Shortly before 8 p.m. last Halloween in New York City, a 6'7" tall man grabbed and choked his live-in girlfriend, stripped her clothing off and smashed her against a mirror. He then took two phones away from her, to prevent her calling police. When she finally fled and got police to help, she showed bruises and said, "I'm afraid he's going to come back."
About a year before that, a different man, in a different New York apartment, enraged with jealousy, slashed his girlfriend's face with a broken glass.
These are just two examples of the 4.8 million incidents of what the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control call "intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes" that occur annually in the United States.
They were relatively minor incidents: they didn't end in one of the three murders per day that are associated with domestic violence in America.
As mundane events, they would never make the papers, except that they were carried out by men who work within the New York State government apparatus. The Halloween attacker was David Johnson, 37, and he is New York Governor David Paterson's top personal assistant. His girlfriend appeared in court three times to press charges after the attack, but failed to appear for a fourth time after a personal call from the governor himself, according to the New York Times. Her case was dropped.
Paterson says she called him, and has asked for an investigation.
The second attacker was State Senator Hiram Monserrate, an elected Democrat from Queens. He was convicted last fall of misdemeanor domestic violence, after his girlfriend refused to testify. Senate Democrats then relieved him of his seat, and Monserrate went to court to try to get it back. A judge last week refused his plea.
Monserrate had reason to hope he could keep his post, as it wouldn't have been the first time a top political character in Albany has beat a girl and kept his job. A top Senate aide, serial date rapist Michael Boxley, was relieved of his job in 2008 only after a second woman accused him of rape. An investigation later revealed that his abusive habit dated back years and his boss, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had ignored complaints from at least one of the victims. Paterson's track record of concern for the claims of women is not new: in 2003, as Senate Minority Leader, a staff aide named Neysha Williams accused Sen. Kevin Parker of assaulting her. Paterson simply fired Williams, according to the New York Post.
In Illinois last month, a Chicago politician won the Democratic state primary for lieutenant Governor, despite a police record for assaulting a girlfriend with a knife in 2005, an assault severe enough to leave actual scars on the woman's neck. The victim never came to court. When the arrest record surfaced - after his election - Scott Lee Cohen's campaign strategist said: "He's been honest and up front from the beginning. It's just that nobody cared." Indeed.
Cohen stepped down after belated pressure from Illinois Democrats. He resigned in a tearful about-face announced during the Super Bowl Game. (Historically, this is a day when wife and girlfriend-beating is especially common, possibly because of the combination of alcohol consumption and in-home televised violent spectacle).
Governor Paterson's intervention, the effort of the devoted senator from Queens to keep his seat, the Illinois Democrats' failure to keep a man charged with assaulting a woman from winning a nomination on its statewide ticket - all are symptoms of a casual national attitude toward violence against women.
The attitude starts at the top, with these public servants, and trickles down. This week, the Center for Public Integrity released a study finding that sexual assaults on college campuses are rarely punished and that even the Office of Civil Rights of the federal Department of Education doesn't seems to be investigating charges.
Young, poor, minority women are at the greatest risk of domestic violence and rape. African American women face higher rates of domestic violence than white women, women in the lowest income category are six times more likely to be victims than women in the highest level.
From Albany to Chicago to Washington, the unstated message seems to be: Beat your girlfriend. Run for office. Work for the governor of a major state. And keep your job until someone bigger and more important than the cowed, abused woman - a cop, a newspaper reporter, a political enemy - finds out and calls you on it.