DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, symbolized by the O.J. Simpson trial, is all around us.

Unfortunately, too many men are abusers, and too many women stay with them.That's why I was intrigued by the theory of a husband-and-wife consulting team, Judith Sherven, a clinical psychologist, and James Sniechowski, a human-behavior specialist.

They say one of the most important reasons abused women stay with male abusers is their acceptance of the romantic myth symbolized by Prince Charming, who saves the damsel in distress.

This familiar image, exemplified by the dominant and powerful male, clearly permeates the romance novels so popular today among women.

Of all paperbacks sold, 49 percent are romance novels - and according to Forbes Magazine, 25 million American women are reading an average of 20 romance novels each month.

The psychologists say it is because of the "hope and thrill of being `saved' by a strong, dominant male who will take care of them and make them feel secure."

So I went to local bookstores and asked the proprietors to direct me to some of the most popular romance novels. They all said it was the first time they had ever sold such a novel to a man.

Check out this excerpt from Linda Howard's "Almost Forever":

"He wanted to protect her, from everything and everyone except himself. . . . With an almost helpless fear, she realized that she wouldn't stand a chance against him. . . . She was so terribly vulnerable. . . . He'd taken her with all the finesse of a conquering warrior. . . . She ceased to exist as a person."

Or try this from Barbara Taylor Bradford's "The Women in His Life":

"There were times . . . when she felt completely under his spell. . . . He was the most lethally attractive man she had ever met. . . . There was something deeply mysterious about Maximillian West. And there was also, of course, his charm . . . the kind that makes women commit terrible indiscretions. . . . On yet another level there was the intellect, the brains, the drive, the energy, the ambition and the success. It was a combination that spelled one thing - power. And power was exciting to her, an extraordinary aphrodisiac."

Then there is a Harlequin romance, "The Devil His Due," by Diana Hamilton:

"Her lips parted, her blood thundered. Trembling, she looked up at him . . . she knew that he only had to touch her to set every cell in her body aflame. . . . `Don't fight it, Kate,' he commanded huskily. . . . `You know you want this as much as I do.' "

Finally, look at Barbara Cartland's "The Dare Devil Duke," a novel booksellers say is especially popular among older women:

"She wanted, as she had never wanted anything in her whole life, for him to kiss her again. . . . Then he was kissing her, not gently, but wildly, fiercely, passionately, as if he defied fate to take her from him. To Kasia, it was as if Heaven's doors had opened and she had flown inside."

Obviously, these novels were written by women who have successfully capitalized on a romance fantasy fueled by Prince Charming.

Unfortunately, there are many tall, dark strangers who will never set a woman free.

These novels - with strong, aggressive men and women who are swept away - could not be more distant from the notion of equality between the sexes.

I say we'd all be better off without them.