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Alicia Sears was murdered by her ex-boyfriend and father of two of her children. This tragic loss of life provokes even more rage because it was the predictable outcome of Ohio's Defense of Marriage Act, which discriminates against women who are victims of domestic violence depending upon their marital status.

In the fight to discriminate against gays and lesbians by barring them from legal marriages, Ohio voters approved a DOMA law which was then enacted in 2004.  Ohio's constitution now reads:

"This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

The separate, unequal treatment of domestic violence in Ohio means that women will die - as Alicia was murdered -- simply because they did not have a marriage certificate, a piece of paper.

In March 2005, Ohio judges started ruling that unmarried couples were no longer protected by state domestic violence law, which previously covered family and household members. In Wood County, only 25% of domestic violence cases involve married couples. Under Ohio DOMA, only married partners can be charged with domestic violence and now unmarried partners can only be charged with assault.

When domestic violence is treated as an assault charge, then repeat offenders - like the man who murdered Alicia - do not face escalating charges. Each assault charge is treated as a mere misdemeanor, which has a maximum prison term of 6 months. By contrast, when domestic violence is charged the first time, it is misdemeanor, but the second time the charge is elevated to a felony with at least 1 year in prison.

Domestic violence charges also provide more protection for the victims, who automatically receive a temporary protection order until the case is finished in court. Assault victims must file for a civil protection order.

The death of Alicia Sears Castillon is a tragedy that has hit us where we live.  This beloved daughter, mother, sister and friend is not a random case of violence in a newspaper to be browsed and clucked over, then discarded.  Her father, friend of so many, is one of us.  He's our Zwoof.  Domestic violence and death has come home to roost.

We cannot change what has happened to Alicia, we cannot go back in time and save her life, or the life of her friend Mitch.  But there is something we can do.  We can fight to save others from the fate that was Alicia's, we can fight to make other young women safe.

The Links Between Sexism And Domestic Violence

More than 3 women are murdered every day by their husbands or boyfriends. In the past 5 days that we have been working on this diary, 15 women have been murdered. While that is a startling fact by itself, the nature of the violence and abuse against women and girls is widespread:

  • 4 million American women experience a serious assault by a partner during an average 12-month period.

  • 92% of women say that reducing domestic violence and sexual assault should be at the top of any formal efforts taken on behalf of women today.

  • 1 out of 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.

  • 1 in 5 female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Abused girls are significantly more likely to get involved in other risky behaviors. They are 4 to 6 times more likely to get pregnant and 8 to 9 times more likely to have tried to commit suicide.

  • 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, slapped, choked or physically hurt by his/her partner.

  • Women of all races are equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.

  • 37% of all women who sought care in hospital emergency rooms for violence-related injuries were injured by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.

  • Some estimates say almost 1 million incidents of violence occur against a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend per year.

  • For 30% of women who experience abuse, the first incident occurs during pregnancy.

  • As many as 324,000 women each year experience intimate partner violence during their pregnancy.

  • Violence against women costs companies $72.8 million annually due to lost productivity.

  • 74% of employed battered women were harassed by their partner while they were at work.

  • Ninety-four percent of the offenders in murder-suicides were male.

  • Seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend). Of these, 96 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.

  • Most murder-suicides with three or more victims involved a "family annihilator" -- a subcategory of intimate partner murder-suicide. Family annihilators are murderers who kill not only their wives/girlfriends and children, but often other family members as well, before killing themselves.

  • Seventy-five percent of murder-suicides occurred in the home.

Experts believe that domestic violence is even more widespread in our military community because the military culture "teaches men and women that violence is both necessary and honorable." You may remember the 5 murders in 2002 at Fort Bragg when 4 soldiers killed their wives and a woman shot her enlisted husband over the course of just 6 weeks. These were a handful of the 227 domestic homicides reported during 1995-2001. A domestic abuse hotline for the military received 35-50 calls monthly until the Afghanistan war when calls dramatically increased to 150 a week. To control the problem, Congress required the Defense Dept. in 2000 to create a domestic violence task force to provide recommendations for improvement. Six years later, less than half of the recommendations had been implemented while the Defense Dept. refused to implement dozens of other recommendations. Meanwhile, reports of sexual assaults in the military have increased by 24% from 2,400 in 2005 to nearly 3,000 in 2006.  

