Notable Americans from Vice President Joe Biden to Scandal’s Kerry Washington and talk show host Meredith Vieira are talking about domestic violence and joining together in efforts to eradicate its existence in America. The country was shocked and outraged by recent headlines about Ray Rice, the NFL player who casually dragged his significant other, Janay Rice, out of an Atlantic City elevator after he rendered her unconscious with his fists. The incident initially led to a great deal of judgment of the NFL’s response and unfortunately, of Janay Rice, but it also sparked a national conversation about stopping domestic abuse.
Vice President Biden has been vocal in the fight against domestic violence since, as a senator in the early 1990’s, he pushed for passage of the Violence Against Women Act. The act, touted as the “nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence,” was reauthorized in 2013 to include protections for immigrants, Native American women, LGBT victims, youth, public housing residents and college students. More recently, however, Vice President Biden urges men, especially young men, to stand up in defense of violence against women in an initiative called, “It’s On Us.” An official from the White House was quoted as saying, “We’re confident with this initiative—which includes everyone, with full engagement—we will be able to end sexual assault…”
In other arenas, actress Kerry Washington and talk show host Meredith Vieira are also actively engaged in the fight against domestic violence. Washington has joined forces with the Allstate Foundation in its Purple Purse initiative to support women who suffer from domestic abuse and are unable to leave the situation because of financial concerns. Washington, described as a fashion maven and an advocate, was able to combine her love of fashion with her desire to help women. According to Washington, “The goal of Purple Purse is to make talking about domestic violence, and the financial abuse that traps women in abusive relationships, easier and more commonplace.”
Meredith Vieira recently shocked audiences with an emotional tale of domestic abuse at the hands of her live-in boyfriend many years ago. Vieira joined thousands of women in response to the groundswell of judgment and commentary surrounding the Ray Rice incident. Many labeled Janay Rice as a gold digger and questioned why an abuse victim would stay in the situation. In response, thousands of women on Twitter and Facebook posted their reasons for staying using #WhyIStayed.
Vieira admits that she stayed out of fear and guilt. She describes hiding in a stairway of her apartment building after her abuser had cast her into a scalding hot shower and forced her naked into the hallway. She states emphatically that, “We all have to accept the fact that it’s not just an issue with the NFL, it’s an issue with all of our lives and until we take it seriously, more and more women are going to get abused.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines domestic abuse or “Intimate Partner Violence” as “physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse.” While Washington and others quote statistics indicating that 25 percent of women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, most of the women who suffer at the hands of abusers are not famous and do not have the support of a nation outraged by the actions of a well-known athlete.
In efforts to eradicate domestic violence at the ground level, states like South Carolina are implementing preventative measures. Additionally, The Pixel Project, a virtual, 501 (c) (3) agency which seeks to raise awareness and funding towards efforts to end violence against women on a global scale, is offering 16 ways people can help stop domestic violence in their communities. In South Carolina, officers are finding it helpful to wear body cameras when responding to calls about domestic violence.
Often, the victim will refuse to testify, but the video will provide police with a visual record of the bruises and other physical symptoms of abuse as well as a recording of the victim’s statement. Law enforcement is able to use the evidence in the event that there are subsequent incidents and, in some cases, the very existence of the video evidence has prompted the abuser to turn himself in. The state has also found the use of dedicated domestic violence courts (DVCs) helpful. The urgency involved in getting the victim into court immediately often gives judges a chance to actually see the victim while bruises are still visible.
South Carolina lawmakers are pushing for more funding for body cameras, additional DVCs and more shelters, while The Pixel Project offers solutions that anyone can implement. Some of the tips offered include educating community members and knowing the signs. The groups cautions that domestic violence is not limited by socio-economic barriers or geographic borders. It also advises that domestic violence not only encompasses physical abuse but can include emotional or psychological abuse as well as financial abuse.
On an individual basis, The Pixel Project recommends “Ringing the Bell.” Neighbors who hear loud voices or other noises that signal abuse should consider intervening. People are cautioned to use their judgment in situations where it may not be safe to interrupt. It is advised to have someone there as a backup or, in situations where firearms or other weapons might be present, to call 911.
Other tips include being able to listen without judgment, being a resource, and establishing a plan of action in the event that one is called to assist a victim in her efforts to get out. Concerned friends and family members are also advised to keep regular communication going and also to document.
America watched in shock at the physical violence directed at Janay Rice by her then-fiancé. Ray Rice. Many could not understand why she subsequently married her abuser and many were outraged by the NFL’s initial lukewarm response to the situation. Fortunately for America, but unfortunately for Janay Rice and one in four American women, serious dialogue about preventing domestic violence seems to have just recently intensified.
While the Pixel Project offers commonsense, proactive solutions to aid in the prevention of violence against women, states like South Carolina are contributing to the national conversation by introducing their own solutions to the problem. With prominent politicians like Vice President Joe Biden and celebrities like Kerry Washington, Meredith Vieira and countless others joining the cause, it is hopeful that America is finally taking firm and determined steps towards the eradication of domestic violence once and for all.
By Constance Spruill