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The XX Files 

The lucky one

I confess to feeling more than just a little freaked out by all these stories lately about violence against women. I'm not alone; a recent poll shows that the top priority of women, over abortion and equal pay, is finding a solution to domestic violence.

            When they're not abducting or raping, men seem to be either burning down the house while the family sleeps or killing their pregnant partners and tossing their bodies into the woods or into the sea; or shooting their wives in front of the children.

            In order to get a grip on myself, to get a little distance, I decided to learn more about violence against women. Statistics. Facts. The Big Picture.

            Bad idea. Now I'm even more depressed.

Depressing statistic #1: The number-one cause of death of pregnant women is murder, according to three recent studies.

            Last month police issued a forensic sketch of a seven-month-pregnant woman who was found dead in Wayne County last summer. Not only do they lack a suspect, they don't know who the dead woman is. She was too badly decomposed to identify when they found her, nude, wrapped in a shower curtain deep in the woods.

Depressing statistic #2: On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day, according to the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

            Tacoma Police Chief David Brame murdered his estranged wife Crystal and then killed himself recently while their kids watched. This tragedy was avoidable. The day before, Brame, who had a history of abuse, publicly made threatening statements about his wife, and his cronies closed ranks and refused to disarm him.

Depressing statistic # 3: A full third of women in the United States will be raped or beaten by an intimate partner at least once, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This statistic doesn't take attacks by strangers into account.

            Local rape rates are supposedly down this year, but I'm not buying it. First, national rape statistics are up. And second, since the crime goes unreported more than half the time, no rape stats can be trusted.

All this bad news about violence against women has prompted me and some of my friends to revisit our own rape and sexual-abuse stories. Many of the women I know have experienced sexual violence, usually at the hands of a friend or lover. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Depressing statistic #4: Studies of 8th and 9th graders show 25 percent of them have been victims of nonsexual dating violence and 8 percent have been victims of sexual dating violence, according to the CDC.

But, even as the news and my friends' disturbing stories accumulate in my mind, I find a tiny ray of hope in all the groups working to combat rape and abuse. Huge strides have been made in awareness and treatment since domestic abuse laws were passed in the 1990s. But we need to go further.

Reassuring item #1: The Rochester chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women is planning to bring a play about date rape called The Yellow Dress to area high schools next fall.

            The play is a production of Deana's Fund, a Massachusetts foundation established by Deana Brisbois' family after she died under suspicious circumstances. Brisbois' story is all too common. First her boyfriend isolated her from her friends and family. Then he started a cycle of violent fights followed by flowers and apologies. Finally, the abuse culminated in a terrible fight that may have contributed to her death in a car accident.

            "Violence against women starts with violence against girls," says NCJW outgoing-president Arlene Schenker. She stresses that teens, who often know less about domestic violence than their mothers, can learn a lot from the play, which "highlights some danger signs in a soon-to-be-abusive relationship."

Reassuring item #2: Alternatives to Battered Women runs a vigorous education program that reaches out to schools, religious groups, and community centers.

            An educational flyer from a domestic abuse group like ABW helped my friend in North Carolina get out of a bad relationship in college. "He would shake me and push me," she says, "but because he never actually punched me, I didn't realize it was abuse. I just thought he had a bad temper."

            "It's important for people to call for information," ABW executive director Catherine Mazzotta says. "Those in the [abusive] situation need know they are not alone."

Reassuring item #3: Governor George Pataki is calling for increased DNA testing of convicted criminals and abolishing statutes of limitations for violent crimes.

            Both these moves should help bring more felons to justice. The five-year statute of limitations on first-degree rape --- and other Class B felonies like first-degree robbery and assault --- is ridiculous and outdated. It's not uncommon for new evidence --- usually DNA --- to crop up years later, often too late to help the victim prosecute the attacker.

            Pataki wants to increase DNA testing to include all convicted criminals; currently only some felons are tested. The New York State DNA Databank is viewed as a big success, having just reached its 1000th match between DNA collected from a convicted felon and evidence from an unsolved crime scene.

Reassuring item #4: Nearly three-quarters of the matches on the NYS DNA Databank were for sexual assault cases, according to the governor's June 4 press release.

            The majority of these were felons who had their DNA collected earlier when they were convicted of other violent crimes. This means that burglary suspects could also be wanted for rape and vice versa.

As depressing as the state of violence against women still is, I'm trying to feel upbeat about things. After all, I've survived my assaults.

            Unlike Patricia Scoville, I can still make a difference. I can still support ABW. I can still vote. She can't.

            Scoville, a Canandaigua native, was brutally raped and murdered 11 years ago when she was out for a bike ride in Stowe, Vermont. Instead of planning for her 40th birthday, which would have been last month, her parents, David and Ann Scoville, were working with Governor Pataki to expand the national DNA databank. Patricia's case has never been solved.

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