By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
It is a tragedy of modern society that, after thousands of years of human development, we still experience, on a regular basis, the outrage of domestic violence. By now, you would think that people using physical intimidation and violence towards family members would be relegated to third world countries were the rule of law and social education is minimal.
Domestic violence, up to and including murder, makes a regular appearance in our community’s arrest report and court docket. According to a collaborative research effort that included the Center for Disease Control, 35.6 percent of all women and 28.5 percent of all men “in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Eighty-five (85) percent of domestic violence victims are women”. One of the many sad bullets or statistics reported was that most incidents of domestic violence are not reported.
Why do people hurt the ones they say they love? Is it because they have such low self-image that they feel like that they must vent their frustration by verbally or physically acting out? I think they are so emotionally and mentally weak that they are afraid to take out their aggression on “someone their own size”. They also know that their chances of retribution are likely smaller if they take their frustrations out on a family member. Since they live with their victims, in many cases, they learn who they can prey upon without getting reported. Like children who quickly learn how far they can push their parents before being disciplined, domestic violence offenders are often seen begging the forgiveness of their victims; repeatedly promising to “do better” or “it will never happen again”.
Domestic violence shows up on our arrests reports regularly from charges of offensive touching to full blown aggravated assaults. If you hang around the water cooler for a moment or two, you will hear co-workers searching for answers for friends or family members who are living in abusive relationships and suffering from physical and/or psychological attacks. Victims are called names, demeaned, devalued, battered and, in some cases, murdered. When the offender is brought out into the light for their behavior, many resort to stalking, brutalizing and eventually killing their victims.
One thing that has always been a source of astonishment to me is the ability of relationships that are supposedly built on love being some of the most violent in our society. There is currently a debate in our Tribe concerning how we handle the growing issue of drug abuse. Many argue that drug abuse is a disease that should be treated. Others contend that society should be protected from drug offenders as criminals and that offenders are best protected from themselves through incarceration. Recent special events show divisiveness in opinion and the very difficult decisions our society must make in order to address the drug problem.
The issue of domestic violence offenses is just as complex and emotional as that of drug abuse. Drug offenders will cite deficiencies in upbringing and society as reasons for their abusive nature. Domestic violence offenders will relate the same causes.
I attended a portion of the Heroin Summit hosted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and moderated by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. Listening to some of the parents and loved ones of drug addicts was gut-wrenching – Cherokee mothers and fathers, sharing their painful stories of sons and daughters who chose a substance over relationship and family. One could argue that these parents are too, victims of domestic abuse.
From the legal/prosecutorial prospective, tribal leadership is involved in strengthening protections for victims. One long-time advocate is former Tribal Council Chairperson and current EBCI Secretary of State Terri Henry. She has also served on the board of the Indian Law Resource Center. The Center reports “Indian woman are 2.5 times more likely to be assaulted and more than twice as likely to be stalked than other women in the country”. She is also a vocal and instrumental supporter of changes to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and pushed for changes to allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Native spouses and partners, which was formerly not allowed by law and created a loophole for offenders to escape legal consequences of domestic violence.
One of the speakers at the Heroin Summit was Dr. Stephen Loyd, who stated that his addiction was to heroin (he is currently 12 years clean and works with the federal government to arrest and convict drug dealers and addicts). He said one of the things that must change in our war on drugs is how we, as a society, looks at drug abusers. That may also be true for domestic violence offenders.
EBCI Attorney General Danny Davis at the same Summit, offered that, in his experience, incarceration and fines do work as a preventative measure. Society, for the most part, believes that incarceration and fines also work well in cases of domestic violence. I think there is also an element of rehabilitation and treatment that that must be enhanced in both areas. Like drug addiction, domestic violence hits all walks of life and every station of society. From the poorest to the richest, domestic violence may be found in any family.
I wish it could be as simple as telling men simply, “Don’t hit your wife”. But, family members, counselors and law enforcement have been saying this to offenders and abusers for centuries, yet, women and children, and, yes, sometimes men, still suffer. More effort needs to be placed on determining cause and effect, and society must insist on solutions that will alter mindsets as well as behavior.