The poignant tape-recorded account of a battered wife whose pleadings for help were ignored by her gynecologist, marriage counselor and finally the judge who granted her a divorce brought tears to many in the congressional hearing room as it was played yesterday.
The 31-year-old Wheaton mother, who had recorded her story in order to protect her anonymity, was somewhere among those who crowded the Rayburn House Office Building hearing room on opening day of testimony on federal legislation to aid abused spouses.
Her testimony was offered by Rep. Newton I. Steers (R.-Md.) of a bill sponsored by Steers and Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) that would spend up to $60 million over three years on shelters for battered wives and studies into causes and potential cures of domestic violence.
The tape-recorded story of Ann is an example of a social problem that has reached "epidemic proportions," according to another witness, Blandina Cardenas, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's commissioner for children, youth and families.
The fact that Ann's story was challenged by her doctor, counselor and judge points up one of the major obstacles in attacking the problem: Much as with rape victims, the abused often are not believed, experts said.
Steers said the question of credibility is important only when the victim doesn't have enough money to get away from her abuser.
During his contested divorce, Steers was accused by his wife of beating her. Steers said the allegations were "not true," and because a settlement was reached, "they were never tested in court.
"My wife had money of her own, and now she also has some of mine," said Steers, who managed a grin and added, "and if it means anything, she said she voted for me."
Steers said it had "crossed my mind" that sponsoring legislation on battered wives might result in having to answer questions about his ex-wife's charges, but he said it would have been "cowardly" not to go ahead.
Bobbi Avancena, Steers' legislative aide, said, "He decided the problem was too important to sidestep because
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During a recess, Ann told a reporter more about her story. The beatings began shortly after their marriage in August 1974, she said.
At first, she said nothing "out of disbelief and love. It was too hard to believe that I had made such a big mistake," said Ann, a writer, who like her husband, was a professional person.
During her pregnancy, which began two months after the wedding, she was "beaten almost constantly." She tried to tell her male gynecologist about it, but expressed the trauma in terms of mental anguish instead of physical violence because "I was ashamed. I still was under the belief that it was my fault."
The gynecologist said her husband was "just going through a state." For his part, Ann's husband, a $27,000-a-year political analyst and one-time House committee staffer, told her the unwanted pregnancy was "all my (her) fault."
As the violence increased - Ann said both her eyes were blackened and she was bitten deep enough to draw blood in her scalp, arms and shoulders - she threatened to leave unless her husband agreed to go with her to a marriage counselor.
They began meeting with a rabbi who was trained in counseling. The rabbi's first question to her, Ann said, was "is your husband really beating you" When they got home from those sessions, the violence escalated because her husband was "enraged at
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The response Ann got from telephone calls to Montgomery County agencies for help reinforced her concern that "I was doing something wrong, and if I changed, the problem would go away."
When she finally won her divorce, the Superior Court judge "still didn't believe the beatings," Ann said. He told her "we deserve each other" and that "my husband probably had been provoked."
Boggs said revelations such as Ann's, along with passage of the bill, would help "bring this terrible problem out of the closet."