- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

When Lydia Watts last weekend read news accounts of domestic violence deaths, it only reaffirmed her belief that “what I do every day is homicide prevention, and I do it for thousands of women every year.”

The executive director of the D.C.-based Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), Ms. Watts pointed to several items reported Saturday that back her point that domestic violence is not an aberration and “sadly, [people] are not seeing it for the epidemic that it is.”

One article reported about a Maryland doctor receiving a 30-year sentence for killing his wife, while another told of a man who was convicted of murdering his wife in Montgomery County.

Another reported about a Virginia woman who dropped a protective order against her husband, only to be killed a day later. One story told of a District man who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of killing his teenage girlfriend, who had recently delivered their child. And that’s just some of news items involving domestic violence.

“The numbers are staggering,” Ms. Watts said.

Studies compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence indicate nearly one out of three women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. An estimated one-fifth to one-third of teenagers who are involved in dating relationships are regularly abusing or being abused verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually and or physically by their partners.

“Until our community leaders see this as a rallying call and come together to make a commitment to end violence against women and their children, more and more cases will surface, and that’s a tragedy,” Ms. Watts said.

Earlier this week, another startling case surfaced as a story in the Other Paper ran with the headline “Judge Cut Md. Slaying Suspect’s Sentence,” and “Suspect, Who Persuaded Judge to Cut Sentence, Accused of Killing Again.

Here 54-year-old Michael W. Sears is accused of stabbing his girlfriend last week only 20 months after he was released by the state parole board after serving a shortened sentenced for the 1992 shooting death of his wife. He had successfully petitioned Prince George’s Circuit Judge Joseph S. Casula for a 10-year reduction on his 30-year sentence.

Sears’ case has raised the ire of those, including Ms. Watts and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, who do not believe judges should have such discretion in reducing sentences, particularly those involving homicides. Maryland is the only state that allows such sentence reductions.

However, a large part of the problem centers on the lackadaisical manner in which domestic violence cases have been handled.

In March, Prince George’s County officials were moved to improve their handling of domestic violence cases during a similar incident in which Ernestine Dyson was fatally shot in the head by her 32-year-old husband, Tyrone, who then turned the handgun on himself.

The deaths occurred less than 24 hours after Mr. Dyson was released after spending 44 days in jail for repeatedly threatening his estranged wife’s life. Prosecutors freed the habitual abuser — records showed he was involved in eight other cases — with his wife’s hurried consent.

Yesterday, Mr. Ivey, who acknowledged the “spate of lethal domestic violence cases … is clearly a huge issue,” said the countywide task-force report on domestic-violence services is near completion and should be released shortly. His office has a strong commitment “to work with women not only in providing a solution but also help them navigate the system to get the best results for them.” But there are cases in which they prosecute despite the victim’s reluctance.

Mr. Ivey also said he has already taken steps to coordinate cases in a single courtroom, hire an attorney and an investigator assigned exclusively to domestic violence cases. Countywide, software has been installed that will allow law enforcement to cross check defendants with cases from neighboring jurisdictions.

Ms. Watts agrees there should be better sharing of information and coordination — “a truly comprehensive safety net” — among all the parties involved.

Remedies are needed for men as well as women, she said. In the Sears case, for example, there was “no accountability or follow-up” on the orders requiring him to continue counseling and monitoring.

WEAVE, headquartered downtown, has two satellite offices, one at Greater Southeast Community Hospital and the other at D.C. Superior Court. At the latter, it coordinates with police, prosecutors and the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence to help victims file civil protection orders, restraining orders, and temporary custody and financial arrangements, among other services.

Besides their legal component, WEAVE also provides counseling and coaching services, an economic development and literacy fund, and violence education for teens who are dating and services to “empower survivors to create more safety for themselves and their children.”

As one weekend’s stories indicated, domestic violence does not discriminate. It crosses all ethnic, economic and educational lines. But the deaths of the aforementioned women cry out to us to blow the cover off this pervasive, progressive and potentially homicidal behavior.

For information about WEAVE, which will play host to its fifth annual wine-tasting fund-raiser from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Occidental Hotel, call 202/452- 9550 or log on to www.weaveincorp.org. The National Domestic Violence hot line is 800/799-1233.

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