The College of William and Mary Women’s Law Society hosted a community discussion Thursday about
women’s safety in domestic violence cases in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Entitled “How to Keep Women Safe,” the discussion featured Virginia State Senator, defense lawyer and adjunct law professor Tommy Norment, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker, Virginia Attorney Jane Sherman Chambers J.D. ’92, and Executive Director of the Avalon Center for Women and Children Sarah Meacham, all of whom spoke on the prevention and handling of domestic violence cases.
According to Decker, prevention not only includes public awareness, but also police and attorney training in the handling of victims as well.
“You can never make that victim whole. The only way to make that victim whole is for them not to be a victim,” Decker said.
According to Chambers, when police or attorneys handle victims incorrectly, a victim often recants or withdraws from the case. When a victim recants, officials sometimes charge him or her with filing a false police report.
“If a victim gets convicted [of filing a false police report], you can use that against them any time they may make it into trial again,” Chambers said. “Sometimes you just have to salvage what you can and hope that next time things turn out differently.”
The speakers also discussed the best methods for prevention. Decker and Norment stressed the importance of taking self-defense classes and being willing to use what you learn.
“I think the best prevention method is an aggressive education campaign,” Decker said. “You are teaching the potential vulnerable victims how not to be vulnerable.”
Norment offered a father’s perspective, saying, “If you are out at night, know where the little blue phones are.”
If an instance of domestic violence is not preventable, the speakers agreed that the proper handling of and aid to victims is essential. Avalon provides these services.
“[We ensure that] no matter who a woman is, or where in the Commonwealth she lives, that she has a safe
place to go and an opportunity to make a life for herself and her children,” Meacham said.
Lastly, the speakers stressed that domestic violence is not gender exclusive and that men should be educated about prevention as well.
“We have to make it open and receptive for [men] to contribute,” Meacham said.