Domestic violence. It is an unbelievably complicated issue. It seems like it should be easy—if you are being abused, leave your abuser—but it’s not.
Approaching abuse with that attitude is called victim blaming; it places the responsibility for resolving an abusive situation on the victim of the abuse, rather than holding the abuser responsible for his/her/zir actions.
Ending an abusive relationship is complicated. The psychology of abuse makes it extremely difficult for victims of abuse to change their situation; threats of violence (against the victim or their loved ones), affection for the abuser, isolation from friends/family and other social resources, social censure—all of these factors play into perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Not to mention the staggering statistics of homicides that happen when the abused person leaves the abuser. About 70% of violence occurs even after the survivor has left the perpetrator.
It is so important that we maintain a conversation about domestic violence in every way possible! Leslie Morgan Steiner, herself a victim of domestic violence, has taken initiative to spread awareness on the issue with her book Crazy Love and her TED Talks.
That is why it’s good news to hear that Massachusetts lawmakers are compromising (yes, actual political compromise!) to instate legislation that will overhaul their treatment of domestic violence cases. The bill, finalized on this Wednesday, will create a first offense domestic violence assault and battery charge, establish a registry of domestic violence offenders, and provide education for judges and prosecutors about cycles of abuse. It will also establish a six-hour “cooling off” period before anyone arrested on charges of domestic violence can be arraigned or released on bail. Hopefully this period will help to de-escalate the situation and give the victim time to seek safety if necessary.
Rep. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham), who participated in the compromise, says that the bill “empowers victims and plugs some gaps that were in the system up until today.”
The bill will give judges and prosecutors access to a compiled record of an accused abuser’s history of domestic violence. It also creates risk assessment teams made up of police, prosecutors, and advocates who will work together to recognize the signs of violence that have escalated to the point of being life-threatening.
Massachusetts’ new bill is a great step forward! Here’s to hoping that it prompts further discussion about domestic violence and its prevention.