By Toni Y. Joseph
Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
November 11, 1992
AUSTIN-Although Linda and Jay Hill both were convicted of the starvation death of their son Stephen, comments made after the trial seemed to lay the blame on Mrs. Hill.
"She talks about her own problems," said her lawyer, Charles Baldwin of Fort Worth, in stories published after the sentencing. "She, in her twisted mind, believes she was abused, and she believes we don't understand her pain."
A physician who said he never spoke to Mrs. Hill offered this assessment: She was "probably born bad."
The comments surprised few participants at "Backlash Mom Bashing," a recent workshop sponsored by the Texas Council on Family Violence. The session was one of 66 attended by more than 400 women and men during a three-day conference on domestic violence.
"It's safer to displace anger and blame women for family violence than to call for the types of societal change that will be difficult to achieve," said Patricia Castillo, a social worker with San Antonio's Benedictine Resource Center and a coordinator of the city's P.E.A.C.E. initiative.
The packed workshop examined how social service workers, law enforcement officials and the courts tend to hold women to a higher standard of conduct and responsibility than meneven when their spouses and partners usually perpetuate the violence that lands the family in the justice or social service system.
"We expect so much from women in terms of their roles as wives, in terms of their roles as mothers," said Ms. Castillo. "We have these incredible standards for women to live up to, yet we're not ready to provide them with the kind of support they need from the community to meet these elevated standards."
Ms. Castillo's comments stimulated a lively discussion. One woman from Houston told the group that her father regularly abused her sexually, but she blamed her mother for the violence in her childhood home.
"I understand my mother better now," she said. "I have sympathy, but only recently have I begun to be not angry with her."
Other 90-minute workshops at the conference provided management training for shelter employees, updated the participants on recent research, and emphasized the need for children's services. Additional sessions addressed addictions that afflict women and their children, and discussed battering prevention and intervention.
The conference was held to offer improved services to battered women and their children, said Ellen Fisher, assistant director for programs with the Texas Council. Workshops were also offered to help improve the quality of treatment programs for batterers.
"We wanted to bring family violence program staff members and volunteers together in a non-crisis situation so that everyone could learn and reinforce the importance of one another's work," Ms Fisher said.
Michelle Ferguson, an administrative supervisor with the Houston Police Department's family violence unit, said the conference was as beneficial as graduate school field work. It also reinforced the idea that police departments and women's advocates, who sometimes differ over family violence issues, have similar goals.
"The networking will help me do a better job," Ms Ferguson said. "More than half our calls are from African-American women in distress. I learned things I can do to help African-American victims of domestic violence. I found out what's going on in the shelters. Before the conference, I had no idea that shelter leaders were largely responsible for a lot of the (family violence) legislation that's been passed."
Renee Carroll-Grate, executive director of the Collin County Women's Shelter and the council's area coordinator, said the conference said the conference gave her a new perspective on the work she does in Plano.
"The workshops helped me get in touch with the bigger picture," Ms. Carroll-Grate said. "It kept me mindful that the problem isn't just here in Collin County."