October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Why should that matter to you? It matters because domestic violence affects every community and is often misunderstood. Wisconsin lawyers can make a difference to help protect survivors.
First, I want to address a few common myths.
Myth #1: Domestic violence is a poor woman’s problem. Domestic violence is not restricted to poor neighborhoods. From mansions in Lake Geneva to middle-class homes in Richmond to the small farms in Cedar Grove, where I grew up, domestic violence happens every day in every community in upper-, middle-, and lower-income neighborhoods.
Domestic violence does not just happen to women. It is estimated that one of four women and one of seven men will experience it at some point in their lives. This includes either partner in a heterosexual relationship, same-sex couples, and other abuse in a household, including against elderly family members.
Professionals, including Wisconsin lawyers and other highly educated, successful professionals, are survivors of domestic violence. The fear of stigma too often prevents professionals from coming forward. Help is available. State Bar of Wisconsin members can contact the Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP) 24-hour help line at (800) 543-2625.
Myth #2: Domestic violence is committed by angry, male, losers. The stereotype is an angry, low-income man coming home drunk to beat his wife. But, it’s also the mild-mannered accountant and the completely sober sales manager. The latest research indicates relationship violence has less to do with anger management than with control. There are several successful programs and therapies to help perpetrators improve conflict resolution and help stop domestic violence.
Not all perpetrators are men. Women commit domestic violence as well.
Successful people, including Wisconsin lawyers and judges, are committing domestic violence. Too often, the behavior is swept under the rug until the courts get involved with a restraining order or criminal case. Treatment is available to help end the cycle of violence.
Lawyers can volunteer
to be part of the solution
by helping survivors
get restraining orders
and otherwise free
themselves from abusive
Myth #3: Victims should just leave. Many victims lack the resources to leave the perpetrator.
Many people fear worse things will happen if they leave. The perpetrator threatens to take the kids, make the victim homeless, ruin the person’s reputation or standing in the community, or even kill the victim if they try to leave.
Survivors fear the stigma of being labeled a “victim” of domestic violence.
Lawyers can volunteer to be part of the solution by helping survivors get restraining orders and otherwise free themselves from abusive relationships. Having a lawyer can more than double a survivor’s chances of getting a restraining order. Legal Action’s Volunteer Lawyers Project provides free training for attorneys willing to help survivors get restraining orders. To find out how you can volunteer in your community, visit www.legalaction.org/volunteer-lawyer-project/volunteer-opportunities. You can also find other volunteer opportunities through the State Bar’s Pro Bono program at wisbar.org/probono.