteen in number and find it very difficult to understand why the Law refuses to help a woman and her children suffering from abuse. We want you to visit us here.. in order to learn that any woman alive could be here and many will because of our present laws.”

-Helen Chandler, an inmate at Mountain View Prison in Gatesville



FOR MANY WOMEN, THE FIRST STEP TOWARD GETTING OUT OF an abusive relationship is a call to the police for help. Though laws in Texas clearly state that batterers are criminals, Dallas-area police departments have in the past not enforced those laws, according to reports received by area women’s shelters. But the system has made some progress. Many of the laws in Texas regarding family violence are quite progressive for this country. In 1985, the Texas state legislature-after much lobbying from battered women’s shelters and advocates like the Texas Council on Family Violence-passed the Family Violence Prevention Act, which made amendments to every one of the assault statutes to make it clear that arrests should be made in the case of an assault regardless of family relationship. The legislature was sending a message to law enforcers in Texas who weren’t arresting violent husbands: a marriage license is not a license to batter. The changes also put teeth into the protective order (a court order somewhat similar to a temporary restraining order) created in 1979 to protect women from family violence. Now, violation of a protective order is not just a civil but a criminal offense. And the laws concerning family violence continue to improve, though slowly.

One accomplishment of the most recent legislative session was the passage of House Bill 161, which removed the spousal exemption from the section of the Texas Penal Code dealing with aggravated sexual assault. Some family violence lobbyists think this bill should have gone further: it is still legal in Texas for a man to force his wife to have intercourse. The change only makes that rape illegal if he causes serious bodily injury, threatens her, or places her in fear of death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping, or if he uses a deadly weapon in the course of the sexual assault. The legislature also made several changes to further refine and strengthen the protective order as a tool against family violence.

But changing the laws is just one step down the complicated path to justice. Cooperation between the different components of the criminal justice system is abysmal. Each sector points a blaming finger at the other like a group of five-year-olds explaining away a spilled glass of milk. But what’s at stake is much more than just a glass of milk, and in Dallas, Texas, when push comes to shove in the criminal justice system, the responsibility for family violence is still placed primarily on the victim.

Despite the positive changes in Texas law, women in Dallas continued to report that police refused to arrest batterers. Their cries grabbed the attention of attorneys Jonathon W. Vickery and Joselle Albracht, both with the North Central Texas Legal Services Foundation Inc., and prompted a lawsuit against the city of Dallas, the mayor of Dallas, the city council, the city attorney, the police chief, and the assistant police chief on behalf of battered women in Dallas County alleging problems with the Dallas Police Department regarding arrest in domestic situations. On May 13, 1987, the lawsuit was settled in court and an injunction was issued. But the settlement (tailed for sweeping changes in Dallas police policy regarding two problems: the enforcement of laws relating to assault in a domestic setting and the enforcement of laws relating to protective orders. Leaders of Dallas area family shelters were encouraged by the settlement, though they say it’s too soon to see a difference in the way battered women are treated by police. “It’s a beginning,” says Jonathon Vickery. “It’s a first step. It’s not the answer to all of the problems, but the purpose was to better educate and better train the police department, the officers, and the community. With that in mind, we are very happy.” Vickery and Albracht hope to work with other police departments in the Metroplex to persuade them to implement similar changes in arrest policy.

Captain Richard W. Hatler of the Dallas Police Department says the new policies and procedures regarding family violence and protective orders were finalized in July, and the department is proceeding with extensive training of its officers. “We feel like in a situation such as this, it is important for us to have some hands-on training,” Hatler says. Officers will receive personal instruction in addition to being given written information from their supervisors about the correct police response to incidents of family violence-arrest.

Historically, police reluctance to get involved in domestic violence has been blamed on a long-standing belief that family violence presented the most dangerous situation for the police officer, The Dallas Police Department, until recently, has not been able to provide statistical backup for that belief. But since the lawsuit settlement, a new computer program has been created to tabulate information on family violence and the results should be encouraging to the men and women who patrol the streets of Dallas; from April through June 1987, 107 aggravated assaults against officers were filed; of those, only eight occurred in domestic situations. FBI statistics offer further encouragement: only about 5 percent of felonious deaths of police officers occur in domestic situations.

