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Image courtesy of the Wasington Post.

“Why didn’t she just leave?” This is the question people ask about domestic violence survivors all the time. Somehow it is so incongruent with our way of thinking that we just blurt the question out. We shout out to the TV or say to our friends, “If a man ever hit me, it would be the last time,” without really thinking about what the woman’s home life is like.  Does she have family around to help her, or did her abuser isolate her far away? Does she have a job? Does she have a car? Does she have any money? Does she have children with this man? Where would she and her children stay and for how long? Is she in love with him? Is she so emotionally abused that she no longer has the confidence in herself to think she has value? Is it safer for her to stay than leave?

The moment a woman decides to leave her abuser and then does so is the most dangerous time for her. By the time you go to bed tonight, three of your fellow female passengers in this wonderful world will be dead due to domestic violence. Death by domestic violence is often done by strangulation because it is intimate and quiet, the ultimate power and control as her life seeps out due to his hands around her throat. The other methods are gunfire or stabbing. These are horrific, violent deaths, yet Fox News anchors recently made fun of Janay Rice, the wife of now disgraced NFL football player Ray Rice, for taking the elevator with her then fiancé where he punched her in the face, knocking her unconscious and then dragging her across the lobby, all on video. One of the anchors quipped, “Lesson learned: next time take the stairs.”

How about this? “Lesson learned: Domestic violence is UNACCEPTABLE.” Why couldn’t the Fox News anchor “be a man” and stand up for the family values the network is so fond of espousing on their show? We give harsher penalties for marijuana use than domestic assault in the NFL. So, by their rationale, it is far more offensive for a player to be high than it is for him to punch a woman in the face, knocking her unconscious. I know of no other situation where a substance that is prescribed for medicinal purposes is more offensive than brutally attacking a woman.

This highlights the need for better public education about what domestic violence is (it is verbal abuse, it is threatening, it is financial abuse, it is emotional abuse, it is physical abuse — such as kicking, punching, slapping, choking, raping) and how to prevent it. We start by publicly saying “UNACCEPTABLE!” whenever anyone, no matter how famous, no matter how powerful, no matter how rich or talented, hurts someone. We punish them appropriately, seriously, and swiftly with real consequences. We don’t wait until a video surfaces and the public outcry leads our actions. We punish domestic violence offenders because it is the right thing to do.

So, I’ll turn the oft-asked question around to you, the public: Why didn’t you just punish the guy appropriately the first time?

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