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Opinion
Steve Russell: Family violence docket an ugly one


"Having grown up in rural Oklahoma, I knew family violence was a problem, but I have to admit I was ignorant of the size of the problem. It first hit me when I was the administrative judge on the municipal court and I noticed that more than half of the assault cases were dismissed - a waste of limited resources that set me to an investigation.

It turned out that stranger assaults were likely to go to trial. The statistics were caused by wholesale dismissal of wife-beating cases. I use this language, ''wife-beating,'' to avoid the error of gender neutrality in discussing family violence. Yes, women are just as likely as men to resort to force in an argument. However, the bodies in the morgues and emergency rooms are more than 90 percent female.

Men bite dogs, but that does not make dog bites a species-neutral problem.

Women hit men, but that does not make family violence a sex-neutral problem.

Speaking rationally, men are the perpetrators and women are the victims; and then there are a few special cases, like the fellow who took off his shirt in the courtroom and showed me the perfect outline of a steam iron branded into his chest and the guy who showed me a photo of the bite marks on his testicles so I would understand why he punched her.

I stack those two cases among the thousands I heard in my career. Then there was the guy who smashed his wife's fish tank, the guy who tossed her kitten out a fifth-floor window, the guy who shot her dog, or the guy who did something unspeakable to her horse. The family violence docket is plenty ugly, and you never know how close you are to homicide. It happened, in fact, that I once signed a protective order for a woman who was already dead; and I am acutely aware that paper cannot stop bullets."

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: Fighting violence with law is not always a safe bet (Indian Country Today 6/27)

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