The Nightmare of Abuse

In March of last year, Gina Wood, a 20-year-old District of Columbia government worker, went to the police claiming that her former boyfriend, James Jerome Sims, had harassed and assaulted her. Referring Wood to the city's Citizen Complaint Center for a civil restraining order against Sims, the police did not arrest him. A few weeks later, Wood's charred body, bearing several stab wounds, was found in the debris of Sims' burned apartment. Sims was charged with second-degree murder.

The year before, Leedonyell Williams reported to police that her ex-boyfriend, Michael Anthony Scott, had broken into her apartment, held her at gunpoint, and threatened to kill her. Scott was arrested, but charges were dropped because the case was considered "domestic violence," according to D.C. prosecutors. The next day Williams was fatally shot in the stairwell of her apartment building, and Scott was charged with first-degree murder.

Police and prosecutors historically have preferred to view cases of domestic abuse as private matters to be worked out among the conflicting parties rather than criminal offenses. But a 1983 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation, with the cooperation of the Minneapolis Police Department, concluded that the "mediation and referral" approach to domestic violence is a much less effective deterrent than the arrest of abusers. Slowly, the advice of the study is being taken to heart.

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