Captain Hatler says the changes in police policy should also improve an officer’s chances of avoiding injury. “Studies in the past have indicated that an aggressive approach toward family violence will reduce the incidents of family violence. Now, if we can reduce the incidents of family violence, not only will we benefit the battered spouse, but we’ll put our officers in fewer situations where they might be injured.”

For years, battered women’s shelters have had a better handle on the scope of family violence than the criminal justice system. Since the police department didn’t keep specific family violence statistics, the system didn’t even know the dimensions of the problem. But since the lawsuit settlement, the Dallas Police Department has been keeping track of these family violence incidents. For June 1987, Dallas police records show that 1,393 of the 53,968 police responses for that month were to “family violence” situations. In that one month, family violence resulted in 2 murders, 9 rapes, 3 robberies, 187 aggravated assaults, 671 simple assaults, 8 offenses against the family (which would include violation of protective orders), 5 terroristic threats, 2 harrassments, and 506 miscellaneous incidents of domestic disturbance that did not result in an arrest. The numbers are likely to rise dramatically as the months go by since officers are still getting used to noting on reports that a situation was a result of family violence or domestic disturbance. And new public service announcements mandated by the settlement and produced by the police department are supposed to trumpet the policy changes to the public. Those announcements are likely to spur an increase in calls from battered women, if area TV and radio stations start playing them. Glenn W. A. Holley, assistant city attorney, says the PSAs haven’t had much air time so far. In the radio spot, listeners hear a husband and wife fighting, the sounds of blows to human flesh. The police intervene and make an arrest. Then the voiceover tells us: “Family violence is a crime, and the Dallas police want to put a stop to it. For help, call 744-444.. .”

In true Dallas style, a task force will be keeping watch over the changes at the police department for the next two years, another change mandated by the settlement. The public safety committee of the Dallas City Council appointed a task force that includes council member Lori Palmer; Captain Richard W. Hatler of the DPD; Gail Griswold, executive director of The Family Place; Elizabeth Stevens, executive director of the Genesis Women’s Shelter; Donna Pope, executive director of New Beginnings; and Marshall Gandy, assistant district attorney. The spirit of the task force is cooperative, and that alone is encouraging. But Lori Palmer, who sits on the council’s public safety committee, points out that while the purpose of this task force is specifically related to the settlement, family violence in Dallas in general is not currently a priority of the city council. However, any attention to the problem is a start. “Clearly, establishing the task force, even with its specific role, does serve to focus attention on this issue,” Palmer says. “Frankly, it’s time. It should have happened a lot earlier. I’m pleased at this point in time that we are doing this. I would like to think that these changes [in Dallas police policy] would have been made otherwise, but probably not. This is clearly a result of the court settlement.”

The overriding problem with family violence in Dallas is that the buck stops nowhere. Each component of the system is reluctant to shoulder a bulk of the responsibility. Captain Hatler, for instance, says the police department is only one cog in the system. He says the police department is limited both before and after the point of its involvement in family violence: it is limited by women who are reluctant to report abuse, and at the other end of the spectrum, it is limited by the courts. Hatler says he thinks that Dallas judges need to look at creative sentencing options such as court-ordered counseling for batterers. “Enforcing the law is going to go a long way, and counseling would also,” he says.



“LET’S CONFUSE THE VICTIM”

“He threatens me every day. I’m tired mentally and physically. I only have two choices or three. One, I can kill him. Then what, I go to jail, the kids hate me, the world hates me. Two, stay in this mess~l go crazy, be miserable, and die a slow, agonizing death. life and relieve all the help. A wife is just a Or three, I take my own pain! The law, it won piece of property. Death Ok How Sweet Final Peace.”

