by Annie Louise Burton
We’ve all studied the subject of “History” or perhaps “Government” in school; however, studies show that we retain approximately 10 – 20% of what we learn. And if that be the case, then let’s merely consider the following a quick refresher course. The United States is comprised of three discrete branches of Government reflecting a “Separation of Powers” that defines American Democracy: The Executive Branch, The Legislative Branch; and The Judiciary. While all three Branches have very distinct, discrete and separate powers, each heavily rely upon the seamless coordination of Acts and Legislation that ultimately define the Supreme Laws of the United States. The Legislative and Executive Branches rely primarily upon The Citizen’s Voice, as legislators are (and the President) elected officials presumably voted into office as a result of deep convictions and beliefs that resonate with the popular vote. Legislature is a governing body that enacts statutory law. According to Wikipedia, “Legislation can have many purposes: to regulate, to authorize, to proscribe, to provide (funds), to sanction, to grant, to declare or to restrict.”
The question that comes to my mind is what are our elected officials(legislators) doing to “proscribe” tougher laws against Domestic Violence offenders? Long gone are the days of patriarchal supremacy in governing the affairs of the home, exacerbating control over wives and children. In fact, the United State’s Surgeon General, in 1992, found abuse by husbands as the leading cause of injuries and
death to women and girls ages 15 to 44. That same year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that 1,431 women were killed by husbands or boyfriends. And
in 1994, Congress voted for the Violence Against Women Act that is part of the federal Crime Victims Act, funding services for victims of rape and domestic violence. This includes allowing women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes, and provides training to increase police and court officials’ sensitivity.2 This Act, for the first time in history, granted victims the federal right to sue an Assailant for gender-based violence.
Seven, long years later (following on the heels of insurmountable incidences of violence, assault, and lethality) October, in 1999, was officially declared “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” Activities recognizing victims of Domestic Violence and The Movement to stop domestic and family violence including The Silent Witness Project, a national demonstration using mannequins in public places to represent the many who have died at the hands of abusive partners; Take Back The Night demonstrations; the popular project for children “Hands Are Not For Hitting”; and The Clothes Line Project, a public arts demonstration in which t-shirts are hung out on clothes lines and decorated with statements about relationship abuse. 2 In spite of these transformations, innumerable movements and changing legislation, has enough public outcry been voiced to ensure that tougher laws are enacted against those who commit Domestic Violence? While many states across the country should be applauded in their efforts to endorse laws treating Domestic Violence offenses as a felony, it is in no way ubiquitous across the United States and that is unfortunate. What then should one surmise from this? Do some legislators get it or are some merely waiting for more lethality’s to occur before it is recognized and acknowledged that Domestic Violence is a public health threat, nuisance and an economic drain on our fledgling economy?
Let’s think about this. When a person is abused (regardless of emotional, economic, physical, or verbal), this drains the financial resources of each Legislator’s “earmark” funds that could be spent on a myriad of social services, including abuser reform; educational improvements; transportation; or other vital needs as defined by their constituents. My personal belief rests in proactive measures and not reactionary strategies
given the significant cost – both human and economic collateral. Let’s face the facts: Tougher Laws Against Violent Acts could save countless lives and spare a vast amount of pain, shame and hopelessness on the part of victims who many times underreport Domestic Violence out of fear that the system will not work and their abuser will simply
face a misdemeanor charge and regrettably seek revenge. Those fears are as clear as the sky is blue. In fact, when my abuser continued to harass me from 300 miles away, he presumed that he could get away with it despite a Court Order with clear instructions prohibiting certain contact and actions.
Assuming, like most abusers, as a result of a system that still remains dysfunctional and lacks cohesiveness between the Judiciary, Legislative and Executive Branches, that Domestic Violence is not a serious offense, most wind up becoming repeat offenders or inflamed that the victim would even dare press charges. The arduous evolution of Domestic Violence reveals improvement, yet that progression has been slow at best and as a result countless lives are ruined, victims are left befuddled, confused, and questioning whether they should have reported the abuse in the first place; and disappointingly, some have ended in tragedy cutting a life too short and ultimately causing further harm to those left to mourn, particularly children who too often witness the acts of violence. Abusers are cold, calculated and manipulative individuals who know full well what they are doing when they commit violent acts of crime. While many abusers often suffer from bipolar disorders, depression or other psychosomatic conditions, that simply does not preclude them from accountability for their violent acts.
