Last year the Super Bowl aired a public service announcement about ending domestic violence and sexual assault, following the surfacing of a graphic video in 2014 showing NFL player Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée and dragging her unconscious body across the floor.
Sunday saw the most popular television event of the year come and go, but let's not forget that domestic violence and sexual assault continues. In just one year, more than 60,000 crisis calls came in, and 30,000 victims and their children were served by Georgia's 46 state-certified domestic violence programs. During that same period, state-funded sexual assault programs served roughly 4,500 victims of rape and sexual assault — including nearly 2,000 children. That is to say, the problem is widespread and pervasive.
Georgia Legal Services attorneys represent survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in civil legal cases, focusing on helping survivors to obtain protective orders that are intended to provide safety and security from abusers, as well as financial support to achieve economic independence.
Too often we hear a discussion of domestic violence that places blame on the victim: questions like, "Why did she stay?" or "Why did she go back?" While it's nearly impossible to fully understand the position of a victim in an abusive situation from the outside, it's clear that domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes — and should be treated as such.
Instead we should ask: "Why won't he stop the abuse?" Let's focus our blame on the person who acted violently toward their loved one.
Victim-blaming rhetoric denies justice for survivors of abuse. The video of Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer shows not a fight between two people but a brutal attack on a woman. Evidence of the incident doesn't even exist on Rice's criminal record and he is once again eligible to play in the NFL. Sadly, this absence of accountability for perpetrators of violence, particularly against women, is a common one in our country.
The way we talk about these events is more powerful than perhaps you think. The blame placed on survivors of abuse who have the courage to report an assault discourages others from doing the same, especially when little is done to hold a perpetrator accountable.
Beyond thinking twice about the blaming the victim for violence, there's more you can do.
Believe the victim.
Call the police when you see or hear a crime being committed.
Donate your time or money to your local shelter or legal services organizations.
If you are an attorney, call your local legal aid organization and volunteer your time.
Refer domestic violence and sexual assault survivors for support and help when it is safe to do so.
Talk to your community about domestic violence and offer to help connect survivors to resources.
Advocate for removing firearms from domestic violence abusers in criminal proceedings and in civil Protective Order cases.
Use your voice. Ask media to look for evidence from protective orders and not just for reports to police.
In Georgia, survivors of domestic violence can call this toll-free number for help: 800-33-HAVEN or 800-334-2836. If they need free representation in a hearing to receive a protective order or financial support, please call Georgia Legal Services Program at 800-498-9469.
Georgia Legal Services Program is a statewide civil legal aid organization offering access to justice and opportunities out of poverty for individuals with low incomes or who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer. For more information, please visit www.glsp.org.
Ira Foster is the managing attorney in Macon for Georgia Legal Services.