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An examination of domestic violence

March 06, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Tammy lived on a tightrope.

In her world, one word could ignite a barrage of insults.

"You're fat. No one else will ever want you," he said.

One look could signal a slap in the face.

"I was four months pregnant, so I didn't fight back," she said.

It got to her children.

"My kids were scared to death of their father."

She couldn't talk to him anymore.

"I got to the point where I would just talk to myself in journals."

After nearly 13 years of abuse, Tammy sought the help she needed to start a new life in Hagerstown.

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Today, at age 30, she's considered one of Washington County's domestic violence success stories.

She lived.

At least six Washington County women have been murdered by estranged husbands and ex-boyfriends since 1995:

* John Kenneth Young shot his estranged wife, Elizabeth, 29, in her Hagerstown apartment on Jan. 12, 1995.

* On Valentine's Day 1995 Timothy L. Massie strangled his estranged wife, Debra, 29, in her Jefferson Street home.

* Less than one month later, Carroll Itnyre shot his estranged wife, Patricia, 34, of Sharpsburg, in her car.

* On Nov. 28, 1995, James Ira Ross Jr. shot his estranged wife Dorothy, 21, in the foyer of her Hagerstown apartment building.

* Roland Louis Garde Jr. shot his wife, Suzanne, at their Garis Shop Road home near Hagerstown on May 5, 1997,

* John Stephen Weir shot his ex-girlfriend, Tina Marie Vinzant, 34, a block from her downtown Hagerstown home on Aug. 5, 1998.

1 in 3 women

A Johns Hopkins study released Jan. 20 said at least one woman in every three worldwide has been beaten, raped or otherwise abused.

The report, "Ending Violence Against Women," said women who are abused suffer from chronic pain, depression and gynecological problems. And the children of battered women are more likely to be stillborn or die in infancy than other children.

Anywhere from 22 percent to 70 percent of the women interviewed had never before told anyone about the abuse, according to the studies compiled in the report released by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

In the United States, nearly four American women are killed every day by a husband, ex-husband or boyfriend, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Some 1,326 women were killed in intimate murders in 1996, according to the latest bureau figures.

Over the past five years, nearly $1.4 billion has been allocated to state and local programs under the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act. Congress is expected to renew and strengthen the act this year, increasing shelter space and toughening penalties for interstate stalking.

The local problem

Getting a handle on the scope of domestic violence in Washington County is difficult because no one keeps track of all the cases. Individual police departments deal with the crime differently, even in how they label domestic violence calls.

Here's what we know:

* The shelter for abused women in Hagerstown is getting an increasing number of crisis calls on its hotline. There were 10,000 calls to CASA from July 1, 1997 to June 30, 1998. There were 12,744 the next year.

The shelter helped more than 1,000 new clients in 1999.

* Hagerstown police handle more domestic violence calls than other law enforcement agencies in the county, but make fewer arrests per call.

However, there is no clear definition of domestic violence in the department. Officers say some domestic violence cases are labeled as family disturbances and vice versa.

A "calls report" from the department showed it received 869 total domestic violence and family disturbance calls, and made 44 arrests, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 20, 1999.

Calls coded as domestic violence totaled 279 during that time, according to the report.

Police Chief Arthur Smith, who joined the deparment in November, has made domestic violence a higher priority.

* The Washington County Sheriff's office keeps detailed records on domestic violence, tracking not only the numbers of calls and arrests, but also whether the problem was between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend or people who live togther, and whether assaults were made and weapons or substance abuse involved.

Most recent statistics show the department responded to 417 domestic violence calls during 1999. They made 85 arrests.

* Maryland State Police in Hagerstown also keep detailed reports. Most recent statistics show the department investigated 122 domestic violence calls from January through December 1999. Officers made 55 arrests.

* District Court, which handles most of the county's domestic violence cases, can't say how many cases it gets or how they are disposed of because there is no crime specifically known as domestic violence. Offenders are charged with various types of assault.

Therefore, there are no statistics, for example, that show how much jail time an abuser typically gets, or whether he goes to jail at all.

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