“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.”(Mahserjian,297).
Governments originated with the need to protect people. Statistics show that more than one in three women, around the globe, are victims of domestic violence. (Mahserjian, 297). However, there are still states in the U.S. that deny battered women the right to seek civil protection orders. Each day, Family Courts turn away victims of domestic violence, leaving them vulnerable to further abuse. Survivors of intimate partner abuse should have access to civil orders of protection because of the scope of domestic violence. At least one million women each year are physically abused by an intimate partner. Domestic Violence is the single largest cause of injury to women in the United States and is the number one cause of emergency room visits by women. (Lockie, 234).
Domestic violence is violent and aggressive behavior in the home involving the abuse of a spouse or partner. The actions of abuse can range from a meaningful facial expression used to control a person, to physical or sexual contact, and the most critical would be injury and murder. However, emotional abuse occurs more often than physical. Domestic violence also inhabits actions that are threatening, such as verbal threats, the destroying of prize possessions or objects, the injuring of family pets, and/or the monitoring or limiting of victim activity. In the state of Florida, any citizen petitioning the court for a domestic violence injunction does so within the following Florida Statute 741.29(1)(b) definition of violence: any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another who is or was residing in the same single dwelling unit.(Scott & Kunselman, 22)
In the early 1990s, the United States Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. It was reauthorized in the Violence Against Women Act of 2000. This served as a spark for nationwide policy changes designed to respond to domestic violence. Since then, legislative responses have amended definitions, expanded court remedies and made many more changes. These changes were made with little knowledge about how they would affect families and in some situations exclude victims of domestic abuse from civil protection.
For example, although domestic violence occurs to women who are pregnant, dating, engaged, or living with an abuser, these women are ineligible for civil protection in New York despite their need for civil protection. Article 8 of the New York Family Court Act fails to protect vulnerable populations, specifically pregnant women, people in dating relationships, and cohabitating couples without children. (Lockie, 234) The newest reauthorization states orders of protection may be sought ‘between spouses or former spouses, or between parent and child, or between members of the same family or household” (Lockie,235)
However, “members of the same family or household” includes those related by blood or close kinship, those who are legally married or have been legally married to one another, and those that have a child common, regardless if you have been married or lived together or not. This does not include women who are living with an abuser, dating, engaged, or pregnant. To clarify, a woman who is carrying the unborn child of her abuser is not protected by the New York Family Court Act because an unborn child does not fit the description of “child in common.” In the same way, if one parent does not hold parental rights to the child they cannot seek an order of protection against the other parent. This also goes for women engaged, and/or cohabitating with their abuser.
It is common knowledge that the legal age to be married without parental consent is 18, leaving anyone under this age that is a victim of domestic abuse in a dating relationship, unprotected by the Family Court. Additionally, 26 percent of pregnant teens report being physically abused by their boyfriends with half saying the abuse began or intensified when their boyfriends learned of the pregnancies. (Lockie, 234) These pregnant young women are also unprotected because their child is unborn.
It is necessary to contrast the civil and criminal systems so that one may truly understand what the excluded victims are being deprived of. The use of the civil system is more victim friendly than the criminal justice system. First of all, the civil process is initiated by the Petitioner (Lockie, 236), otherwise known as the victim. As Adrienne J. Lockie explained, unlike in a criminal case where the prosecutor represents the state and not the victim, the Petitioner controls her case. The Petitioner is responsible for her case and decides among other things, which evidence to put forth and the Petitioner in a family court has the right to counsel, whereas a victim is not represented –or even considered a party– in a criminal case.(Lockie,236). She may for example, decide to withdraw her case. Domestic Violence advocates have long-recognized that survivors of domestic violence may want the violence against them to end without subjecting the batterer to criminal or punitive consequences such as incarnation or deportation. (Lockie, 236).
It is simply unacceptable for policy makers to exclude these women because of the lack of an already born child or a legal marriage license. It is imperative that governments of federal and state level work together to create solutions for the excluded victims of domestic abuse. The name of this great nation is The United States of America for a reason. To live up to its name, every state in the U.S. should be united in this matter and agree that all victimized women involved in any type of intimate relationship with their abuser should be protected.