Vol. 26, No. 11
CBA President's Message to Members
Family Violence: A Colorado Plague
by Rebecca Koppes Conway
Let one lawyer tell you her story.
"I come to the door of my house; every time, I stop. I pray that when I open the door he is gone.
"I still do that, even though we divorced more than four years ago. The divorce took three years. During that time, I could find him in my house at any time.
"He says he has not been back since the divorce was final. I don't know. I think I find things have been moved. Things are missing. Hyper-vigilant is exactly how you would describe me.
"It didn't start this way. He was charming. He is also a lawyer. He hit me for the first time ten years ago. I talked too long on the telephone. Before that, I had started answering for every minute of every day in fear the hitting would start.
"I tried to make things peaceful. I had children. And now I am certain you are asking the 'why-didn't-you-just-leave' question. I am a lawyer. I know about proof. I know many times I questioned whether I could prove what was happening. To this day, I don't know that I could.
"I tried to convince him to leave. I tried to get out. I had children. It is an incredible nuisance to get little kids up and around when you want to go somewhere. Try doing it in the middle of the night with a maniac screaming at and hitting you.
"And, try imagining how embarrassing it was. After all, only poor, ignorant women get beat up, right?
"Even now, I am not revealing my name. You may not know I ever had an injury. I had the teeth that were knocked out replaced. I claimed I had the flu when I had a black eye.
"That was an accident. Usually, he hit the back of my head so it wouldn't show.
"You may figure out who I am. To this day, I don't tell many people. I don't think you can understand me. Oh, and how did I finally get out?
"I told him I didn't think I cared anymore if I died, but I was not going to let these children grow up with this.
"Now, I just pray when I open the door to my house that he doesn't take me up on that."
I received this in the mail recently. It was from someone I had known for years. I was surprised at first, saddened, and then resolved. I ask your help in supporting the efforts against family violence that the Colorado Bar Association has undertaken. This includes a request to the Colorado legislature for funds in the amount of $1 million for legal services for victims of family violence.
We need your support.
Why? The law is involved in every aspect of this issue, from prevention to criminal enforcement to rehabilitation. Some of our clients are survivors and some are perpetrators. As can be seen from the letter printed above, some lawyers are themselves victims and abusers.
How Bad is the Problem?
In Colorado in 1996, domestic violence service providers had room for 6,589 clients. The providers turned away 7,957 others because shelters were full.
Service providers in the state also answered nearly 30,000 crisis calls and fielded about 85,000 information and referral calls.
Sadder still is this statistic: in 1996, seventy-two people in Colorado died in family-violence-related deaths.
Any one of them could have been your sister, your cousin, your next-door neighbor, your law partner.
Domestic violence does not fit compactly into a syndrome, nor do its victims. We do not know how many suffer, but we know enough to understand that, as members of the legal profession, we cannot stand around while persons are caught in the intricacies of the system. Even the sophisticated, educated, and accomplished can be victims. We cannot oversimplify the consequences of repeated abuse.
The right to be free from bodily harm is still a relatively new concept, though. The "rule of thumb" used to mean a man could beat a woman with an object as long as the object was no wider than the circumference of his thumb. A North Carolina decision nullified the husband's rights under the rule of thumb, but the husband was still "obliged" to teach the wife her place in society. Now we are still undoing that "obligation."
Legal Services Funding Must be Increased
In Colorado, we have had much progressive action against this plague, but there is more to do.
The request for funding for legal services from the legislature is one step. If it was this difficult for someone with all the resources of a law degree to get out of an abusive relationship, think about those who aren't that sophisticated. For all of you who have said, "Good luck," when I mentioned the legislation in my remarks at your bar visit, and now upon reading this article, it is not hopeless.
I remain convinced that after getting this request through the state Senate, that we can get it through the House. We need the right sponsors, and we get those through a strong showing of support and help. With our members who are leaders in every community in this state, we should be able to garner that support. We need your community contacts. Please call either me or Michael Valdez at the Colorado Bar Association: (303) 860-1115 or (800) 332-6736. We need your help.
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