Acts of domestic violence are everybody’s business
Domestic violence is not a private family matter to be hushed up, but a crime that concerns us all.
Since the 1990s, new laws like New York’s Family Violence and Intervention Act radically changed the way domestic violence cases were handled by law enforcement and the courts. These changes, including mandatory arrest, a statewide computer registry for orders of protection and increased penalties for domestic violence crimes, embodied a philosophy that domestic violence would no longer be viewed as a private “family matter.”
When public officials dismiss intimate partner violence as a “family matter” they encourage law enforcement to look the other way. This leaves abusers free to punish their victims for speaking up. A string of successful civil lawsuits lodged against municipalities in the 1970s and ’80s for their failure to protect victims of domestic violence, woke governments up to the need to change domestic violence response laws, or pay out millions of dollars in damages. Today, most of us understand the serious nature of domestic violence, and the immense harm it brings. In 2016 there were 5,184 reported cases of domestic violence in Erie County, and experts agree that many more cases go unreported. In 2016 there were 9 family violence related homicides in Erie County. In short, domestic violence is a serious crime problem that our officials must face up to.
Yet James Rogowski, a Cheektowaga councilman charged with felony criminal contempt for violation of an order of protection, seems to be living in the past. In statements to The Buffalo News and other media, he explains his behavior by saying ... “let’s not forget that this is a family matter ...” He is asking the community to look the other way when the alleged victim is his family member. Of course, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. However, no one serving in a position of public trust should trivialize domestic violence as a private “family matter.”
Judith Olin, Esq.
Director, Family Violence and Women’s
Assistant Clinical Professor,
University at Buffalo School of Law