Charlotte Fedders, whose story of abuse at the hands of John Fedders, a prominent government official, put wife abuse in the Washington spotlight last year, told a Capitol Hill forum on victims' rights yesterday how doctors, priests, and police officers ignored her pleas for help through 18 years of marriage.
One doctor, told of the physical abuse, remarked, "He's immature and you're immature," Fedders told her audience. A priest told her to give her husband time and "just love him." And Montgomery County police, whom she called to her Potomac home in 1983, told her all she could do was file a warrant for his arrest. She said police told her nothing of shelters or programs for abused wives.
The forum, sponsored by the National Organization for Victim Assistance, focused on programs to help victims and their special plight this year as the Reagan administration tries to cut a federal goverment fund set up in 1984 to aid crime victims.
The administration strongly supported establishing the fund in 1984 from fines and other penalties paid by federal offenders, several speakers said. The administration has proposed a cutback to $35 million in the fund, which is now $68 million and was expected to grow to $100 million next fiscal year, the speakers said.
The money has been used to start grass-roots programs around the nation to help victims of domestic violence, rape and other crimes, according to John Stein, deputy director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
"One cent less means less outreach, less reform, less services . . . to victims of crime," Stein told the audience of law enforcement officials, crime victims and program directors. "We are not here to tolerate that."
According to a spokesman for his organization, the administration's proposed cuts go far beyond the requirements of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act. "What perplexes many observers is that the proposal seeks to make massive cuts in what is a relatively minuscule program -- from the federal budget's perspective, not the victims'," the spokesman said.
When Fedders' story of abuse by her husband, who resigned as chief of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, became public in 1985, women's rights activists said it served to show that such abuse occurs at all levels of income and social strata. Yesterday, Fedders agreed, saying she had received calls or letters about abuse from the wives of a doctor, a serviceman and a congressional aide, and from a White House secretary and a university professor.
A California woman, who now runs a rape crisis center in Maine, told of being sexually abused as a child by a neighbor, her stepgrandfather and ultimately her stepfather. Neither her mother, her teachers nor authorities would believe her story, the woman said. "I became bitter, suspicious, afraid," she said. "And what is appalling is that what happened to me is not unique. It happens to many, many children in this country."
In an interview yesterday, Fedders said she never thought of herself as a victim of crime. "I didn't use that word. It didn't dawn on me," she said. "For years, priests, doctors did not respond to it with horror . . . . I won't dwell on it now, but yes, I'm a victim of crime."