Chris McLeod wrote a stirring column asking us to “Find courage to care about domestic violence,” (Dec. 12 Opinion).
She related two personal stories – one of a co-worker who was shot in her sleep by her boyfriend; another of a mentor, a doctor who survived a strangulation attempt by her boyfriend, a surgeon.
Domestic violence is among the saddest, ugliest elements of our times.
Is this the reason it receives rare mention in our daily discussions, in media accounts, and in the halls of our legislatures?
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As Ms. McLeod’s stories illustrate, domestic violence knows no income class. Nor can we suggest it belongs to only Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives.
It plagues all social strata, all races, all political bents, and all religions. This makes all the more remarkable that domestic violence, especially how to stop it, secures so little of our attention.
We rely on our legal system to serve as first responder, the refuge for domestic violence survivors, their families and friends.
One who has suffered a domestic assault or who can prove the imminence of such an assault can ask the court to enter a protective order against the party who has perpetrated or threatened violence. In 2015, approximately 48,000 petitions for protection from domestic violence reached N.C. court dockets. Over 75 percent of these cases involve children in the household.
As 2015 draws to a close, adequate protection is more theoretical than it has ever been, even though all statistics show a surge in the need for such protection.
Many victims of domestic violence live below the poverty line. As a result, this year N.C. legal aid groups – Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, and Pisgah Legal Services – carried more of the load than ever.
Following the most recent session of the General Assembly, the cuts to Legal Aid’s budget have required reductions in force of 48 lawyers and paralegals. Legal Aid of North Carolina has closed six field offices since 2010, with another likely to close in 2016.
On the whole, state funding for legal service programs has declined by over 50 percent since 2010.
Hundreds of lawyers in our state’s private bar volunteer to take civil cases for poor citizens. The rising need for their service to the poor across many fields of the law in addition to domestic violence – homelessness prevention, consumer fraud, Social Security, veterans benefits, child custody, Medicaid, etc. – has not kept pace with the growing population of impoverished citizens.
The overall result is that volunteer lawyers plus legal aid lawyers cannot begin to meet the demand for domestic violence representation.
I add to the alarm from Chris McLeod to shine the brightest light we can create on the support system for victims of domestic violence.
It is a complex subject, one deserving deeper attention than this introduction provides, one demanding what Abraham Lincoln termed “the better angels of our nature.”
The sooner we shine this light, the sooner we will persuade our fellow citizens and legislators that this problem cannot wait longer for action, including funding to make that action meaningful.
Unless we get on with this effort, we will read of more tragedies that are already far too frequent.
Wester, an attorney, is past president of the N.C. Bar Association and a volunteer with Legal Aid of North Carolina and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont.