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Domestic Violence: The Epidemic Continues

Recently, Congress finally reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law that provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The widespread reporting of this important act by Congress has once again shown the light on the ugly epidemic of domestic violence, which has been described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a public health and safety issue. It is also a human rights issue.

Despite laws in virtually every state making domestic violence a crime and despite the availability of civil protection orders everywhere, the frequency and severity of domestic violence and intimate partner violence continues unabated. The CDC has labeled domestic violence a “major public health burden.”

The prevalence of domestic and intimate partner violence has been studied by the U.S. Justice Department for more than 20 years. The statistics are shocking. A few of the Justice Department findings are:

  • Of females killed with a firearm, almost two-thirds were killed by their intimate partners.
  • 84% of spouse abuse victims were women.
  • 50% of offenders in state prison for spousal abuse had killed their victims.
  • 81% of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are also sexually assaulted by that partner.
  • Of those victims that obtained protective orders against their abusers, 69% of female victims had their protective orders violated.

A victim of abuse has a right in Ohio to file criminal domestic violence charges against the abuser; victims of stalking can also seek protection orders. Additionally, victims of abuse can seek a civil protection order through the Domestic Relations Court. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for a victim to leave an abusive relationship, and it generally takes many attempts to leave before a victim has garnered enough strength to make the break permanent. Some of the reasons that victims stay in abusive relationships include conflicting emotions (the abuser begs for forgiveness, promises to get help, etc.), shame and embarrassment, fear (a victim of domestic violence is at most risk when they try to leave the relationship), safety concerns, lack of financial resources, isolation, cultural or religious pressures, and fears about custody arrangements.

There are many resources for victims of abuse, including shelters for battered women and children and counseling services. Victims of abuse can seek a petition for a civil protection order without an attorney. Victims of abuse are urged to contact the police immediately when an incident of abuse is occurring or has occurred. Victims need to be acutely aware, however, that a protection order, whether issued by a civil or criminal court, is only a piece of paper and the victim must develop a safety plan.

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