-From the diary of a local battering victim



BEFORE A BATTERER EVER STANDS IN front of a judge for sentencing comes the long wait for prosecution. It’s nearly impossible to find a counselor or legal aid volunteer helping vicums of battering who doesn’t have a complaint about the Dallas County District Attorney’s office and a perceived lack of response there to the family violence problem. Says the North Central Texas Legal Services’ Joselle Albracht, “I don’t think the DA’s office is prosecuting violators of protectivej orders real heavily, and that’s a problem.”

Jonathon Vickery, Albracht’s associate, says, “We believe this issue is not getting the serious attention it deserves, The DA’s argument is that it’s not funded and they don’t have enough staff to be filing and prosecuting more protective orders. But they are not really sure what they are doing.”

Part of the problem With the whole protective order issue is that no one seems to be quite sure what the orders do and how; a massive sense of frustration is apparent in all who use the orders, from the victim through the police department to the district attorney’s office and the judges. The whole criminal justice system seems to be playing a deadly game of “Let’s Confuse The Victim.” Protective orders are a relatively new instrument, which explains some-but not all-of the confusion surrounding them. For an idea of how frustrating the system is for the victim, here’s a general walk-through.

Confusion Number One: to get a temporary protective order, a victim must go down to the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s office. Protective orders are obtained in the juvenile division because, says Assistant District Attorney Kenneth A. Mayfield, protective orders are part of the family code and are filed in domestic courts and the attorneys in the juvenile division handle most of their cases in those courts. That’s confusing because violation of a protective order is a criminal offense, a Class B misdemeanor. No other area of the family code connects with the criminal code like a protective order; it’s a hybrid and the entire system seems to be baffled about correct procedure regarding it.

Confusion Number Two: a protective order requires a $16 filing fee, which looks pretty good on the surface, especially since these protective orders were created with the idea of helping the victim who couldn’t afford a lawyer. But then the victim must sign a statement accepting the risk of paying myriad other charges amounting to several hundred dollars. Regardless, the charges will probably come out of the victim’s household, because the batterer will first be asked to pay these court costs and attorney fees and if he cannot, then the judge may assess the victim with the charges.

Confusion Number Three: to get a final protective order, the victim must prove to the family court that the battering occurred. While these orders were designed so that a victim wouldn’t have to hire a private attorney, it conies in very handy at this point to have one. The battered woman is a bad witness. In the presence of her assailant, she may minimize or leave out details of the battering. She may balk and consider dropping the whole issue at this point just because she is not familiar with the process and the DA’s office isn’t designed to be a counseling service. A private attorney helps not only in a handholding capacity, but actually reduces the risk of the victim’s being assessed with the costs described above by helping the woman present a stronger case. If the court thinks she is lying about the battering, it may assess her with the costs. A private attorney would charge anywhere between $350 and $700 to obtain a protective order.

Confusion Number Four: assuming the woman gets the final protective order, the batterer is barred from coming near her at her home or workplace. If he does, or if he commits an act of family violence again, she should call the police. Ideally, the policeman would arrest the batterer immediately, but, again, the system is slow to change. The Dallas Police Department is educating its officers about protective orders and the fact that violation of them is a criminal offense punishable by arrest as a Class B misdemeanor, but the arrests don’t happen every time. Women continue to report problems to area family shelters. Here’s where the district attorney’s office does its own share of the fingerpointing.

“The police are beginning to take the orders more seriously,” says Kenneth May-field, assistant district attorney, but he adds that there is still confusion. The police can arrest violators of protective orders and put them in jail. They do not have that authority for other Class B misdemeanors, but they do have that authority for violations of protective orders. Mayfield says that some police officers think a violation of a protective order that does not involve a new incident of family violence is a Class C misdemeanor-a crime equivalent to stealing a candy bar-since it did not involve a new assault. They file those cases, which do not carry a jail term, in municipal courts.

