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1 Million Women Victims of Domestic Violence in ’91 : Crime: A Senate panel estimates another 3 million attacks went unreported. Tougher laws are urged.

From Associated Press

There were about 1 million attacks on women by their husbands or lovers last year, a Senate committee reported Friday, as 16 women’s groups urged more stringent laws to combat domestic violence.

Another 3 million violent domestic crimes--murders, rapes and assaults--went unreported, the Senate Judiciary Committee estimated.

“Women’s lives remain controlled by fear, yet Congress has been slow to respond,” Rosemary Dempsey, vice president of the National Organization for Women, said. “The incidents recorded in this report are a stark reminder of the misogyny behind the statistics.”

Dempsey pointed out a 1988 U.S. surgeon general’s report that listed violence as the top health risk among women. The Senate committee noted a June, 1992, report from Surgeon General Antonia Coello Novello that said violence is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44.

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The statistics demonstrate the need for the proposed Violence Against Women Act, said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). The measure awaits action by the full Senate.

The legislation sponsored by Biden calls for allowing women to bring civil cases for attacks committed against them because of their gender, as well as for educational programs against domestic violence and stiffer laws against spouse abuse.

Biden said the bill could make rape a federal offense, which he said is justified if it is proved that the victim was attacked because of gender.

“It is a hate crime. My objective is to give the woman every opportunity under the law to seek redress, not only criminally but civilly,” Biden said. “I want to raise the consciousness of this country that women’s civil rights--their right to be left alone--is in jeopardy.”

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The panel also looked at 200 assault cases during the first week of last month. Twenty-four of the women either were seeking or already had obtained court orders to protect themselves from past or potential attackers. The cases were gathered from rape crisis centers, emergency rooms, shelters and police stations.

Among the September cases described were:

-- A Texas mother whose husband stabbed her to death and then hung himself after she tried to get a protective order and enter a shelter for battered women.

-- A 46-year-old woman in New Mexico whose husband beat her and pushed her from a moving car.

-- A 28-year-old New Hampshire woman whose husband tried to strangle her and break her leg, then refused to allow her to seek medical attention.

The report said domestic disputes accounted for 16% of all sexual assaults and 20% of all aggravated assaults reported in 1991. It counted 1.37 million domestic incidents, and estimated that 83% of the victims were women, based on reports that Senate staffers collected from 17 states that tally victims by sex.


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