Time to reassess rules

Letters to the editor

Posted: Friday, October 22, 2004

I was alarmed when I learned of the state of Alaska's criteria for deciding who should be arrested in a domestic violence case. The test upon which police officers base their decision is who they determine to be the "primary aggressor." This explains why so many women are arrested here for domestic violence as compared with other places. For Alaska residents, it's not about who is being victimized; it's about placing the blame on either party for the fight. To say that a woman was the "primary aggressor" is to say that she started it, and therefore it is her fault.

Surely anyone recognizes that if two men are fighting with their fists and one pulls out a gun, the gunslinger has broken a rule of fairness that supercedes any argument over who started it. A man is by design typically capable of inflicting far more injury on his partner than vice versa.

An example of the injustice of such a standard would be if multiple neighbors call the police because they can hear a woman in another apartment pleading, "Stop, please. You're killing me!" as the sounds of her husband's bludgeoning fists are as audible as her screams. If no one other than the couple visually witnessed the incident, then the officers (possibly none of them female) will question the couple to assess who started it. Is that what really matters in such a case? Is it possible that a woman will lie to protect an abuser who provides her, or her children, with food and shelter? If this woman is not as employable as her attacker, she may feel he is her only hope of survival until he finally kills her or she runs away with nothing. Does it make no difference if a man chooses to beat his companion into submission rather than flee the scene or call the police himself?

Why is our state No. 1 (by a landslide) for murders of women by their spouse, and No. 1 for forcible rape? Could our policies on domestic violence be rewritten to more adequately address the inequality that exists in a physically abusive relationship? Should we really arrest a battered woman because we think she was the "primary aggressor?"

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Alaska needs to be made more aware of how we are facilitating this violence.

Steve Reese


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