Domestic Violence is Everyone’s Business
Michael Bedke, Chair, ABA Commission on Domestic Violence
In the five years since the O.J. Simpson trial put the issue of domestic violence on America's radar and TV screens, much progress has been made. The Violence Against Women Act, passed just after that trial, provided enhanced legal protections for victims of domestic violence, funding for training law enforcement personnel and judges, and new federal criminal penalties for certain acts of domestic violence.
Many police departments developed training programs, and some now have special domestic violence response units and have adopted a "zero tolerance" approach to prosecuting domestic violence crimes.
Protection orders are now enforceable nationwide, the penalties for violating civil protection orders are more severe, and judges are regularly imposing sanctions.
Misconceptions that domestic violence affects only poor, uneducated, minority women have been replaced by an understanding that domestic violence occurs in all socio-economic and ethnic groups.
The destructive effects of domestic violence on children are also now widely recognized, with many states requiring courts to consider domestic violence when making child custody decisions. Some even require courts to presume that it is not in the best interests of the children to grant custody to a spousal abuser.
Despite such advances, the statistics are still chilling. Nearly one in three women is physically assaulted by an intimate partner during adulthood. Conservatively, between one million and four million women are battered each year by their current or ex-partner. Thirty percent of all women murdered are killed by a current or former boyfriend or husband. Domestic violence is costing U.S. companies an estimated four to five billion dollars per year through absenteeism, employee turnover, higher health insurance premiums, and the like.
These statistics represent real people - our mothers, sisters, wives, friends and co-workers. They are the romance writer whose husband murdered her on the streets of Washington, D.C., in May. They are the Mt.Airy, Md., wife of a scientific editor for the National Cancer Institute, her murdered body left in a car trunk at an airport. They are the woman behind you in line at the grocery, with makeup badly hiding a fresh black eye.
Yes, progress has been made. But it is not enough. Everyone needs to get involved.
Journalists should exercise caution when reporting on domestic violence cases. Rather than portraying the killer as a doting father and husband who took his wife's life when she left him because he "loved her too much," the press should educate their readers that domestic violence is a crime.
Corporate America should refuse to accept the crime of domestic violence being perpetrated against their most important asset - their employees - just as they refuse to tolerate theft or other crimes being committed against the company.
And the rest of us - you and I - must also take a stand. We must report abuse when we see it. We must offer support and comfort to those we suspect are being abused. And we must let it be known that we recognize domestic violence to be a crime and we expect those who commit the violence to be treated as criminals. The next time a colleague says he shoved his wife or girlfriend during a "lovers' quarrel," let's have the guts to tell him "there is no excuse for domestic violence."
EDITORS: For verification, please contact Chris Tozer, American Bar Association, Media Relations, at 312/988-6128, or [email protected]. The editorial is also available on the World Wide Web at http://www.abanet.org/media/opeds.html.