October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This month, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and organizations across the country will bring greater awareness to domestic violence and its effect on women and children. Domestic violence is multifaceted and includes physical, psychological, sexual, and economic abuse of a victim and is often hidden from public view.
Over the last 25 years since the initial passage of the Violence Against Women Act, I have seen firsthand the shift in the law enforcement and judicial system in their approach to domestic violence. In the mid 1990’s, as a young prosecutor, I was tasked with training a group of law enforcement and military personnel on the topic of child abuse investigation on military bases. At the beginning of the day, one of the senior officials stood up and announced that he did not know why I was there to train them. He proclaimed that there were no issues in their area with child molestation—stating that they did beat their wives, but that they did not molest their children, to which everyone in the audience laughed. I remember I had never been so appalled and disappointed that the topic of domestic violence was so callously addressed.
While there is still much work to be done, I believe that through the work of OVW and so many others across the country—training law enforcement and prosecutors, raising up specialized judges who understand the crime of domestic violence, and the networks that have been built for victims services and survivor empowerment—this attitude toward domestic violence has changed due to the impact of the work of so many in the field.
As we begin Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we salute those law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, and so many others who work with victims on a daily basis to end this abuse and help victims find safety, security, and justice.
The staff at OVW is so very grateful to the law enforcement professions who everyday put their lives on the line with every domestic violence call they receive. We know that domestic violence calls are the most dangerous for law enforcement to answer. In my first ride-along as a prosecutor, I went with the sergeant to a domestic violence call that ended with the victim losing their life to a shotgun blast to the face. DOJ and OVW are grateful for the officers who are first on the scene, answering a call for help, while putting their own life on the line for a stranger in need of assistance.
We also recognize those who work to coordinate services for survivors of domestic violence, helping to move them from victim to survivor by empowering them to independence through transitional housing and economic justice. Helping women move to self-sufficiency where they control their future and their children’s future in safety and stability is critical to their recovery. While some women have jobs and credit, others need to open bank accounts, build credit, find employment, gain job training, and finish education. OVW funds help to make sure that women have the wrap around services they need to move toward creating a new life for themselves and their children.
As we enter into Domestic Violence Awareness Month, think of one thing that you can do to raise awareness about this crime. It could be as simple as posting the Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233. It could be donating your time or supplies to a domestic violence shelter. Whatever it is, let us not forget that together we can shed light on this terrible crime and help victims find safety and justice.