Domestic Violence: Turning “Why does she stay?” into “How can I help?”

In the wake of the public release of video showing an American football player punching his then-fiancé in the face and dragging her unconscious out of an elevator, the issue of domestic violence is again in the spotlight. The hashtag #WhyIStayed became one of the top, non-promoted U.S. Hashtags on twitter this week, joined shortly after by the hashtag #WhyILeft. (For one woman’s poignant and eloquent answer to both questions, see Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave.) But for donors focused on impact, the more important question is “How can I help?” Here’s how:

Strengthen the Criminal Justice System’s Response

Susan B. Sorenson, public health specialist, national expert on violence prevention and the director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence points to two common misperceptions which compromise the handling of domestic violence cases. According to Dr. Sorenson:

  • ‘She didn’t press charges’ is often used as a reason for why charges aren’t brought against abusers. However, when domestic abusers are charged with felony assault, it’s a criminal offense which does not require a victim to press charges.
  • Too often, prosecutors and the public believe that requiring an abuser to participate in counseling is sufficient to address the abuse.  According to Dr. Sorensen, there is little evidence that either individual counseling or group counseling of batterers is effective. “Given the lack of evidence, participation in such programs should not be used as a replacement for criminal charges.”

How can you help? For more than 30 years, Futures Without Violence has engaged in path-breaking work to address domestic and other types of violence. Among their many efforts, their judicial education programs work with a broad range of criminal justice professionals –  including judges, attorneys and advocates –  to ensure consequences for abusers and safety for victims.

Prevent Domestic Violence in the First Place


As its name implies, Futures Without Violence has a long record of programs, policy efforts, and public campaigns to prevent domestic violence, for example through interventions that teach young people about healthy relationships. Preventing domestic violence is also the goal of many nonprofit members of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the two big, US-based coalitions.

One organization is using the power of multi-media to raise awareness of domestic violence and reframe how men and women can prevent it. Breakthrough,the 2014 Lipman Family Prize winner, has developed community programs and award-winning campaigns like Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) in India and “Be That Guy” in the U.S. to illustrate how all members of society can prevent abuse by creating the kind of social pressure that makes violence against women socially unacceptable.