Courageous women and men chronicling the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our society are demonstrating the power of collective outrage. But will the force of #metoo reach those without notoriety or financial means to seek justice?
Many of those going public about sexual harassment are from the entertainment, sports or political world. When they speak, people know who they are – or who they’re making allegations against. Their stories make the evening news and trend on Twitter.
They aren’t the silent victims you ride the bus with every day or see at the grocery store. They aren’t hiding from their abuser in a shelter for battered women or on a relative’s couch. They aren’t dead because an intimate partner’s sexual aggression turned violent.
An estimated one third of King County residents will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence. Yet victims of domestic violence live in fear and may never speak out about the abuse – be it sexual, physical or psychological.
So today, while the nation’s psyche is fixated on the #metoo moment, we must intensify efforts to help silent sufferers of domestic violence – the ones who live next door or down the street.
Their lives are at stake.
In the 10-year period between 2006 and 2015, there were 563 deaths in Washington from domestic violence. Nearly a quarter of them occurred in King County, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
From our work with domestic violence survivors in King County, we know that at least some of those deaths might have been prevented had the victims sought help. Not just help that comes from a 911 call, but civil legal advice that helps victims achieve independence and feel safe again.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg agrees prosecution alone isn’t enough to help victims recover. “For many vulnerable people,” he suggests, “real help is found in the civil legal system, where they can address a myriad of legal issues related to their abuse, including housing, family law and employment security.”
Last year Satterberg’s office and five civil legal aid providers launched Project Safety, which places trained advocates at the King County Courthouses to help sexual assault and domestic violence survivors find the legal help they need.
It’s progress, but there’s more we must do. Too many times women are forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship or slipping into poverty and homelessness. That shouldn’t be a choice anyone has to make.
Yet oftentimes, people who need help the most either don’t recognize there is a legal solution to their problem or aren’t aware that free legal aid services are available to them.
It’s on all of us to change that.
We can reach out when we see someone hurting, we can listen without judgment and we can let them know how to get help. We can leverage the heightened awareness sparked by the #metoo movement to speak up for the silent sufferers of domestic violence. And we can be advocates for programs and policies that support everyone’s right to justice, regardless of their ability to pay.
In the end, it’s all about taking care of each other — and we can do that too.
Gerald Shepherd Kröon is the Executive Director of the Eastside Legal Assistance Program, which provides free civil legal assistance to low-income survivors of domestic violence throughout King County www.elap.org.