Confusion Number Five: let’s assume the police officer gets it right, arrests the violator of the protective order, and files the case with the DA’s office. Does the woman go back to the same assistant district attorney in the juvenile division she talked to when she got the protective order? No. She proceeds to yet another prosecutor in yet another division of the DA’s office, one who prosecutes cases in the criminal courts. Lawyers who work with these women on a volunteer basis through area family shelters say there is an inevitable loss of expertise at this point due to the jump from division to division. This bisected process places more stress on the victim. This woman, already under severe emotional strain, gets to deal with a new set of people and retell her story once again. And then what does she have to look forward to? Confusion Number Six, as her case becomes just one of the 50,000 cases dealt with each year in Dallas’s misdemeanor courts.

The tedium of verbally wading through this process is nothing compared to the day after day, form after form, phone call after phone call battle that these women wage with the criminal justice system.

The long wait for prosecution-an average of four to seven months-can be tragic. Violators of protective orders and other family violence suspects typically post a $200 bond for release. Through Dallas County’s Pre-Trial Release program, that means it may only take $20 to get out of jail. And then the batterers are back on the street awaiting a court date, often battering their victims time after time. One Dallas woman, who must remain anonymous because she and her children are being hidden from her husband, will spend the rest of her life paying the full price for failure of the criminal justice system.

She had done everything the system tells battering victims to do: she and her children moved out; she obtained a protective order; it had been violated several times and she still waited for a court date, determined to prosecute; she had also sought counseling from an area women’s shelter. One night she came home with her children and found her husband, who had broken into the apartment, boiling pots of water on the stove. He told her if he couldn’t have her, he would make sure no one wanted her. He grabbed her and poured a pot of boiling water on her face. Then he told her he would do the same to their children. She threw herself on top of them but only partially protected them from the scalding. Now as she watches the layers of skin slough from her face and body, she still awaits his trial date.



THERE’S NO QUESTION THAT FAMILY violence cases are low on the priority list in the Dallas district attorney’s office. Last Oc-lober, under District Attorney Henry Wade, the office quit filing protective orders altogether when the work load became too great. More fingerpointing: the DA’s office asked the Dallas County Commissioners Court for an attorney, a computer, and a secretary to handle the requests for protective orders. The request was denied despite a huge increase in demand for the orders- from just one in 1983 to 694 last year.

The hiatus lasted for a few days before the DA’s office reached a compromise with the commissioners court and assistant DA Mayfield got an extra attorney, a secretary, and funds for a computer to help handle the load, District Attorney John Vance says that while he is DA, the office will not stop filing protective orders, “even if I have to go over there myself and take them.” He says he thinks protective orders will “prevent more serious crimes further down the line.” But filing the protective order is only half of the equation. Prosecution of violations is another matter. Is there any chance of a new division in the DA’s office, one to handle filing and prosecution of protective orders? ” That would be great,” says Vance. Then the buck is passed once again as he adds, somewhat skeptically: “if we can get the commissioners court to give us the prosecutors we’d be happy to do that.”

And over at the commissioners court, the buck is passed back to the taxpayer. Our tax dollars are already being stretched as far as they can go…

A MATTER OF PRIORITY

“Throughout the weekend. Sue said she was considering murder in order not to be killed by him, and to see justice done. On Monday, the attorney reported that the DA’s representative said the Grand Jury dropped the charges against him. It sounded to the attorney as if the Grand Jury could, not understand why she had not left him before, since he had been abusive in the past.”

-A local shelter caseworker’s notes



“ONE THING YOU CAN’T CONFUSE IS slowness of the system versus prosecution of the case,” says Kimberly Key Gilles, an. assistant DA in the misdemeanor division. “It doesn’t mean nothing is being done because it takes three, six, seven months for something to be done. There is no question that the system is slow.”

For a woman who has already been through years of abuse and fought her way through the confusion to the point of prosecution, seven months may seem an eternity. But Gilles says she doesn’t know what to do about that frustration “other than tell them to stick with it.”

So again, the responsibility is back with the victim. It seems very easy for the system to jump to the aid of children who are victims of abuse. But when it comes to battered women, the attitude is very different. “Some women can protect themselves,” Vance says, “and some women provoke these attacks, do you realize that? But little children never do.”

