Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Putting a Face on Domestic Violence by Janaye Ingram

Feb 24, 2012

A few stories that have been in the media recently have captured my attention.  While one has been in the entertainment section and the other in the national news section, these two stories share a very common theme – domestic violence.

The stories about Rihanna’s recent musical reunion with Chris Brown after a 2009 assault by Brown and the trial of George Huguely in the death of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love, have dominated both the airwaves and print media.  They have been posted online on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter with thoughts shared among friends and between perfect strangers.  But the reason these stories stood out to me so prominently wasn’t because of all of the attention that they received by the media or my social networks.  Rather, it was the fact that when I look in the mirror, I see the face of a survivor of domestic violence staring back at me.

Seeing the stories in the media caused an emotional stirring within me.  Along with the recent story from one of the cast members of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and the untimely death of an up and coming model in Philadelphia by her boyfriend in a murder-suicide, my own past and the burden that I carried with it began to weigh heavily.  I wanted to write about something else this week.  I wanted to close out Black History Month focused on the Groundbreaking Ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture that took place this week and its historical significance.  But the guilty verdict in the George Huguely case meant I couldn’t wait.  I couldn’t postpone telling my story any longer.

It was never really a secret, except maybe in the beginning, when it was happening.  But in the years past, I’ve told my story in different mediums – to friends, some of  whom knew me in college when I was in the relationship, on an online radio program about domestic violence that I just happened to be guest hosting when they announced the topic, and to men that I have dated since.  But when faced with the fact that I would be unburdening myself, I thought of my parents who I never told until I began writing this piece and I thought of the rest of my family who upon reading this will ultimately find out.  I was uncomfortable with the fact that I might somehow change in their eyes – not that I believe any of this was or is my fault, but when coming clean with a secret, you think these types of things.  So I did what I always do when I’m mulling something over to no clear answer; I called my sister.  It was at her urging that I am writing this now.

I grew up in a two-parent household and my dad has never even raised a finger at my mother, much less put his hands on her in a show of anything other than love.  My younger sister and I received the type of love and affection that many people don’t have and we grew up in a family that, as people have said to me, thought didn’t exist. So what many people traditionally believe about women who “find themselves in these types of situations” – that they have daddy issues, they come from violent environments, they have a distorted sense of being loved, and on and on – do not fit the mold with me…or my sister who has also endured and survived domestic violence – not once, but twice.  We were showered with love and always told by my dad and his four brothers that if any man ever put their hands on us that they’d have to face the group of them, in addition to all of my boy cousins.  That support made even the thought of allowing a man to cross the line with me seem unfathomable.  I didn’t want my daddy and uncles to go to jail. As a teenager, I had friends whose boyfriends were physical with them and I used to say that it would never be me…until it was.

I imagine that Yeardley Love’s family living in a wealthy community in Maryland would have never imagined their daughter would be involved in a violent relationship.  I also imagine before the Grammys in 2009, many people would have never expected Rihanna to show up on tabloids with bruises and contusions.  As Taylor Armstrong sat on television showing off her fabulous life on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, when the glare of the camera turned its lights down, she endured severe physical abuse.  In all of the stories that have been in the media recently, and in all the stories that aren’t, there isn’t always a common theme.  Domestic violence can affect the rich and the poor.  It doesn’t care about skin color – it affects black, brown, yellow, red and white.  It doesn’t matter how much money you make or what your address is.  And it doesn’t care how you were raised.  Domestic violence occurs every single day throughout the world.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends each day in the US.

This year, the Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization.  When first introduced in 1994, it had bipartisan support.  The legislation focuses on protecting adults and teens who are the victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and sexual violence by coordinating the efforts of police, victims’ services, prosecutors and other organizations as it relates to the response and prevention these crimes.  States are awarded grants that help provide for these services.  In 2000 and 2005 when it was up for reauthorization, both Republicans and Democrats supported it.  This year, however, the bill is only seeing support from one side – the left. Earlier this month, the legislation went to the Senate Judiciary Committee and passed through the committee with only Democratic support in a vote of 10-8.

At issue are provisions that have been added that will help specific communities – specifically, undocumented immigrants and LGBT populations.  There is also issue with a provision that will allow Native tribes to have the authority to prosecute crimes for Natives and non-Natives.   These new provisions provide protections for communities who are often marginalized.  Undocumented immigrants are often afraid to report abuse because they fear they will be deported.  A provision in the existing VAWA already provides for 10,000 visas that are available in instances of abuse, while the reauthorization would increase that number by 5,000.   It means the difference between women (and in some instances men) living in abusive homes and raising their children in violent environments and being able to find support to live on their own and raise their children in a safe environment.  The reauthorization also prohibits discrimination against anyone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  A survey by the Human Rights Campaign found that 85% of service providers say they have worked with an LGBT victim that was denied services because of discrimination.  Finally, tribal courts have limited sentencing for offenders.  Regardless of the seriousness of the offense, Native offenders could only be sentenced to one year in prison by tribal courts.  There was no authority for those courts against offenders who lived on tribal lands but are non-Natives.  In those cases, women who might call tribal police officers would be subject to more abuse because there was no fear of repercussions.  The reauthorization provides more authority to tribal courts in these matters.

We have to ensure that all women are protected, whether they are a college athlete, a Native American tribe member, an undocumented immigrant, or a woman who was born a man.  No one deserves to be hit, pushed, shaken or forced to do anything against their will.  You never know who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.  It could be the girl sitting next to you in class, the woman who is selling you your next home, the man working in the grocery store, the woman who does your hair at the salon or the woman writing this.  As legislators talk about domestic violence like it is someone they don’t know, they should realize, the face of domestic violence could look like a face they see every day.