The Violence Against Women Act will be 20 years old tomorrow, September 13th. This anniversary comes on the heels of the explosion over the Ray Rice video where we see exactly what we knew had happened all along and that is Ray Rice punching his then fiance and knocking her unconscious. To many the mere report that Ray Rice had punched and knocked his fiance unconscious was enough to hold him in contempt and feel that he should face a much greater punishment than the two game suspension he had initially received from the NFL, but there were many others that needed to witness the brutality before coming to such a conclusion.
Unfortunately this is a common reaction or non-reaction to domestic violence. When we hear about it in the abstract we are disapproving and shake our head in disgust, but we go on with our business. When we are forced to confront it in a much more personal manner, perhaps through a relative, friend or in my case, clients, it becomes much more disturbing. People who have dealt with domestic violence survivors know all too well that the reaction by Janay Palmer, she married him shortly after the incident, is all too common. Survivors often stay with their abusers despite the physical punishment and humiliation they are forced to endure.
I have had many clients who were survivors of domestic abuse tell me that had to stay with their husbands or boyfriends because they relied upon them for their and their children’s economic support. They felt trapped and believed that if they left they could not provide for themselves or their children. They would also express guilt and culpability for the abuse, much like we heard from Janay when she apologized for her part in the incident that night in Atlantic City.
All survivors of abuse face so many hard obstacles to overcome, but undocumented immigrants face many more. It is why VAWA is so important and such a wonderful piece of legislation. It has freed so many immigrant women (and men) from the clutches of domestic violence. I love being able to tell clients who are survivors to let me worry about their immigration status and everything will be ok and that all they need to concentrate on is being safe and growing stronger.
All of this also coincides with a great victory by Attorney Roy Petty (listen to our 3rd podcast) from Arkansas at the BIA where they officially recognized abused married women from Guatemala who cannot receive protection from their spouse as a particular social group and eligible for asylum under our laws. Immigration attorneys have been winning these type of battered women cases for some time now, but the official recognition is wonderful.
There is a lot wrong about our immigration system, but the movements it has made in protection survivors of domestic violence is not one of them. So, tomorrow I will raise a glass to VAWA and to all the survivors out there.