U.S. Laws Protect Cars But Not Domestic Violence Victims

Far more women in the United States are victims of domestic violence than are injured in car accidents each year. Using information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and the insurance industry the numbers aren't even close -- battering outstrips crashes roughly two to one. It begs the question why states require car insurance but not intimate partner abuse insurance. Perhaps no law maker's thought of how useful the benefit would be to a victim assaulted by their so-called loved one.

Those folks driven into homelessness as they flee their abuser could argue that the money would be pretty darned handy as they try to provide safety for themselves and -- in many cases -- their children. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless 2007 fact sheet, 22% of parents seeking shelter were fleeing domestic violence.

If there were a payout for these folks the insurance companies might solve problems the government seems incapable of fixing. First of all the abuser's premiums would go up which would punish him or her for beating up their intimate partner or kid. Considering how few penalties there are for abusers this might add a layer of deterrent for someone who otherwise sees no downside to their violent actions. At the National Institute of Justice website you can learn some chilling facts about domestic violence, arrest rates, and conviction rates. For example an alleged abuser is 70% less likely to be convicted if he or she is white. And only about 25% of abusers are arrested if they flee the scene when the cops are called. So if you're white and "hit and run" you only have about a 1 in 12 chance of any real consequence.

Imagine is the stats were that lousy on car accidents and 11 out of 12 times folks had to pay for damage they didn't cause.

But possibly even more important than nailing the perp, the victim could use the payoff to remain current on his or her bills, acquire housing, and relocate without burdening charitable organizations or already overtaxed federal or state funded facilities. That same National Coalition for the Homeless white paper states that nearly a third of all folks who seek shelter are turned away. Getting domestic violence victims out of the picture would reduce this number to less than one in ten.

While the case for instituting mandatory domestic violence insurance policies seems pretty plain to me, I have to admit that I didn't come by the idea all by myself. I work with these homeless victims. And the story that underscores our national preference for property over people belongs to a forty something year old mom I'll call Penelope.

Penelope's alcoholic husband abused her for so long that she'd stopped imagining life would change. And it probably wouldn't have if her husband had stuck with just beating Penelope. But when he started pounding their son, Penelope went to the authorities. The judge in her town told her that something needed to be done to correct their family's problems, but that they must address it privately. He even refused to grant her the protection from abuse order for which she petitioned his court at the outset of the proceedings.

So Penelope put a few things in the car and ran away with her boy. They left their home, their friends, her job and his school just to stop the abuse. Fleeing victims pay a weighty price for their freedom.

While on the run Penelope was robbed and the thief got her debit card. She immediately called the bank and had the card canceled, forgetting that her car insurance was automatically withdrawn from that account each month.

Eventually Penelope sank further into poverty and ended up at our shelter -- as she struggled to find a job and help her son adjust to a new school and the loss of his friends -- she let her car registration lapse. The officer that pulled her over also cited her for not having car insurance -- a fact she had not known until that time. Penelope's car was impounded and she's now fined $20 each day until she can pay the hundreds of dollars in fines that these infractions have accrued. At the rate she's going that day will never come. Eventually she may be placed under arrest.

The other day Penelope confided that she'd like to file for divorce so she could receive child support and become more financially stable. But now that she's homeless she's afraid a court would give her abusive alcoholic husband custody of their son. And no matter how precarious her condition, she must insure his safety.