The number of married persons in the military was incorrect in an article yesterday on spouse abuse. The correct number is 1,129,162.
She was, by her own description, "your basic WASP from a nice Episcopalian home." He was a successful lawyer for a large corporation. They were active in the church, vacationed at resorts like Hilton Head, S.C., belonged to the socially correct tennis club in their affluent Midwestern suburb.
But inside the $200,000 colonial home, there were the beatings, increasingly frequent and violent over the years. "I wore black hose for years to hide the bruises on my legs," said the woman, now remarried and living in Montgomery County. "Well-educated people didn't act this way. I thought it was something that happened on the other side of the tracks."
Despite that widely held stereotype, wife-beating is not confined to a particular social group, according to experts in the field, therapists who specialize in counseling abusers and their victims, and directors of local programs and shelters for battered women.
They said the disclosure that John M. Fedders, who resigned Tuesday as chief of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, beat his wife, does not reflect a freak occurrence. Spouse abuse, they said, happens at all levels of society.
"We as a society dismiss things that are difficult to look at and one way to do that is to say, 'This is a poor persons' problem,' said Donna Medley, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an advocacy group for battered women. "Then it shocks us that somebody who's obviously a terrific worker, high-income, great background, would be a batterer."
Other prominent men who have been accused of beating their wives include actor David Soul, who agreed to undergo counseling in exchange for the dismissal of charges that he beat his wife; rock singer Ike Turner, whose wife Tina left him after she said he beat her; Price Daniel Jr., former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, whose wife Vickie pleaded self-defense in his shooting death and was found not guilty; and Houston heart surgeon Frank Sandiford, whose wife Kathleen shot and killed him after what she said were years of mental and physical abuse. A jury sentenced her to 10 years probation.
"It happens to all classes of people. It's just that when you have that much land around your house the screams are not heard by the neighbors," said Eric Kafka, who runs counseling sessions for Prince George's County men who abuse their wives.
Experts said that such violence is a means of expressing anger and frustration -- be it related to a high-pressure, highly visible job, financial problems, or other stresses upon professionals in the Washington area and elsewhere.
"In an area like Washington, a person's expectations to succeed in this kind of highly competitive pressure cooker can lead someone to feel failure even if they're not a failure," said Cynthia Anderson, who runs Montgomery County's program to help battered women. She said clients have included wives of high-level civil servants, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, ministers and embassy officials.
The wide mood swings and "hypercritical" nature that characterizes wife beaters often shows up at work, said Lenore Walker, a Denver psychologist who specializes in counseling battered women. But, she said, "it tends to get excused: 'Well, they have very high pressure.' So people don't call them to account for their behavior."
Added Richard Gelles, one of the authors of a University of New Hampshire study of the problem, "Basically, guys beat up their wives because they know they can get away with it."
Gelles and others said that men who react to stresses in their lives by beating their wives have somehow learned to respond that way, often from their own families. His study found that men whose parents were violent toward each other were 10 times more likely to beat their wives than those whose parents had never been violent.
While affluent women may have the financial and educational resources to leave abusive husbands, experts said, the social stigma attached to wife beating makes it difficult for them even to acknowledge the problem.
"Women who have a reputation, either because of their husbands or themselves, haven't risked coming out as much," said Medley of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "Even though she is a victim there is still that stigma: 'Why did you stay?' or 'What did you do to provoke it?' "
In addition, experts said, men who beat their wives often tend to try to control them by keeping them dependent financially. "A woman whose husband earns $100,000 a year and she's battered can be in as bad shape as a woman on public assistance ," said Sheila J. Wolfe, executive director of the Arlington Community Temporary Shelter, which serves battered women. "Her husband controls the bank account; he's got the credit cards."
An additional problem involves credibility. "Who's going to believe this woman?" asked Gelles. "He's going to say, 'She's exaggerating; she's clumsy and she falls down the stairs and gets those bruises; she's trying to get a good settlement.' "
The spouse abuse study, a 1976 survey of more than 2,100 married couples, found that 28 percent reported incidents of slapping, kicking, hitting, beating, throwing objects and using or threatening to use a knife or gun at some point during the marriage. The study found that 3.8 percent of wives had been seriously beaten the previous year.
The study found no difference in violence between husbands with less than an eighth grade education and those who had attended college. But it did reveal a large difference in the incidence of wife abuse between those with a family income of below $6,000 (11 percent of such husbands reported beating their wives in the previous year) and those earning more than $20,000 (2 percent of the husbands).
Even that 2 percent represents a enormous number of people, Gelles said. And Walker, who counsels battered wives, said she believes that the incidence of abuse is the same at all socioeconomic levels, but that affluent families tend to be more secretive about the problem.
Directors of suburban shelters for battered women say that the numbers of women they serve are growing, perhaps in part because society is becoming increasingly aware of the problem and receptive to such complaints.
At the Fairfax County Women's Shelter, for example, 235 women and children were housed at the nine-bed shelter in 1982, 279 in 1983, and 334 last year. Montgomery County workers counseled 554 women who said they had been abused in 1982, 637 in 1983, and 699 last year.
Increases have been recorded in the military. Of the 129,162 married officers in the military, 9,840 cases of established spouse abuse were recorded last fiscal year, compared with 6,540 the previous year.
"We have many of the same stresses plus some," said Col. Peter McNelis, director of the Defense Department's Family Advocacy Program. He cited frequent moves; living away from family and relatives, often in remote locations in this country or abroad, and high-stress or high-risk military jobs.