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Violence Against Women Act: A Divorce Lawyer's Perspective

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On March 6, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. The topic has been in the news often lately with the passage of the new VAWA in February by the House and the Senate, and the story of the reporter and his wife in Connecticut. While the act encompasses more crimes than domestic violence it is domestic violence that is the most insidious. Despite stories of this kind being commonplace, it seems that only when celebrities are involved in these situations that they are considered newsworthy.

In researching this article I came across a mind boggling statistic: Three women are killed in the United States every day because of domestic violence. That statistic does not account for the thousands of non-fatal attacks, most of which are not reported. All 50 states have laws designed to protect victims. However the victim must be proactive; they must call 911, she (or he - by no means are victims only female) must decide to follow through with the criminal case, with the protective order, and in some cases, with the divorce. None of this is easy.

Simplistically, victims can be described as falling into two categories. First, there are those who end the relationship at the first instance of violence, like the woman in this series of graphic pictures. Then there are the victims who return to batterers and begin the dance that can end with serious injury or death. This dance continues, sometimes for years with the batterer vicious, controlling and brutal then sweet and remorseful in a spiraling cycle. In this cycle, the victim typically becomes increasingly codependent and leaving becomes harder and harder.

This is a serious problem across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. I think that sometimes the wealthier the family, the more economic control the batterer has, and perhaps the victim has more sense of shame at allowing the battering to continue. Also, wealthy batterers can afford to continue the abuse in the legal system. I have often been told by female clients that her husband will break her in the divorce process, and then we see him try to do just that. The divorce process ordinarily is bad enough for the litigants, but when one of them is bent on destruction it becomes much worse emotionally, and much, much more expensive.

However, the cost of the process is not worth the cost of a woman's - or man's - life. It is better to get out than to stay. As that above-mentioned slideshow of photos documenting a night of domestic violence reveals, kids get involved. They hear the fights, try to intervene and often get beaten as well.

All divorce lawyers have had to cope with clients who have returned, often repeatedly, to batterers. This is hard to handle, but it is worse when there are kids involved. The harm to children from being involved in or exposed to domestic violence has been well documented. Massachusetts, for example, requires the courts to consider if there are any domestic violence issues when setting parenting time. In fact, the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts considers domestic violence cause for removing kids from their mom if she fails to leave the batterer.

Domestic Violence breeds more domestic violence. It is quite clearly defined that daughters of violence grow up to be victimized, and sons of violence grow up to be batterers in higher percentages than children who have not been exposed. This is a crime where the damage is clearly generational, and the VAWA reminds us of this. Prosecution of these crimes is hard because so many victims recant. But it is necessary for current and future victims to end the ongoing cycle of violence.