The first time I saw a man punch a woman in the face, I was in high school, in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car, looking out the window at the bowling alley we were passing. I was shocked, horrified, and instantly felt sick to my stomach. Prior to that moment it had never occurred to me, outside of movies, that someone would be violent toward a person that they were supposed to love and cherish. That punch was a pivotal moment shaping the woman I have grown into.
This picture shows the final memento I received from my years spent working as a Women’s Advocate at the Friendship Home in Lincoln. While in college and through law school I worked as first a volunteer and then as an employee of the domestic violence shelter. The wait list for women and children to come into shelter usually hovered at 75. We housed 25 women and their children at any given time.
On my first day, I had to choke back tears as I photographed the black and blue of a thirty-something year old mom’s face. Through the years, I had to steel up when the children would come to me and sit in my lap, clinging to this safety while revealing to me how they feared their father. I felt terrified when, during an overnight shift, the police were called due to a security breach and news that an abuser was outside the doors intoxicated and irate.
The unexaggerated reason that I went to law school was to help these women. I, not too coincidentally, ended up paired with my law partner, Susan Koenig, after she spoke to my law school class on the topic of Domestic Violence and the Practice of Law.
In my practice I monthly hear stories of domestic violence: “He holds me down and spits in my face,” “I hid in my closest for 3 hours so she couldn’t berate me,” “He broke my ribs, but I said I fell down the stairs so my children wouldn’t get taken away.” I represent clients in obtaining protection orders, I counsel them in safety planning, and I wince as the vicious cycle of domestic violence takes hold and she instructs me to dismiss the case.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I have mixed feelings about the Ray Rice videoed domestic violence leading to public outcry and consciousness ONLY after we saw the definitive proof that he had punched her. It wasn’t enough when we only saw him dragging her unconscious from an elevator. I appreciate the awareness and the public forum in which it is being displayed. But my frustration is fueled by the fact that until we see an actual punch, we tend to ignore and minimize this daily trauma to millions of families across the country.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of domestic abuse, let in support now. Call the 24 hour domestic violence hotline at (800)799-SAFE(7233). Get educated. Develop a safety plan. Call an attorney knowledgeable about protection orders. Don’t wait.