Causes of Domestic Violence

Sexism is a big contributing factor to domestic violence against women for a number of reasons. The attacker views the situation which is claimed to have "triggered" or "justified" the attack from a sexist perspective. The fact that the wife obtained a higher paying job than the husband may be viewed as an attack against his manhood rather than a benefit for the family.  The justice system is contaminated by institutionalized sexism and then the police, lawyers, prosecutors and judges may use sexist perspectives to belittle claims by women or release offenders with records on their own recognizance. And, then the institutionalized sexism that permeates political, social, cultural, economic, legal, media and religious sectors of our society reinforce the sexist and discriminatory treatment of women by all parties and the cycle repeats and reaffirms itself.

A 2000 report issued by the United Nations Children's Fund (pdf file) on domestic violence against women and girls discussed the causes of domestic violence. When reviewing the table of cultural, economic, legal and political factors, there is one dominant underlying theme of sexism and discrimination.

These factors explain domestic violence whether based on the general model of male power and privilege or a gender neutral model which applies to heterosexuals as well as gays and lesbians. "Several studies have indicated that partner abuse among same-sex couples (both female and male) is relatively similar in both prevalence and dynamics to that among opposite-sex couples."  In same sex couples, the power differences stem from sexism, homophobia, racism, income disparity, ageism, disability, health and HIV status.

Cultural Factors

Part of our socialization process is learning cultural ideologies -- such as the "appropriate" sex roles, the "inherent superiority of males," and men's "proprietary rights" over women and girls - that "provide 'legitimacy' for violence against women in certain circumstances." The UN report notes:

"Religious and historical traditions in the past have sanctioned the chastising and beating of wives. The physical punishment of wives has been particularly sanctioned under the notion of entitlement and ownership of women. Male control of family wealth inevitably places decision-making authority in male hands, leading to male dominance and proprietary rights over women and girls. The concept of ownership, in turn, legitimizes control over women's sexuality, which in many law codes has been deemed essential to ensure patrilineal inheritance."

Centuries of patriarchal privilege have "defined men's relationship to women in terms of ownership and entitlement"where women are nothing more than property or a chattel to be owned by men. These views are still held today. Just a few days ago, right-winger Phyllis Schlafly stated that women can not be raped by their husbands because consent for sex at any time is implied from the marriage itself.  

Schlafly's view that spousal rape should be treated differently from rapes by strangers was the prevailing view held by our legal system in which domestic violence was only technically a crime that was treated as a "private matter."  Laws favored men on issues of privileges and rights and did not fully protect women from crimes of violence. In fact, domestic violence was only fairly recently criminalized. In 1978, Michigan passed a law making domestic violence a crime, which made it the 3rd state in the country to do so.

The reason that consent to rape or violence was implied by marriage is because women were viewed as inferior, unequal property that was to be owned and managed by men. This view also holds today. In Baby v. Maryland (2006), a state appellate court determined that whether or not a rape occurred was dependent upon the ancient view that women are chattel, not human beings (pdf file). If there was no real harm to the real injured party (the father or husband) that could be redressed by compensation, then there was no damage to the chattel (the woman) and thus no rape. In other words, the father or husband had control or ownership over the woman's sexual and reproductive functions and so whether a rape occurred depended upon whether his interest was injured or damaged. Rape convictions were then reversed based on this case.

A man's violence against a woman not only expresses his power over her, but it is viewed as a means to maintain that power by subordinating the woman. "Men may resort to violence when their power and privilege are questioned and other strategies have failed, or when they feel threatened when women do not do what they expect."  The historical view that women is inferior and should be subordinate to men remains today. Phyllis Schlafly is not the only person to advocate that women's "inherent physical inferiority" should preclude women from being firefighters, construction workers and soldiers in combat, where women are a "hazard to other people around them."

In dozens of interviews, male soldiers and officers indicated that one reason soldiers may sexually assault or harass women isresentment that they are forced to accept the sham that women are equal:

Off the record, in dozens of interviews over a period of years, male soldiers and officers have confided that many men resent women because they've been forced to pretend that women are equals, and men know they're not. The lie breeds contempt, which leads to a simmering rage that sometimes finds expression in aggression toward those deemed responsible.

Targeting women isn't excusable, obviously. It's also not the women's fault that they've been put in this untenable situation - exposed both to combat and to the repressed fury of sexually charged young men.

The fault lies with the Pentagon and others who have capitulated to feminist pressures to insert women into combat. Although women are prohibited from direct ground combat and are assigned primarily to support roles, the lack of clear boundaries in Iraq has eliminated the distinction.

Wishful thinking and bureaucratic expansion won't likely solve the problem of sexual conflict in the war zone, but a more-rational military structure that keeps women and men apart would help.

As a bonus, segregation also would reduce the plague of divorces caused by men and women fraternizing away from spouses.

Finally, our commanders and fighting men could focus on the business of war rather than tending to gender skirmishes that distract commanders and steal time, resources and energy from the military's purpose.

Violence against women is characterized as distracting little "gender skirmishes" which contributes to the cycle of violence. This cycle of violence is also fed by children who witness domestic violence as it may reinforce the idea that it is permissible to mistreat women or that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. The criminal justice system also feeds this cycle of violence when police do not intervene or prosecutors release batterers from jail because then the batterer learns that he need not worry about outside intervention.

Economic Factors

The second UN factor is women's economic dependence upon men due to discriminatory laws and limited access to employment, education and training.  Abused women often must stay with the abuser in order to provide food and shelter to herself and her children. Lack of economic resources rendered women both more vulnerable to domestic violence and less likely to escape from a violent relationship:

"The link between violence and lack of economic resources and dependence is circular. On the one hand, the threat and fear of violence keeps women from seeking employment, or, at best, compels them to accept low-paid, home-based exploitative labour. And on the other, without economic independence, women have no power to escape from an abusive relationship.  The reverse of this argument also holds true in some countries; that is, women's increasing economic activity and independence is viewed as a threat which leads to increased male violence. This is particularly true when the male partner is unemployed, and feels his power undermined in the household.  Studies have also linked a rise in violence to the destabilization of economic patterns in society."

Legal Factors

The third factor is how our legal system enhances the unequal distribution of power by treating women as second-class citizens who even today do not have equal rights under our Constitution. The separate but unequal laws were made worse by institutionalized sexism in our criminal justice system where some participants (police, prosecutors, lawyers and judges) belittle women's claims of abuse by their actions or inactions.

Despite laws enacted to protect women and the criminalization of domestic violence, many participants of our criminal justice systems still view it as a private matter:

"Unlike other victims of violent crime, battered women are often viewed by the police, the prosecutor, judges, jurors and probation/parole staff as responsible for the crimes committed against them; responsible either because battered women are believed to "provoke" the perpetrator into violence or because they are believed to have the power to avoid the criminal assault through accommodating the perpetrator's demands." Source: Battered Women and the Criminal Justice System.

Some system personnel hold the women as culpable or treat the women as "unworthy victims" who clog our courts with unimportant family matters:

"Some, therefore, impose barriers to a battered woman's use of the criminal justice system. Police fail to arrest or file incident reports. Prosecutors delay charging, require substantialcorroboration, acquiesce in repeated continuances, or impose fees upon the victim (Ford, 1991). The reluctance of the criminal justice system to vigorously proceed with domestic violence cases quickly erodes victim confidence in the system's alliance with the victim." Source: Battered Women and the Criminal Justice System.

When protective orders are enforced, women are safer because abusers arrested for violating protective orders are 30% less likely to attack their partners again. However, protective orders are violated in 67% of rape cases, 50% of physical assault cases and 69% of stalking cases. Yet, police do not always provide meaningful enforcement of protective orders:

"For example, studies show that often police do not make domestic violence arrests, even in states with laws that require an arrest when there is reasonable cause to believe a protective order has been violated. Nationally, one study found domestic violence assailants were arrested or detained by the police less than half the time - in 47 percent of rape cases, 36 percent of physical assault cases and 28 percent of stalking cases. Another study found that only 20 percent of domestic violence cases resulted in the police arresting the assailant. Mandatory arrest laws were found to increase the likelihood of arrest by only 5 percent." Source: The ACLU.

