Earlier this week, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded its prestigious Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism to the Post and Courier, a small Charleston, South Carolina newspaper, for its investigation series, “Till Death Do Us Part”. The seven part series, which provides an in depth examination of domestic violence in South Carolina, focused on the high rate of domestic violence related deaths in South Carolina, the impact of domestic violence on survivors, the impact of culture on domestic violence, the inadequate protections of the current laws, and the lack of resources for survivors in the state.
The series also examined and proposed solutions to these problems by analyzing other states that have been more successful at combatting domestic violence and addressing its serious collateral consequences. One of the biggest problems identified in the article was the lack of resources, communication, and coordination, which leaves dangerous gaps in the web of support for domestic violence survivors.
Recent media reports involving public figures and celebrities have brought a new spot light on domestic violence and the importance of holistic solutions, but it has long been a serious problem plaguing our communities. The District of Columbia is no exception. In 2014, there were 19 recorded domestic violence homicides and over 5,000 civil protection order filings. At Legal Aid, we too have witnessed a growing number of survivors seeking our assistance—in 2014, we experienced a 17% increase in the number of domestic violence intakes at the Domestic Violence Intake Center in Southeast D.C.
Under the current domestic violence laws in the District of Columbia, survivors have legal resources for protection, such as criminal cases, Civil Protection Orders, and criminal enforcement of the orders, as well as non-legal resources, such as shelter and moving costs through Crime Victims Compensation. Furthermore, there are a variety of non-legal advocacy groups which provide additional resources to survivors of domestic violence including counseling, shelter, and free forensic nurse examinations.
Without the proper knowledge however, victims cannot access these services. Legal Aid is well positioned not only to provide legal services for survivors but also to assist them in accessing the resources that they need. As a member of the D.C. Victim Assistance Network, Legal Aid has relationships with both legal and non-legal resource providers; we assist our clients as they navigate the legal system and refer them to partner organizations that can assist with providing support such as temporary shelter and counseling.
“Till Death Do Us Part” included compelling first-hand accounts from survivors of domestic violence —some who managed to escape a cycle of abuse, and others who did not. As a legal services attorney who represents survivors on a daily basis, those stories resonated with me and reminded me of some of the clients I have had the privilege to represent over the past several years. I am heartened by the attention that the Pulitzer Prize will draw to this series, and to the important issue it covers.