When you examine the issue of domestic violence, the sheer magnitude of the problem and the relentlessness of its presence can give us pause as we try to combat it in a meaningful and measurable way.
There is no single answer, but one component of that answer is in providing legal aid to survivors of domestic violence, according to Lonnie A. Powers, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. He constructs a strong argument in his favor.
In the 1990s, there appeared to be a significant decline in domestic violence cases, according to a Carnegie Mellon Census Research Data Center study. Added to the research were data from the National Crime Victimization Survey and the U.S. Census Bureau, which seemed to substantiate that the major reason for the decline was, according to Powers, “access to protective orders from courts, legal assistance with child custody and support; divorce and property distribution; and domestic violence-related legal disputes around immigration, housing, and public benefits help survivors over the long-term because these services provided them with ‘real, long-term alternatives to their relationships.’”
This shouldn’t surprise us. Who among us, when in a moment of crisis or high emotional conflict, hasn’t needed a breathing space, a shoulder to lean on, an extended hand willing to help? Imagine how much truer this must be for someone involved in a turbulent personal relationship. And if you add a child (or children) to the emotional equation, the ability to maneuver or move out of the relationship might seem impossible. You would feel like you’re suffocating and unable to breathe. And yet, this is precisely where institutions designed to protect all our citizens represent the best of what we do. Yes, they serve, and they protect (to borrow a motto from many police departments). And therefore, we must support institutions and laws that promote a structure and frankly a path out of the abusive relationship.
I agree with Mr. Powers, and as a legislator, I have taken an active role in supporting legislation that provides help, hope and a pathway to a better tomorrow.
Some of those initiatives include:
- Providing for a statewide evidence-based program that encourages grants to providers who develop and implement treatment, counseling and supportive services to children and their families who are victims of domestic violence.
- Mandating counseling for domestic violence perpetrators and a risk assessment prior to issuing an award of visitation, in all cases where a final domestic violence restraining order has been issued and where the domestic violence offender and the victim have a child in common and enumerated risk factors are present.
- Confronting the issues that legal systems face with domestic violence, by creating a Technology Task Force within the court’s Domestic Violence Task Force. The purpose would be to add more experts to examine the problem of domestic violence and mandate that certified matrimonial attorneys complete basic domestic violence training. Additionally, require certain police officers to obtain this type of training too.
- Establishing a program to allow for the electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders, who are found by a court to have violated a domestic violence restraining order.
These ideas and several others that I support create an institutional framework that removes the victims of domestic violence from their situation and offers protection to them from the perpetrators who commit these crimes. Integral in their protection are non-profit organizations, such as Providence House Domestic Violence Services of Catholic Charities, which helps the abused through education, empowerment, and advocacy while providing them with a safe haven.
As an elected official, I believe that it is incumbent upon me to use my platform to help effect change. However, regardless of anyone’s title we all have a role to play towards the goal of ending domestic violence. Disrupting the developmental pathways that lead to domestic violence and teaching skills that promote respectful, nonviolent relationships through individual, relationship, community, and societal level change are key ingredients to turning this goal into a reality.
That’s my take, what’s yours?
If you need help, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-709-SAFE (7233) or www.TheHotline.org.
You can also receive fact sheets, membership information and valuable resources at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website, www.ncadv.org.
For help locally, please call Providence House Domestic Violence Services 24-Hour Hotline for Burlington County: 1-877-871-7551 or 609-871-7551 or https://www.catholiccharitiestrenton.org/domestic-violence-services/