Calling All Battered Women

The physical wounds started healing soon after Lisa Rivera's fiance hit her in the head with a baseball bat two years ago. With the help of a cellular telephone programmed to dial 911, she's still trying to recover her peace of mind.

"I still haven't got to the point where I put my name on the mailbox," the 31-year-old from Pawtucket, R.I., said. "But why should I be in fear and hiding the rest of my life?"

The phone, provided by a women's shelter, is just one of the new tools being used to protect victims of domestic violence and give them the confidence to rebuild their lives.

An estimated 840,000 women were abused by their husbands or boyfriends in 1996, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Restraining orders to keep abusers away help in some cases.

But, according to a 1997 report by the National Center for State Courts Research, more than one-quarter of women who received protection orders were visited by the person who was supposed to stay away. A total of 8 percent were abused within six months of receiving the order.

Another study, by the Florida Mortality Review Project, indicated more than 17 percent of domestic homicide victims were covered by protection orders.

A cellular phone or pendant won't keep abusers away, but it will provide a fast way for a woman to summon help.

"It does provide her the ability to start living a somewhat normal life," said Rita Smith of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Denver.

"I don't think that most battered women can ever stop being cautious," she said. "But I think they can stop being terrified."

One alarm pendant being used in some parts of the country is the size of a 50-cent coin. When two buttons are held down for three seconds, the pendant triggers a silent alarm that alerts authorities.

The device, manufactured by ADT Security Services, can activate the alarm from the yard as well as inside the house.

Teresa Muse of Morehead, Ky., said wearing the pendant reduced her dependency on the telephone, which often was not available to her in emergency situations.

"Usually, when my perpetrator came, the phone would be the first thing to go. He would take it and smash it into the floor," said Muse, who has had a protection order for more than four years.

On one occasion, Muse used the alarm, and it scared away her perpetrator before he could harm her. Authorities caught him eventually.

"I've been in situations where so much would happen to me before [the police] could get there," she said. But with the alarm, "they acted really fast."

Katherine Bustos, a victims' advocate at a women's center in Morehead, said domestic violence groups work with local authorities so that battered women who sound an alarm can be identified as a priority.

"Local authorities are in on it right from the beginning," she said. b>"They maintain a file on all the victims who have these alarms and any kind of information on the perpetrator that would help them make an arrest."

ADT, based in Aurora, Colo., has set up the program in 135 communities nationwide and credits the system with saving the lives of 25 women. The company recommends that the product be used if there is a restraining order, the abuser has a history of criminal activity, or children live in the targeted home.

Bell Atlantic Mobile has distributed more than 2,000 cell phones to domestic violence groups from Maine to northern Georgia. Shelters and local authorities then distribute the phones to women who are most at risk.

Written by Kalpana Srinivasan
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