Domestic violence deserves attention year round [Commentary]

The new focus on domestic violence should continue once the media coverage of Ray Rice dies down

September 12, 2014|By Kelly A. Powers

While most of us were sitting safely in our homes or offices this week watching the news and social media coverage of the announcements by the Ravens and the NFL, hundreds of women in Maryland were walking into courthouses, domestic violence advocates' offices and domestic violence shelters seeking protection from their abusers.

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the first passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Huge progress has been made since its initial enactment, but the problem has not been solved, and there is clearly still a long way to go. Domestic violence is a serious issue in our community that affects us all — even when it is not in the media spotlight, and even when celebrities are not involved.

The media coverage of the Ray Rice family's domestic violence situation this week certainly brought the issue into the spotlight, particularly here in Maryland. Local businesses and individuals stepped up to make donations they ordinarily would not have thought to make. Corporations and non-profits are now partnering to work toward domestic violence prevention and assistance for victims. The community is having the much-needed conversation about domestic violence, its prevention and treatment of its victims.

These are all important and necessary actions. But we must remember that they are important and necessary all the time. We as a community must not forget about domestic violence prevention, awareness and advocacy when it cycles out of our news feeds. We must stay active, stay involved and keep advocating for the systemic change necessary to protect Maryland's victims of domestic violence.

Building on the significant achievements and advances of VAWA over the last 20 years, this legislative session in Maryland brought significant advances in access to justice and protection for victims of domestic violence. The burden of proof to obtain a protective order has been reduced to a realistic and attainable level for victims. Survivors can now seek permanent final protective orders in cases that involved a second-degree assault. And penalties have been significantly increased for domestic violence crimes that occur in the presence of a child. This important legislation affords victims and their families better access to justice and protection from abuse.

The positive changes and developments in Maryland's domestic violence laws are the result of sustained lobbying and advocacy on the part of passionate individuals and organizations like the Women's Law Center of Maryland.

Maryland is moving in the right direction. But this week's media and community "debate" over whether the victim herself was a part of the problem confirms that there is still significant work to be done. A victim is never a part of the problem.

According to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, 27 women lost their lives as a result of domestic violence between June 2012 and July 2013 in our state. Last year the Women's Law Center provided free legal representation to 688 women seeking protection from their abusers and fielded 8,500 calls to its hotline.

Needless to say, the time is always now to help victims of domestic violence. Systemic change and access to justice for victims of domestic violence will come only from sustained efforts and advocacy, even when the issue is out of the public eye. We can no longer wait for a story to break and a video to be released to remind us of the domestic violence in our community. We must continuously advocate for domestic violence awareness and access to justice for victims, even when the popularity of the issue has faded.

Many in our community this week have expressed their desire to take a stand against domestic violence and to become a part of the solution. We encourage all Marylanders to join us — all the time, not just when it is a visible issue — in our efforts to promote and achieve the systemic change necessary to achieve access to justice for victims of domestic violence.

Even after the issue has faded from the media forefront, we all must continue to make our voices heard in the legislature, by donating our time, money and effort to ensure we all as Marylanders achieve these goals.

Kelly A. Powers is president of The Women's Law Center of Maryland, Inc. Her email is kelly.powers@icloud.com; Twitter: @kellyp0207. The Women's Law Center can be reached at http://www.wlcmd.org and @WLCMD on Twitter.com.


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