Four years after her face was repeatedly slashed in a razor attack on the streets of New York, former model Marla Hanson recalled being scarred far more by the ordeal of the assailants' trial than by their assault.
Two years after she was abducted from parking lot and raped in Des Moines, Nancy Ziegenmeyer remembered feeling like a "statistic," like nothing more than a witness for the prosecution, when the man who raped her was tried.
In straightforward, chilling testimony, Hanson and Ziegenmeyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday why they support sweeping legislation, introduced Tuesday by Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), to help combat violence against women, protect victims and punish the guilty.
In her testimony, Hanson said she was subjected to "interrogations" and that her responses were turned over to defense attorneys, who portrayed her as "some kind of prostitute" and threatened to try to put her behind bars. "The psychological violence I endured throughout the trial of my attackers was far more traumatizing to me than the attack on the street," she said.
"It seemed I was being blamed for being the architect of my own suffering," added Hanson, who said she lost all her major modeling contracts not because of disfigurement but because she had become a symbol of "violence and the stigma of victimization."
While she was treated with far less official hostility, Ziegenmeyer said, she was left bewildered, frustrated and virtually abandoned by the criminal justice process. "It was a crime against the state; it was no longer a crime against me. I became a witness for the state of Iowa, a statistic," she said.
Hanson and Ziegenmeyer were joined by others, including prosecutors and women's rights activists, who testified to the increase in violent crimes against women and the inadequacy of the criminal justice system to deal with it.
"No matter how much we say we're changing, something is terribly wrong," said Biden, citing figures showing that since 1974 the rate of assaults against young women has jumped 48 percent while declining by 12 percent when young men are the victims. Similar disparities among men and women show up in other violent crimes, including murder of elderly persons, he said, and rape rates have risen four times as fast as the total crime rate.
Biden's legislation addresses domestic as well as street crime and includes a provision extending civil rights protections to victims of sex-related crimes. While prosecution would remain in state courts, the bill uses the model of existing civil rights legislation to give victims the right to recover compensatory and punitive damages in federal courts.
The bill also would provide for federal enforcement of protective orders against spouse abuse, use federal funds as an incentive to encourage states to arrest abusers, double federal funding for battered women's shelters to $75 million and authorize $25 million to help local prosecutors and courts set up special units devoted to spouse abuse.
To combat street crime, it would authorize $300 million to help train police and prosecutors and set up special units to deal with violent crimes against women in high-crime areas. It would earmark mass transit grants to increase lighting and camera surveillance. Partly as an incentive for states to take similar action, it would increase penalties for rape on federal property, create new penalties for repeat sex offenders and require victim restitution.
In a political postscript to the hearing, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), who is running against Democrat Dianne Feinstein for governor of California and is cosponsoring Biden's bill, sought to ask a question even though he is not a member of the committee. Biden refused the request, saying Wilson could submit any questions in writing.