The Tide Is Turning
By Robert Scharf
April 8, 2001

When I was a boy, we had a couple who lived next door. Let's call them the Jones's. They were childless but had a kind of paternal attitude towards the kids in the neighborhood. My first job was working with Mr. Jones, and Mrs. Jones always got Christmas gifts for us.

After a while they moved up the block, across the street from a large parking lot where we kids used to play. One day while we were playing street hockey, a car drove up in which a husband and wife (also known to us from the neighborhood) were having a loud argument. Presently the man began punching his wife. I was horrified. He was obviously generating as much force--and hoping to do as much harm--as he could with the blows. I ran into the Jones house and hollered "call the police!" When I told Mr. Jones why, he said to forget about it, the police would not get involved in a domestic situation. His wife stood behind him pointing at him and mouthing the words "he does that to me." All those times his wife was "sick" and could not come to the door when we called on her, all those times she had bruises which she explained as due to a fall, these all made sense now.

I ran outside, meaning to return home to call the police, but the couple had left.

This was my introduction to domestic violence and it was a double blow for me. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Jones was correct and his own wife's testimony indicated that it was so-- that the authorities were not eager to get involved in domestic violence.

That was back around 1970. Now I know a woman who has gotten a restraining order against her husband who was threatening her. We have come a long way in 30 years.

Last week at work (I work in a restaurant) I heard a commotion in the dinning room. A woman was shouting at a man who had gotten rough with his daughter of about five. He challenged the woman to call the police, and she did. When she told the police officer that the man had hit his daughter on the back and jerked her arms violently, the policeman said, "I have a three year old son and I do that to him." The policeman made a perfunctory examination of the girl and said that she showed no signs of abuse. Other customers who had seen the event also told the policeman that the father had been very rough and inappropriate. It was clear that the policeman wasn't going to become involved, and that he had enough latitude not to.

I thought back to the time when Mr. Jones could hide behind the law and I took comfort that in only thirty years law enforcement has lost the discretion to ignore spousal abuse. I look forward to the day, hopefully within thirty years, when law enforcement will not have the discretion to ignore parental abuse of children. The tide is turning.


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