Our program featured Jill Zinckgraf who is the Executive Director and CEO of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Warren County (DASACC). She has seen many changes during her career but unfortunately many things remain the same. The ERA is a proposed amendment to the US Constitution stating that civil rights may not be denied on the basis of one's sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. It was proposed in 1972 but is still not a part of the Constitution because 15 states have still not ratified the amendment.
The Battered Women’s Movement in the 1970s brought increased attention to the issue of domestic abuse but in 1980 marital rape was still legal in 44 states. A landmark court decision in 1977 marked the first time that “battered women’s syndrome” was successfully used when Francis Hughs Wilson was ruled not guilty of murdering her abusive husband. She was determined to be not guilty by reason of temporary insanity in the famous case of the burning bed. Tracey Thurman successfully sued the Torrington, CT city police in 1985 for having failed to protect her from her husband’s violence which permanently scarred and partially paralyzed her.
The US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a report identifying domestic violence as a “leading cause of injury to women... more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.” In 1994, the US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as part of the Federal Crime Bill. VAWA funds services for victims of domestic violence and rape and provides training to increase police and court officials’ sensitivity to domestic violence. Other Acts would follow on national and local levels.
The problem however has not diminished. Domestic abuse levels are the same today as they were decades ago. COVID-19 has only made things worse. Emergency shelter bed nights are up by 67%. Sheltering itself has increased 188%. There is a long road ahead. It will entail a cultural change. We must learn to think differently as a society. Victims must be believed. Listen sympathetically and ask how to help.