My mother, a staunch civil rights activist from Alabama taught me years ago that “No one can walk over you unless you lay down first!” I have never forgotten those words and ponder them frequently, as those words consistently resonate in the recesses of my mind such that I will no longer lay down and excuse bad behavior on the part of my abuser or any other abuser for that matter. And despite having great distance (what I believed to be safe) between my abuser and me, his abusive campaign manifested through “electronic” harassment. Having learned about exit plans and the value of documentation, while being a victim, I emerged as my own activist and Advocate to ensure flawless and rapid communication between two Law Enforcement Agencies in different States. In fact, I studied Federal Law on Domestic Violence and found that many of those laws are applicable in any United States territory, including Protective Orders as long as they are registered in the State to which one may relocate.
Lesson here: carefully read any Protective Order issued by a Judge as this language in most cases will indicate that it is enforceable regardless of your locale in the United States.
This certainly does not lessen the emotional trauma or stress but it sure does help to know your rights! Difficult as it was, I laid aside all emotions and put on my advocate “hat” to force the system to pay attention to a series of threats, online stalking, and changes to my life insurance policy among many other things, and harassment; and then allowed Law
Enforcement to do the rest. Upon a thorough examination of my laptop therein was the evidence witnessed by the police of an abuser who was systematic, concealed and calculated in his abuse and yes, an abuser who believed he was above the law. In this case, two Law Enforcement Agencies in different jurisdictions actually spoke by telephone and
assured me that both domestic violence units would collaborate to hold my abuser accountable for his lack of regard of a Judge’s order. And guess what! Their careful coordination and dedication enabled the system to work. While it does not erase the pain, bewilderment that the one to whom I once pledged my love and allegiance in marriage would attempt to hurt me, the concerted efforts of two concerned police agencies helped to restore my confidence in the system.
The ultimate arrest of a man to whom I was married for nearly twenty years was a heartbreaking day, as I had no alternative but to enforce a Protective Order despite the affects it would have on our children. If you fly frequently, however, you will recall what every stewardess repeatedly says regardless of airline carrier: “If you are traveling with a small child, kindly place the mask on yourself first and then help the child.” There is hidden wisdom in this statement and I now realize that I am a far better mother to my children and even a happier person with renewed optimism as to what destiny has in store for me. And while I am thankful to two very committed lieutenants located in separate States, I could not help but to wonder what happens to women who may not understand their rights and believe their abusers to possess more power than they really do. Should we leave these women, not unlike me, in the abuse they suffer to serendipitous chance? The obvious answer is “NO!” Essentially that is how abusers operate, using fear, control and manipulation to condition their victims into believing that they possess more power than they actually do.
According to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, “Battering is one form of domestic or intimate partner violence. It is characterized by the pattern of actions that an individual uses to intentionally control or dominate his intimate partner. That is why the words “power and control” are in the center of the wheel. A batterer systematically uses threats, intimidation, and coercion to instill fear in his partner. These behaviors are the spokes of the wheel. Physical and sexual violence holds it all together—this violence is the rim of the wheel. The Power and Control Wheel was developed from the experience of battered women in Duluth who had been abused by their male partners. It has been translated into over 40 languages and has resonated with the experience of battered women world-wide.”3
When an individual is charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), it often results in suspended licenses and in some cases, mandatory participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Classes. Why should the same not hold true for Abusers convicted of Domestic Violence? This seems to make sense not in the terms of retribution but rehabilitation so they learn how not to abuse. While many domestic violence agencies offer these programs, concrete data has yet to be established as to whether any best practices demonstrate marked success. However, mandatory participation of abusers in programs of this nature may help to educate abusers about the consequences of their actions and how their behavior (whether learned or not) is unacceptable.
Still a long road to travel, I was relieved to witness first-hand Law Enforcement at its best and am thankful to these committed police officers and terrific Domestic Violence Advocates. The reprise in Beyonce’s new release: “The Best Thing I Never Had,” are now racing through my mind, even as I write this article: “Thank God you blew it, thank God I dodged a bullet….You are the Best Thing I Never Had.” And yes, perhaps the
system helped me to actually dodge a bullet.
Until next time, Hope and Believe; and most importantly, BE GOOD TO YOURSELF!
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- MINCAVA electronic clearinghouse