For the past twenty years, Amy Barasch ’86, an attorney and professor at SUNY Albany's School of Social Welfare, has been on the front lines combating domestic violence. In September she stepped down as executive director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
BAM What drew you to this issue?
AB I was working as a
journalist in France for three years and was in some ways putting off
going to law school. My father was an attorney and had always said,
“Don’t become a lawyer.” It was only a couple of years after college
that I realized he didn’t really mean that—he loved being a lawyer. I
just probably wanted to be a different kind of lawyer than he was. I’d
always been interested in women’s issues generally, but it was at law
school that I realized that domestic violence was one area where we
hadn’t made as much progress as we should have.
BAM Have we made more progress since then?
AB It’s a complicated
question. We have a lot of definitions out there of domestic violence.
It’s a challenge to compare data from year to year. We have an
accounting problem. That being said, we do know we have made some
enormous strides. The number of homicides has gone down over the past
twenty-five years. And we’ve seen important legislative changes. A lot
of the legal progress is due to the federal Violence Against Women Act.
BAM As executive director
of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence,
you played a major role in the passage of a strangulation law in 2010.
Why did we need one?
AB We were certainly one
of the fingers on the scale. The nature of strangulation is, if the
offender releases their grip soon, the victim might have been seconds
away from death, but there would be almost no evidence that anything
happened. Officers knew they were seeing a lot of strangulation
incidents in the field, but if the victim was lucky and emerged
relatively unharmed, then all they could charge was a low-level
misdemeanor, even though the intent was to kill or let the victim know
she could be killed. Now it’s a felony.
BAM How can we make more progress in ending domestic violence?
AB I actually think the
piece we’re missing is engaging the general public in understanding
what this problem is and understanding what their role can be in
stopping it. When an ordinary person recognizes that a friend may be
being hurt by their partner, I don’t think people have any idea what to
do about that, how to think about that, or whether it’s even their
responsibility to get involved. Most people don’t really know who to
call, other than the police, and many victims don’t necessarily want
the criminal justice system involved in their lives. When by all
accounts at least half of all domestic violence victims do not report
what happened to them, it really has to be the job of neighbors,
family, and friends to be part of the solution.
Violence Against Women
By Lawrence Goodman / November/December 2013
October 30th, 2013