Legal experts would agree that instances of domestic violence have declined in the past ten years, while anti-stalking laws and other provisions have moved to protect victims by increasing repercussions for all acts of domestic violence. This is a step in the right direction, but by no means has it provided a solution to significantly reduce violence in the home.
While the prevalence of social media, live streaming, and digital communities have worked to place a spotlight on domestic violence, and advocate for change and awareness, the public is also inundated with examples of abusive relationships and misogyny in pop-culture icons and contemporary political debate, which sends contradictory messages about the legal rights of victims.
We will discuss the current state of domestic violence in the United States, and the moral and professional role that legal professionals have to provide intervention that can save lives.
Domestic Violence in the United States
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in every three women, and one in every four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner or spouse. Annually, an average of ten million American men or women find themselves in an abusive relationship, where significant routine violence is a common occurrence. Twenty Americans per minute are impacted by domestic violence.
Data shared by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reveals that:
- More than 20,000 calls on average are placed to domestic violence hotlines in the United States daily.
- 15 percent of all violent crimes in the U.S. involve a spouse or partner.
- Women aged 18-24 are the most likely to be victims of abuse, and to remain in abusive long-term relationships.
- Approximately 19 percent of all domestic violence cases involve a gun, knife, or other lethal weapon and aggravated assault.
- In some studies, less than 34 percent of domestic violence victims reportedly sought medical attention or assistance after a serious assault.
It is important to expand our awareness about the demographic and profile of the average victim of domestic violence. Instances of abuse are higher among unmarried, but cohabiting romantic partners. Additionally, domestic violence victims can include children, and elderly relatives or parents, who are being cared for in the family home. The National Council on Aging reports that one out of every 10 Americans over the age of 60 has been victim of violence, neglect, or emotional abuse.
The Economic Impact of Domestic Violence
In 2013, Dr. Robert Pearl, a contributor for Forbes Magazine, reported that the cumulative cost of domestic violence and fatalities was $8.3 million dollars per annum. While it may seem callous to put a price tag on pain and suffering, it helps to provide a different perspective on a crime that has been culturally viewed as a “private matter” been romantic partners. It turns out that there are far-reaching societal and economic losses that result, and opportunities for employers to intervene, by providing employee assistance programs and resources to assist families.
Did you know that 21-60 percent of men and women lose their jobs because of injuries and circumstances that stem from domestic abuse? To debunk the assumption that all violence happens in the home, from 2003 to 2008 alone 142 women were killed on-the-job by partners or spouses, and 22 percent of homicides that occur at work involve men and women, and can be attributed to domestic violence cases.
Domestic Violence in the Media
You don’t have to enjoy rap music to know who Chris Brown is, thanks to his history of allegations and charges stemming from reported domestic abuse. The most famous instance for the rapper was with the pop star Rihanna, where he plead guilty to a 2009 assault. Despite the high-profile nature of the case, Brown received 180 days in jail, or 1,400 hours of labor-oriented community service, and a one-year domestic violence counseling class. The rapper plead guilty to one count of assault with the intent of doing great bodily harm.
Another high-profile case of domestic violence that inadvertently sent a weak message to perpetrators was that of Ray Rice, a football running back for the Baltimore Ravens. In 2014, the footballer had his contract terminated after a video was released, which depicted Rice punching and knocking out his wife, Janay Palmer. It was not the first time that Ray Rice had been caught on camera, as a video was made public in February of 2014, that showed him violently dragging an unconscious Palmer from an elevator.
It was argued that the NFL was aware of the domestic violence, but only intervened when it received public outcry after the release of the videos. The charges were dismissed in May 2015 against Rice, who was required to pay a fine and participate in anger management counseling. He was reinstated to the NFL, but as of July 2016, he had yet to be signed by any team. The light legal penalties for cases of domestic abuse, despite legislation, send a conflicting message to both victims and perpetrators.
The Role of Legal Advocates
The social, economic, and interpersonal complexities of domestic violence present a challenge for legal professionals. The institution of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has reportedly contributed to a 67 percent decline in domestic assault cases from 1993 to 2010. However, the shared concern of many legal advocates is that the decline represents an increased hesitancy to report incidents, not a reduction in actual occurrence.
The American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence cites that access to pro-bono or affordable legal aid efforts remain an important aspect of stemming incident rates. The Commission estimates that legal aid is effective in reaching only 20 percent of the needs of vulnerable, low-income victims.
Experts agree that domestic violence is a crime that, if unchecked, escalates into more serious assaults, including homicide. The challenge for the legal community is to advocate for victims before the violence escalates by removing the economic obstacles to acquiring legal representation.
Clients may be referred to the pro-bono directory of legal professionals and lawyers may also consider volunteering with the Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence.