Although crime rates around the country are down, one insidious crime still flourishes in homes across America: It is a crime that many of us would prefer to ignore, one where the signs and evidence are often elusive, one where victims themselves are reluctant to speak. That crime is domestic violence.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month - a good time for all of us to remember the many people who suffer violence in their homes every day. As many as four million Americans may be victims of domestic violence each year. Although they are overwhelmingly female, victims are of every race, every age, and every socioeconomic background. For these individuals, domestic violence is an ever-present reality which affects not only themselves, but also affects their children, their parents, their friends, and their employers.
As a lawyer, I am proud of what the legal community is doing to help these victims protect themselves. In numerous states across our nation, bar associations have created programs to reach out to the victims and their families. These efforts have provided critical legal help, broadened community awareness, and brought together professionals from many disciplines in coalitions to address domestic violence. But there is still so much more to be done.
The American Bar Association's Division for Public Education and the Commission on Domestic Violence have recently decided to coordinate their efforts to reach out into our communities to promote awareness of domestic violence and to help the victims. They have assembled information for state and local bars, governors, attorneys general and the public at large, which describes the needs of victims and explains how to assist (www.abanet.org/publiced/domviol.html). Lawyers and others will continue to be encouraged to work with local shelters, state coalitions, medical professionals and other domestic violence service providers.
This new project is in connection with the airing of a one-hour documentary on PBS focusing on survivors of domestic violence who have gone on to create healthy, stable lives. "Breaking the Silence: Journeys of Hope" was underwritten by Mary Kay Inc., and local PBS airtimes are listed at marykay.com. In many communities, lawyers will participate in phone banks after the documentary airs; in other locales, contact information for legal assistance will scroll across the screen.
Lawyers understand the need to donate their time to help the victims of domestic abuse. Local domestic violence coalitions are listed at www.abanet.org/domviol/resourceinformation.html. You can be in touch to volunteer your time and services. Among the ways you can help are: representing victims through your community's pro bono program (or starting one if one doesn't exist in your community); serving on the board of directors of your local domestic violence non-profit organization; assisting the local program raise funds; or holding a donation drive to procure goods and services needed by your local domestic violence program. You may also participate with service providers to sponsor community education and awareness campaigns and events to increase awareness of the problem of domestic violence.
Remember -- domestic violence is a crime that thrives on silence. As lawyers, we are especially equipped to break that silence. This October, contact your local or state domestic violence program to see how you can help.