10/27/2014 01:03 am ET Updated Dec 27, 2014

She Doesn't Belong to You

I was pulling reliefs in those early days, assigned to East San Diego. The call came out as a "415 Family." Like most cops I wasn't overly fond of family beefs but I was a rookie, happy for anything that came my way.

The husband opened the door. It was the first time I'd heard it put so bluntly: "She belongs to me, dammit! Don't you understand?" As if the 13th Amendment had never been passed.

He was shorter but had a good 50 pounds on me and had been drinking, a lot. Beet-red, sputtering, fists clenched and ready to do battle in order to defend his right to beat his wife. The woman, sporting a swollen eye and cowering in the corner of their dining room, kept repeating in broken English and heavy accent, "I didn't call them, honey. Honest, I didn't--"

"Shut the f**k up!" he screamed at her. "Can't you see I'm conducting business here?" He turned back to me. "I mean, I own her, you understand? I bought her, she's mine."

I didn't remember hearing in the academy that a mail order bride from Eastern Europe was any different, in the eyes of the law, from a homegrown version. So I hooked him up, put him in the backseat of my cage car, and drove him downtown. Whereupon, after presenting my case to the patrol captain, I was gently lectured and told to return my prisoner to his home. "You're new, Stamper, you'll learn. Pinching these assholes is not the answer. You should have told him to go outside, take a walk, cool off."

It was too obvious, this case, bringing into sharp relief the too-common attitude that a man's home is his "castle," his wife his property.

Since those days we've come along way in the struggle to end family and intimate-partner violence: the Violence Against Women Act; a national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233); new laws, including provision for mandatory arrest of "primary aggressors" -- which does not require a victim or survivor to press charges or testify against her (or his) batterer; improved training for cops, prosecutors, judges, and advocates; strengthened protection orders; legal sanctions for stalkers and abusers of the elderly, among other developments.

But we'll never get there until we capture the attention, coercively if necessary, of men who believe the women in their lives belong to them.

The woman who professional footballer Ray Rice knocked unconscious did not belong to him. Yet, like many men, he made the mistake of believing he had proprietary control over his partner.

But no woman is a man's personal possession. She is a sovereign human being with basic human rights. And no, Mr. Rice: marrying her doesn't change a thing.

What is it that leads some men to conclude that women are chattel, obligated to obey them? It's an important question. If we can answer it, with some reasonable degree of science, we just might find a path toward the eventual elimination of this insidious yet pervasive form of violence.