October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and nearly 20 years since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
There have been many improvements and changes in response to domestic violence in general and specifically violence against women.
According to President Barak Obama, who has issued a formal proclamation recognizing the month as a time of reflection and continued awareness: “ . . . our Nation’s response to domestic violence has greatly improved. What was too often seen as a private matter best hidden behind closed doors is now an established issue of national concern.”
That “concern” is also shared here at the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County.
Study after study has revealed the strong connection between domestic abuse and homelessness caused by women forced to make the mind-bending choice of staying in an abusive relationship, or leaving without a permanent place to live.
Often such situations consist of two-income families reduced to one income, and even if the abusive partner leaves, the other often must take on the economic weight of paying for food, clothing, and the mortgage.
Unfortunately, the latter often becomes as much a casualty as the relationship itself, which gives rise to other pressures and stresses that can—and often does—lead to foreclosure and homelessness.
Over the past several months we’ve been presenting mortgage foreclosure workshops in the basement of churches, community centers, and even in a living room or two in order to provide information on how to possibly avoid a foreclosure.
We’ve also worked with Women Against Abuse to provide information to women who feel they are being intimidated by the accused (and his friends or family) at a court hearing on the matter.
We also serve the accused with Protection From Abuse orders and remove any and all weapons from the home of the accused.
Still, it is everyone’s responsibility, as President Obama said, to continue making this a matter of “national concern”.
With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions that can help those concerned with their safety in a courtroom, and how the sheriff’s office can help to assuage that fear:
If you are being harassed, threatened, or intimidated in a courtroom, immediately notify the sheriff and/or the judge.
If the deputy sheriff sees an action where a person is threatening or intimidating someone in the courtroom, that deputy can also be a witness for the victim.
There is always a supervisor who walks the hallways of 1801 Vine and the Criminal Justice Center. They can be identified by their blue uniform and the star-shaped badge on the front of their shirt, or embroidered into the sleeve. If you can’t immediately locate a deputy, the supervisor is sure to be in the area.
If you believe the person threatening you will show up at the same court hearing, notify the sheriff’s office to let them know you are on your way.
If you know there is a warrant out on a person who is threatening or intimidating you, please let the sheriff’s office know of this as well.
For more information on making this “national concern” your personal concern, you can reach out to organizations like Women Against Abuse (www.womenagainstabuse.org) as I did to better understand this issue when I sat down with Jeannine L. Lisitski, MA, the Executive Director, and Molly Callahan, the organizations Legal Center Director.
Knowledge is power, and essential to making a difference.