Trigger warning: domestic violence, abuse
On a typical day in the United States, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Roughly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner, adding up to 10 million men and women each year. All in all, 1 in every 4 U.S. women, and 1 in 9 U.S. men, experience severe physical violence from their partners. 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
With statistics such as these, one would think that there’d be more laws in place to protect people from their abusers after abuse has taken place. This especially applies if the violence has gotten bad enough where law enforcement is involved. However, in states like Wisconsin, where I am from, the laws in place are more than disappointing.
What are the provisions?
First of all, domestic abuse must be engaged in “by an adult person against his or her spouse or former spouse, against an adult with whom the person resides or formerly resided or against an adult with whom the person has a child in common (National Conference of State Legislators).” This very much limits the scope of what domestic abuse really is, implying that it only counts if you were married to, live with, or have a child with somebody.
Other states only count it as domestic abuse if acts are committed between family or household members such as spouses, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings, and so on.
Which states are failing victims?
According to the NCSL, which lists each state’s statutes on domestic abuse, about 39 states and Washington D.C. (40 locations in all) include any two people who are in or have been in a sexual relationship and minors or adults who are dating or have dated as abusers and victims. The states who do not count romantic relationships unless you are either married, live together, or have a child together, are as follows:
- South Carolina
Of these states, Louisiana and South Carolina also specify that marital or romantic cohabitational relationships must be of the opposite sex. North Carolina, although a state that counts a dating relationship as a case for domestic violence, also specifies a male-female relationship. In Indiana, a couple who lives together must meet their qualifications for the extent to which the people involved “lived as a spouse” to each other for it to qualify as domestic abuse.
Can you get around these provisions?
Of course, there are other charges an abuser can face, such as substantial battery, which in Wisconsin only carries a maximum of 3.5 years in prison, according to GRGB Law. This is not enough time to ensure the victim has space away from their abuser in order to heal. If a victim survives an account of substantial battery (domestic and family violence is the leading cause of death, illness, and disability for women aged under 45), there is still emotional and psychological trauma to recover from, which may lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal tendencies. The trauma can also lead to homelessness (a third of people seeking help due to homelessness list family and domestic violence as a reason for being homeless) and the use of alcohol and drugs.
Victims need a healing space. They need time to go to therapy and seek positive affirmations from friends, and find healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, creative activities, and meditation.
Another possible charge could be disorderly conduct, but this has a maximum penalty of 90 days in prison. It is also, in the state of Wisconsin and presumably many others, one of the most charged crimes in the state. Of the 71% of reported domestic violence incidents that actually resulted in an arrest, disorderly conduct is the most common charge.
Another issue with any of these charges is that the abuser can easily face low bail bonds. This allows the abuser’s friends and family to put them back on the street within hours or days of the dispute. Until the next court date, the abuser is not due back to the prison once the bond is paid.
How do we change things?
It is crucial to the safety of victims that charges reflect the punishment of the crime. When so many lose their lives in domestic violence incidents yearly, why is it that so many abusers get a slap on the wrist? To demand change, feel free to reach out to any county’s Representative, which you can find here, and to demand justice in a specific case, you can find a list of District Attorneys here.
To personally help my family and community with a recent severe domestic violence incident, please contact D.A. Michael Gravely at firstname.lastname@example.org and use this template to help draft your email. I would also appreciate it if you added your name to this petition. #JusticeForDori
If you or a loved one needs to contact the Domestic Abuse Hotline, the number is 1-800-799-7233.
The hotline’s website also lists organizations and groups that you can get help and support from.