Guest Contributor: Tiffanny Smith, Litigation Attorney, Ohio Justice & Policy Center
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We’ve all seen the newspaper articles, social media posts, and awareness events. Is that enough?
More than 10 MILLION people suffer physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner each year in the U.S.
We must understand that domestic violence is a cycle of coercive control, not an event. Domestic violence isn’t about anger, it’s about power.
Our communities have shelters, hotlines, and laws created to protect against domestic violence. Police and hospital personnel are trained to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Is that enough?
Victims of abuse are 70 times more likely to be murdered within two weeks of leaving their abuser.
How many times have we heard, “Why don’t you just leave?” But do we understand why a person, who has been threatened and who has learned that these threats are not idle, may not dare to “just leave” or tell “what really happened?”
Our shelters have waiting lists and our hotlines are overwhelmed – sometimes there is no place to go. We must stop treating domestic violence as a private issue because it happens behind closed doors, and stop blaming the abused for not doing something different.
Domestic violence violates one’s “right to physical integrity, to liberty, and all too often to life itself.” The European Court has established that domestic violence violates one’s right to life, right to be free of “torture or inhuman or degrading treatment,” right to respect for family life, and the prohibition against discrimination. The Inter-American Commission, Amnesty International, and the American Civil Liberties Union agree that freedom from domestic violence is a human right. In 2014, President Obama proclaimed that there is a “basic human right to be free from violence and abuse.” Cincinnati was the first U.S. city to pass a resolution “DECLARING that freedom from domestic violence is a fundamental human right and further DECLARING that local governments have a responsibility to continue securing this right on behalf of their citizens.” Is that enough?
In 2012, 50% of women killed in Ohio were the result of domestic violence.
We must understand how abusers benefit from using violence, how domestic violence often results in criminal records for the abused. Our laws often create situations in which the abused becomes further traumatized. Studies found that between 50 and 98% of incarcerated women experienced abuse and trauma prior to incarceration and about a third of women under correctional control exhibit PTSD symptoms.
We must offer viable solutions that keep everyone safe. We must demand that all people be treated with respect and dignity. We must assure those seeking to leave an abusive relationship access to housing, financial assistance, medical care, therapeutic support, and basic necessities. Barriers and breakdowns in the criminal justice system that perpetuate the cycle of abuse and trauma need to be exposed. We must provide better training, more funding, and more resources to police, health care providers, attorneys, and judges.
My colleagues and I at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center are working to make a difference for survivors of domestic violence. OJPC is a non-profit law firm whose mission is to create fair, intelligent, redemptive criminal justice systems. We work to uncover gaps in community resources, and address correctional system inequities. Through our collaborations with community partners, we are creating comprehensive trainings on the cycle of domestic violence and trauma-informed responsiveness specifically for Ohio judges and the parole board, reviewing cases of women serving lengthy prison sentences for taking the lives of their batterers, addressing problems of community responsiveness, correcting system inequities, and pursuing policy and legislative reform to ensure a safer, healthier society free from domestic violence.
Until we all take a stand that domestic violence is not acceptable, we still have a long way to go. The data shows that what we have been doing is simply not enough!
Tifffanny Smith coordinates the Ohio Domestic Violence Clemency Project at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.