Today, women are fighting back when the system fails to perform its duty. In one case, a woman filed a lawsuit against a town for failure to enforce a protective order despite a state mandatory arrest law. The woman's estranged husband violated the protective order when he grabbed her 3 children from her home. Despite a mandatory arrest law, the police did not make any effort to locate her children, who were killed by her estranged husband. The court agreed that the woman had a protected property interest in enforcement of her restraining order, but the decision was reversed. Source: Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

Please remember Alicia, who was beloved of many, whose parents and children mourn, whose untimely death could have been prevented. Let's all do what we can to ensure that the women in our lives are safe.

Political Factors

The 4th UN factor in domestic violence is the political sector, which should remedy the injustices perpetrated by the cultural, economic and legal factors. Unfortunately, women have been under-represented in power, politics and media and so domestic violence was not seriously addressed until 1994 when President Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide financial aid for shelters, treatment and research.

VAWA was a major step forward and is now credited for having decreased domestic violence over the years 1993 to 2005: Non-fatal attacks decreased by 65% and homicides dropped by almost 1/3. This decline began in 1994 when VAWA was enacted and state and federal governments commenced to fight domestic abuse. Since then, legislatures have enacted 660 measures to curb domestic violence.

Experts explain that the decreased violence is due to a number of factors, including the independence women have obtained from working so it is easier to escape abuse, increased assertiveness by women leading to increased reporting of criminal abuse to police and increased imprisonment of men to take abusers off the streets.

One danger to this success is good ole Bush. Last year, Bush held a ceremony to sign the reauthorization of VAWA, a law designed to decrease domestic violence by funding women's shelters and law enforcement training. True to form, a month later Bush proposed a cut to domestic violence programs and did not include any funding for the programs covered by the new law:

"Next, let's all take a moment to ponder that the Republicans quite recently passed 'Laci and Connor's Law' to further criminalize the murder of pregnant women. In light of this, Bush's stated intent to cut domestic violence interventions is sickeningly ironic. With one hand they come out against murdering pregnant women and with the other they take a pass on preventing those murders."

So, while both chambers passed appropriations bills that would have increased funding for VAWA, the final budget never passed, leaving funding at fiscal year 2006 levels.  Last month, Sen. Biden succeeded in passing an amendment for the 2008 budget in the Senate by unanimous consent to increase funding for key VAWA programs.

Now Bush has another plan. In February 2007, buried inside Bush's 2008 budget is a proposal that would further endanger domestic violence programs by handing control over funding to the executive branch, where the Justice Dept., rather than Congress, would exercise discretion as to how federal dollars are spent to combat domestic violence and sexual assault. "Critics fear the administration would eliminate or de-emphasize certain anti-violence programs and add funding for new, untested programs." This could mean that Bush would experiment with faith-based initiatives as he did with AIDs. Hopefully, Bush can not win with the new Democratic Congress. As Senator Biden stated, "the President's plan to restructure funding for domestic violence programs puts all of our hard work in serious jeopardy."

In addition to the VAWA, one great remedy is to help Democrats succeed in passing the Equal Rights Amendment, which provides that:

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

The amendment fell 3 states short of passage in 1982 and now House and Senate Democrats have reintroduced the measure under the new name of the Women's Equality Amendment -- and "vowed to bring it to a vote in both chambers by the end of the session."

A trust fund has been established for Alicia's children. Anyone wishing to donate may do so by sending a check or money order payable to "Alicia's Kids - Trust Fund" and mailing it to the following address:

First Federal Bank of the Midwest
P.O. Box 342
Bowling Green, OH 43402

This diary is a labor of love for our Zwoofie and his beloved Alicia and a collaboration by nonnie9999, Patriot Daily, Got a Grip, melvin, Rippen Kitten, pico, mikk0 and srkp23.

Originally posted to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Thu Apr 05, 2007 at 10:45 AM PDT.

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