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Violence Against Women/Domestic Violence

As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us are thinking more and more about relationships. It’s hard not to, what with the never-ending stacks of pink and red candy lining grocery store aisles. Whether you’re planning a special date with a valentine or asking the age-old question, “Will you be my valentine,” healthy relationships are important no matter your relationship status.

This February 14, as we must all year round, let us reflect on what a healthy relationship looks like—and what one doesn't look like.

When I think of Indian reservations, and the laws that govern them, the first things I think about are always casinos. Driving down I-95 from Jacksonville to Miami each year to visit my relatives, we would always pass huge billboards advertising a casino with a strange name to me—Miccosukee—that implored us to stop in on our way down.

I’ve been fascinated by geography from the time I was young, so on one of these trips, maybe when I was 9 or 10 years old, I asked my parents why anyone would place a casino so far outside of the city. They explained to me that, while the State of Florida had outlawed gambling (though some might say it still exists today), those laws did not apply to Indian tribes, and so many Indian tribes used the casinos to make money.

During my senior year of college, I worked as a courtroom advocate at the St. Louis County Domestic Violence Court, a division of the court system that deals exclusively with orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. I worked with petitioners – survivors of domestic abuse filing for an order – to assist their navigation of the legal system and to connect them to community resources to ensure they could feel safer in their everyday lives. I say safer, and not safe, because individuals

This post originally appeared on the WRJ Blog.

At the moment of rededication, the Maccabees relit the ner tamid, the eternal flame in the Temple. The ner tamid symbolizes God’s constant presence with the entire Jewish people. Because it is perpetually lit, the ner tamid also signifies a hope that God’s presence will continue to dwell with us from generation to generation (BT Shabbat 22b). What could be a better symbol for our hopes for a sustainable future than the ner tamid? Thus, as we kindle the Hanukkah lights, we think about how we can nurture our children and pass along a better world to them.

This week, we read my favorite portion in Genesis, Parashat Vayishlach (“he sent”). Among the other stories in Vayishlach, we read about the brothers Jacob and Esau’s first meeting since Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and fled in Parashat Toldot. Jacob sends messengers to Esau and discovers that Esau is coming, along with four hundred men, to meet him. Jacob is scared that Esau will come to kill him and prepares gifts to dull his anger. Yet when Esau sees Jacob, he runs to embrace him, and they are overcome with emotion (Genesis 32:3-33:12).

Jacob’s fear of his brother always stuck with me, as we see Jacob, who is often so creative and cunning, in a situation where he is helpless. Esau, always the stronger of the two, knows where Jacob is, and Esau has a much bigger contingent traveling with him. Jacob cannot prevent his brother from doing what he wants, so Jacob can only hope that Esau’s anger has subsided since his birthright was stolen.

One out of three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. In some countries, it’s as many as seven in ten. Violence against women is a human rights violation that devastates lives, fractures communities and prevents women from fully contributing to the economic development of their countries.

Take a minute to think about the things we do every day: go to work, go to school, provide food for ourselves and for our families. We generally do not equate these tasks with putting ourselves in danger. But, that’s not the case everywhere. Often, the perpetrators of violence against women and girls commit that violence while women are on their way to work or to collect food and water, or while girls are on their way to school—that is, if they are allowed to go to school at all.

During my senior year of college, I worked as a courtroom advocate at the St. Louis County Domestic Violence Court, a division of the court system that deals exclusively with orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. I worked with petitioners to create or improve their safety plan (i.e. what strategies did they use to keep themselves as safe as possible from their abuser?) and to connect people to resources available in our community, like counseling programs, employment assistance, shelters and transitional housing, and legal services. Throughout my year at the court, I watched hundreds of petitioners share evidence of their abuse before the judge, who asked the same, simple question every time: "Does your abuser’s behavior make you fear for your safety?"

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, when we devote time and energy to making ourselves and those around us aware of one of the most insidious and silent problems that plagues women, men, and children in this country. Earlier this month on RACblog we discussed how can channel our moral outrage at domestic violence into action and urge our Members of Congress to support the International Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 3571/S. 2307). You may be aware that domestic violence is an issue in this country. You may not know, however, about how crucial the issue of gun violence prevention is to the protection of victims of domestic abuse.

If you’ve turned on the television or even glanced at a newspaper over the past several weeks, you’ve likely seen coverage of Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back who punched his then-fiancée Janay in an elevator. The renewed conversation about Rice’s actions and about the NFL’s reaction is a disheartening, if timely introduction to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which we observe in October to boost anti-violence efforts and to draw critical attention to a problem far too often swept under the rug.

With greater public attention being paid to incidences of sexual violence and violence against women – in the NFL and on college campuses are two examples that come to mind first – what can we learn about how our culture at large understands domestic violence? It echoes harmful myths that, until not so long ago, relegated domestic violence to the private sphere: domestic violence was a personal, private matter between spouses rather than an issue of national concern for gender equality and fundamental respect for all people. Beginning the 1980s, advocates against domestic violence were able to bring the issue to national attention for the first time, initiating cultural shift that eventually brought about passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which for the first time made domestic and sexual violence a crime under federal law.

Tomorrow, President Obama and Vice President Biden will announce a new campaign to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. Entitled “It’s On Us,” the campaign will emphasize that it is the responsibility of every person in a community to help prevent sexual violence. Drawing on a recent report from the National Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, the campaign strives in particular to engage male students, harnessing their potential to help prevent sexual assault by shifting peer behavior and, accordingly, community norms.