Domestic assaults by women increasing
BY LARRY GRARD
The reasons vary, but the statistics speak with one voice: More women are being arrested for domestic assaults.
The latest data, supplied by the state Department of Public Safety, show that last year, police arrested 1,067 women for domestic assault. That's up nearly 300 from 2003, representing an 8 percent increase.
Such arrests aren't commonplace, but a trend is there, police say.
"When I started, you might see one a year," said Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong, who has 36 years in law enforcement. "I think police officers are more attuned to it. In the past, it wasn't even looked at. Domestic violence is for everybody now."
Police have adjusted their training and responses accordingly.
Ann Jordan, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said that today, police are trained to arrest "the predominant aggressor," and "dig into the facts" before making a charge.
Jordan also noted the change in societal attitudes.
"Ten years ago," she said, "many men would not come forward because of the stigma involved. And there's an increase in the use of drugs and alcohol, on both sides. People who wouldn't normally assault do so when they're under the influence."
While more men than women are arrested for assault involving firearms, 21 women were arrested in the state last year for using a knife or cutting instrument during an assault, compared to 20 men.
"But it doesn't matter what the sex is," Jordan said. "Assault is wrong."
DeLong agreed that drugs and alcohol play a role in the number of women committing assaults on their domestic partners.
"Women drink and drug more now," DeLong said. "More work and socialize after work, rather than going home to their families. Today, they're on the same level as the guys."
Another byproduct of societal change: Women might be more inclined to fight back now.
"They're a little bit less likely to take the abuse that was routine in the past," said Jon Oplinger, a sociology professor at the University of Maine at Farmington. "They're fighting back."
Exposure to violence, Oplinger said, is a factor that instigates violence, among both sexes.
"It's on television," he said. "The show '24' is graphic. It makes it more acceptable, and it feeds on itself.
"You see women fighting on TV shows, and boxing matches. I don't consider it particularly entertaining, and you wouldn't have seen it 20 years ago. That translates into action, at some point."
Sgt. William Bonney of the Waterville Police Department agreed with Oplinger, that modern women are more likely to assert themselves.
"Women who have been victims in the past strike first," Bonney said. "Now we're stuck arresting them."
Chief Joseph Massey said that officers are trained to look for the primary aggressor, and the mandatory arrests can come into play.
"Whenever an assault occurs, with probable cause, there's an arrest," Massey said. "There don't have to be cuts and bruises. I think there was a reluctance in the past on the part of police to charge women for a variety of reasons, some of them cultural."
Larry Grard -- 861-9239