Our court system protects individuals who kill another person who was perceived to be a threat to that individual’s wellbeing; but not all of them. Gun advocates support the use of guns, even if the other person is unarmed. States such as Florida have a dubious statute labeled ‘the stand your ground law’ which allows the murder of another human being if you fear for your own personal safety. The unfortunate Trevon Martin case is a perfect example. This same principal does not apply to victims of domestic violence who are forced to defend themselves against physical violence and possible death. Instead they all too frequently end up in prison, paying for the crimes of their abusers.
New York State currently has approximately 185 women and 165 men who are in prison for harming or killing another person who threatened their lives. A law has been entered before the state legislature. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act was originally introduced in 2011. If the entire legislature approves the bill it will allow those in prison for defending themselves, or for those who were coerced into committing a crime by an abusive partner, the right to seek re-sentencing. California already has such a law, and New Jersey is considering a narrower version.
Domestic violence cases often go unreported. Victims have various reasons for not taking action. Abusers often voice remorse and promise to change. Some women simply believe that the abuse is temporary, and the attacks will cease. Family members frequently attempt to intervene and counsel the victim; she or he is encouraged not to report the situation to the authorities because it would be an embarrassment to the family. Some women endure the physical harm for reasons of financial security; homelessness their only alternative.
Domestic violence and sexual assault should have been the major focus of legislation 50 years ago. All too often domestic violence was treated as ‘a family’s dirty little secret. Laws did not exist to protect a battered wife; there were many which protected an abusive husband.
When a violent act by NFL running back Ray Rice was revealed, domestic violence took center stage; and it must remain there. Sadly what was also revealed was the cavalier attitude of the NFL Commissioner and the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, who obviously favored the way complaints of domestic violence were concealed in the past.
Sexual violence has increased on our nation’s campuses. The NFL is not alone in its attempted cover-up of crimes primarily against women. Prolonged and shoddy investigations by major universities have protected the offender, and left the victim seeking justice, often with no appropriate outcome.
In order to end domestic violence and sexual assault, our nation must recognize that a culture change is the only solution. Objectifying women must cease. Complete equality must become a reality in the workplace, society, and in legislative action.
Throughout the struggle for women’s rights, there has been a misconception that women want men’s jobs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Women simply want the right to challenge men for all forms of employment, and receive equal pay for equal work.
Often hope lies in the future. Domestic violence and sexual assault may lessen as early as next year. Several states are considering greater protection for victims, and increased penalties for abusers. There is movement to increase accountability for the actions of those who would prey on someone who is physically unable to defend themselves. Awareness will replace an attitude of ‘not wanting to get involved, by those who know of or believe that such a situation is happening; this will result in more immediate action, possibly saving lives.
It is paramount that legislation such as that proposed in New York be enacted across the United States. If individuals possessing guns are legally allowed to take human life when they are fearful, shouldn’t a victim of abuse who fears for his or her life have the same right?
By James Turnage