More than 13,500 assaults on Maryland women were committed or attempted last year by their husbands or other men they were living with, according to the first authoritative survey to document the extent of so-called spousal violence in the state.
The survey, compiled by the state police at the direction of the Maryland General Assembly, gives the number of assaults and attempts rather than the number of individuals involved. Nevertheless, it represents only "the absolute minimum number" of such assaults, according to State Del. Pauline Menes (D-Prince George's), who sponsored the legislation that authorized the survey.
Most instances of wife beating are never reported to police, Menes said.
The FBI said there are no comparable nationwide figures for spousal assaults.
According to the survey, 1,715, or 11.2 percent, of the 15,312 instances of spousal violence last year involved assaults or attempted assaults on men. Most of the assaults occurred while couples were living together and resulted from arguments. Most of the victims were white and in the 25 to 29 age bracket.
Typically, spousal violence transcends all economic and educational levels, according to Betty Pike, who chairs the crisis shelter committee of the Maryland Commission for Women.
But generally, the battered wife is someone who is highly dependent economically and psychologically on her husband and feels incapable of leaving her home, Pike said.
"A lot of times, these women have seen abuse of their mothers. They accept violence," Pike said.
"Some women think maybe they deserve it... they are not sado-masochistic, but they feel it's perhaps God's will," she added.
Many men who beat their wives have also seen their mothers abused, according to Pike. The survey says that alcohol was a factor in over 14 percent of the assaults.
In many cases, there are extreme economic pressures on the husband, Pike said.
Of the total 15,312 assaults reported to police, 2,999 were classified as aggravated assaults in which the victim either receives or is threatened with severe bodily harm. Knives or other cutting instruments were used in 29.8 percent of the aggravated assaults, while firearms were used in 12.9 percent.
Menes said the survey will be used to promote legislation designed to aid and protect battered women.
"We were trying to provide assistance to battered spouses by way of legislation... And we were constantly being challenged as to how many women were affected," Menes said.
In the last 18 months, the number of shelter facilities for battered wives in Maryland increased from two to 14, Pike said.
There are several bills before the legislature this year dealing with the problem of spousal violence, Menes said.
One bill would make it legal for a husband and wife to sue one another for damages, currently prohibited under common law. Another would require police officers to accompany women back to their homes where their estranged husbands are living to retrieve their belongings, if necessary.