SHINING A LIGHT IN A DARK PLACE:
October; the leaves change, football is in full swing, and pumpkin spice is quite literally everywhere. Kids pick out their Halloween costumes and prepare for a night of doorbell ringing and copious amounts of candy. If you were to ask me what I associate with the month of October I would say Halloween and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I think of Breast Cancer Awareness because the NFL teams up with Breast Cancer Awareness; and many NFL players sport pink cleats, gloves, etc. in support of Breast Cancer Awareness. Breast Cancer Awareness month has taken centerstage in the United States when it comes to the “month long observances” that are in October. This blog hopes to shed some light on another “observance” that occurs in the month of October.
Most people do not know that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). DVAM is often overshadowed by Breast Cancer Awareness, and the events that bring light to Domestic Violence seem to go unreported if it is compared to the media coverage given to Breast Cancer Awareness. It is ironic that DVAM is overshadowed by Breast Cancer Awareness, since Domestic Violence itself is often overshadowed by other crimes deemed to be more “heinous” by society. Think about it . . . those running for local offices often discuss crime stats involving murder, rape, drugs, and gangs when campaigning for election, but rarely offer up for discussion the Domestic Violence crime stats that occur in our neighborhoods.
Make no mistake about it, Domestic Violence is an epidemic that is rampant within our communities. Statistics show that twenty people per minute are abused by a husband, wife, or partner; which equates to over ten million people each year. One in four women and one in seven men fall victim to severe physical violence from their partner. On a usual day, more than twenty thousand calls are made to domestic violence hotlines across the United States. The scariest thing about those statistics is that it only reflects reported cases of Domestic Violence. As mentioned above, Domestic Violence is a crime that lives in the shadows and often goes unreported.
This blog is not being written to offer solutions to the Domestic Violence epidemic in our communities. I cannot give a five-step process for getting out of an abusive relationship. What I can do is offer up some resources so that if you, or someone you know, is or becomes the victim of Domestic Violence you know where you can turn to for help.
One place you can turn to is the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) located locally in Lynchburg City. They offer a 30 day, 32-bed emergency shelter for women and children in crisis. They also have a toll free 24-hour crisis hotline, which is 1-888-528-1041. You can also go to VSDVAlliance.org for additional resources and information. If you are currently a victim of Domestic Violence, the YWCA recommends the following step as you plan to leave:
- Save all evidence – such as torn clothing;
- Have a friend or police officer take pictures of your injuries (any pictures that you keep yourself can be destroyed if the abuser gets ahold of the pictures or your phone);
- Keep your dental and medical records in an easily accessible location (you should also keep additional copies of these records in a safe place, out of reach of the abuser); and
- Keep extra copies of important documents where you can easily obtain them ie. with a trusted friend, relative, or in a safety deposit box.
Another possible resource is to obtain a protective order against the abuser if they have committed acts of family abuse against the victim. Family abuse is defined in Virginia as “any act involving force, or threat that results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily injury and that is committed by a person against such person’s family or household member. The victim can go to the local Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court and state the instances of abuse on a sworn affidavit, which will be given to a Judge to review. If the Judge thinks there is good cause shown, then the Judge will enter a preliminary protective order against the abused. Good cause requires a showing of recent abuse or that the threat of future abuse is imminent. If a preliminary protective order is granted, then the Court will schedule a hearing within fifteen days to determine if the preliminary order becomes permanent.
Once a protective order is granted it can stay in place for a maximum of two years. The Judge can also order as part of the protective order that the (1) abuser not commit acts of violence, force, or threat against the abused; (2) prohibit the abuser from contacting the abused or family and household members of the abused; (3) grant the abused possession of a companion animal; and (4) any other relief necessary to prevent acts of violence by the abuser.
As I mentioned above, there is no easy five-step process for overcoming Domestic Violence. I hope the material referenced in this blog serves as a starting point for helping you, or someone you know, begin to find their way out of an abusive relationship.
– Benjamin Rathsam, Esq.