And little children can’t decide to drop the charges against their abusers. The state decides to prosecute or not based on the evidence, But the local criminal justice system still allows women, who may be frightened or deeply confused, to drop the charges and go home to further abuse.

District Attorney Vance vehemently disagrees that the criminal justice system discriminates against battered women; in fact, he thinks some reverse discrimination may be at play. “I think the system is looking for somebody to jump on,” Vance says, “and they do not take into consideration sometimes what part the victim has played. I think it is the reverse.”

“There isn’t a single day, not really a single hour that you can’t sit outside my office and watch assaults being dropped by wives,” says Gilles. “And we make them come down here and talk to us and we make the defendant go away while we talk to them and see why they want to drop.” Many cases are not prosecuted, Gilles says, because the victim comes forward and flatly refuses to testify against her batterer. “We have had some cases where we have another witness who has seen it happen and we can refuse to drop the charges,” she adds.

Elizabeth Stevens, executive director of the Genesis Women’s Shelter, doesn’t buy that rationale. She argues that the state should move against batterers even when the victims waver. “Once a batterer is in the system, I believe that the battered woman should be placed in the role of victim and witness,” Stevens says. “We the community, represented by the district attorney, should be the plaintiff, so that she cannot be bullied into dropping charges. She as witness should be subpoenaed to court.”

Stevens and other would-be reformers shouldn’t hope for a change of attitude in the Dallas district attorney’s office any time soon. John Vance says he has one priority- obscenity cases. “1 can’t think of anything that would make me say to these prosecutors that we are going to put all family violence cases in front of all cases pending in this office. Dallas County has made great strides in the last two years as far as protective orders and all that business. This office stands ready to do anything we have to do ” Vance says. Then he adds, “as long as we have the prosecutors to do it.”



SEARCHING FOR ALTERNATIVES

“Another day of criticism, anger, hostility. He yells and screams at me over the littlest things. I have no one to talk to. How I miss my mother! I really don’t have a choice left. I’m sick of dying a slow death.. .I hurt all the time. When I’m gone, maybe he will appreciate all the right I did.”

-From the diary of a local battering victim



LYNN CROMARTIE, A CO-FOUNDER OF A group called Lawyers Against Domestic Violence, is one of many local attorneys who volunteers time to help women through the criminal justice maze. Her group has been meeting every Saturday for the last two years hammering out a pilot program for court-ordered counseling in Dallas. In late August, they planned to go to John Vance and ask for his support. Cromartie hopes to have the program up and running in Judge Randall Isenberg’s criminal court this fall.

Cromartie and other supporters of court-ordered counseling think the program will help in many ways. If the police know that the judges are going to order batterers into counseling, they may be more likely to arrest. In turn, the victims will be less likely to drop charges, and the DA’s office will get more cases prosecuted.

“A night in jail may be a good short-term deterrent, but the counseling may mean a long-term change,” Cromartie says.

The Family Place is just one Dallas family violence counseling service that has had remarkable results with counseling bat-terers. Sherry Lundberg, director of The Family Place Help Ceriter in North Dallas, estimates that 70 percejnt of the men in the program who stay in counseling for eight weeks stop their attacks on women. The remaining 30 percent at least reduce their violent behavior.

Elizabeth Stevens, of the Genesis shelter, thinks court-ordered batterer’s counseling can work if a batterer is required to stay in counseling long enough to break through the typical denial that the violence is not his responsibility. Stevens also thinks batterer’s educational groups are a possible solution, and could work like defensive driving classes for DWI offenders.

Dallas area women’s shelters have come a long way in the past few years in helping battered women deal with the criminal justice system. Volunteer court advocates give support to the women winding their way through the system and the pro bono attorney programs are growing.

In the service given to the battered woman by nonprofit agencies, Dallas is doing well, says Family Place executive director Gail Griswold. The Family Place, at nearly nine years, is Dallas’s oldest shelter and counseling service for victims of family violence. “The Family Place is one of the largest systems of services for battered women in the country,” Griswold says. “There are cities that have more shelters than we do. But I give Dallas an A-plus in services. Now there aren’t enough services for battered women, but comparatively speaking we do very well. In terms of the criminal justice system, we are definitely at the low end. There are other communities that have a much more enlightened approach than Dallas does.”

“If the justice system is to work to protect battered families.” Stevens says, “we as a community must take a stand. We must say, through our justice system, that we do not condone battering and that there are consequences for assault and terroristic threats.”

If society doesn’t accept the responsibility, Stevens says, battered women will continue to feel desperate-for themselves and their children-and like Elizabeth Gonzales and the women at Mountain View prison, many will turn to homicide as a drastic end to the cycle of violence. “Either you die or they die.” says Jonathon Vickery. “That’s what we are trying to prevent. That’s what we are working against.”

Elizabeth Gonzales had to make that awful choice. When D went to press, her trial was set for September 14-exactly a year after the night she shot Ricky Ramirez.

HOW OTHER CITIES COPE

Battered women receive more protection in many communities than they do in Dallas/Fort Worth. In other communities, criminal justice systems have responded to the victims’ cries, usually following lawsuits against either the city, the district attorney’s office, or the police department. These cities provide models for family violence programs across the country.



LOS ANGELES-Since 1979, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has followed written procedures for attorneys dealing with battered victims. The procedures make the prosecution of bat -terers an easier process for the victim and take into consideration the “learned helplessness” that is typical of battered women. The LA attorney’s office has a “no drop” policy, which places the responsibility of pressing charges with the city, as plaintiff, rather than with the victim, who serves as witness. The LA posture is strengthened by the attorney’s role in signing any documents having to do with the prosecution, so the batterer sees that he is being prosecuted by the city, not by his victim.



OAKLAND-Since 1979, the Oakland Police Training Bulletin has instructed its officers that arrest is the most appropriate response to domestic violence. When deciding whether or not to make an arrest, the policy states that officers should not consider the following as reasons not to arrest: that the suspect lives on the premises with the complainant; that the suspect and complainant are married or lived together previously; that the alleged injury is minor or not immediately visible; or that prosecution and conviction may not occur despite the arrest.



SEATTLE-Since 1984, following the murder of a prosecuting attorney by a batterer, Washington state has taken a hard line against family violence. That year the state enacted a law that made it clear that a marriage license is not a license to batter. The Battered Women’s Project in the city of Seattle is a model for the country. The Seattle City Attorney’s office, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, and the Seattle police department each have specific guidelines for dealing with battered women and their assailants. Prosecuting attorneys in Seattle are instructed, when the batterer has a prior record of assault, to ask for court-ordered counseling. If records indicate the batterer has already been through counseling, prosecutors are instructed to “take a firm stand” and ask for the maximum jail sentence.



DETROIT-Since 1982, prosecuting attorneys in Wayne County, Michigan, have followed official guidelines to protect battered women. Included are instructions to obtain no-contact orders to be served on the defendant as a condition of release. If the defendant violates the order with an act of violence, prosecutors are to request that the defendant be detained until trial.



WHERE TO GET HELP IN DALLAS

For help, victims of domestic violence can contact these local organizations. They are all twenty-four-hour crisis counseling, information, and referral services unless otherwise noted:

The Family Place Hotline in Dallas-941-1991. Men who batter may call 234-4743 for a service especially designed for them.

New Beginning Center in Garland-276-0057.

Arlington Women’s Shelter-(817) 460-5624.

Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas-942-2998.

Denton County Friends of the Family-(817) 382-7273.

Women’s Haven of Tarrant County-(817) 535-6464.

North Central Texas Legal Services Foundation Inc.-free legal services for battered women-824-6690.

Dallas Police Department-for protection from batterers-744-4444.

Dallas County District Attorney-for information about aprotective order-749-8103. -S.G.

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