National Domestic Violence Month: We Deserve To Be Heard
A Guest Post By Stephanie March
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. I would argue that every month needs to be an awareness month until this is no longer an epidemic in our country, but I am thankful for the extra attention October brings to the 12 million people affected each year.
My hope has always been for awareness to unite the public in demanding that better laws are passed to protect the victims and survivors as well as harsher sentencing for the offenders. There is an absolute possibility that the public can help reshape the justice system. In the past, public policy has led to reformation in the justice system for several crimes. We should expect no less when we talk about domestic violence law reform.
There are currently some bills circulating this year that would help in domestic violence law reform. One is Candace’s Law, introduced by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, which calls for enhanced sentencing for offenders that commit acts of domestic violence in the presence of minor children. Children are often present and they suffer a great deal of mental and emotional harm when they witness violence in the home.
The offender is, in my opinion, committing child abuse and should be held accountable for that crime as well.
Another bill introduced by Texas Representative Lee is My Sister’s Keeper Act. This bill calls for grants to be awarded to appropriate agencies to teach the important role friends, families, and co-workers of domestic violence victims have in creating safety plans. A safety plan is a detailed plan of escape for victims that can be crucial in saving their lives. I had one prepared for me and it played a vital role in saving my life. Mine was prepared by a social worker and therapist. Not all victims have access to these resources and this bill would help those closest to them ensure their safety.
A third bill introduced this past July by Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Illinois Congressman Robert Dold would close the loopholes in the current laws that allow convicted abusers easy access to guns. This bill is titled the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act and one simple Google search of “offender had a history of domestic violence” will be all the explanation needed as to how badly this needs to be passed. Just one search pulls up dozens of homicides and attempted homicides perpetrated by offenders with a record of domestic violence convictions that had access to weapons. It’s an infuriatingly common occurrence.
While these bills are all fantastic examples of strides the justice system is taking, I believe there is so much more that needs to be done. Currently survivors have to file for protection orders from the county and state where they reside and this information legally must be made available to the abuser. If there is anything more backwards than that it is on par with these five weird laws that are so wrong they are comical. But, believe me, there is nothing comical about a survivor having to announce the area in which they are living and open themselves up to exactly what they are trying to prevent by starting over.
Many are forced to move, change their identities, and give up every aspect of their former lives- friends and high school diplomas included.
The real kicker is that most protection orders have to be renewed every year or every couple of years depending on the state. Here is another huge opportunity for change in the justice system. Survivors file paperwork, uproot their lives, and start over only to find themselves repeating the process. And each time they are forced to face their abuser in court they are exposing themselves to a high level of danger and revictimization. This causes additional and completely unnecessary trauma for the survivor.
Currently several states, but not all, offer rare lifetime protection orders. These orders never expire and never have to be renewed. I would argue that these shouldn’t be so rare and they should be available in every single state in this country.
We should be protecting these survivors instead of exposing them to further danger because of archaic procedures and laws. It is time for change. It is time for this to be at the forefront of minds all across this country on any given month of the year. We need to get angry and motivated as a collective. With 12 million lives being affected each and every year, that’s quite the collective.
I know I am a tiny part of the collective- one small passionate voice. But I will display my purple ribbon, type until my fingers go numb, and speak out until my voice grows tired. Then I will get up and do it again. Futile? Maybe. Hopeless? Never.
We deserve to be heard.
Stephanie March is a writer, survivor, and advocate. You can find her on Twitter or read more at her blog.