Recently, the Arkansas Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section published two guides on domestic violence, one for survivors and another for attorneys, judges, and clerks. Both “Domestic Violence: A Practical Guide for Navigating the Legal System in Arkansas” and “Domestic Violence: A Practical Guide for Attorneys, Judges, and Court Clerks” can be accessed for free here: http://www.arkbar.com/for-public/legal-assistance/legal-pamphlets.
Domestic Violence in Arkansas
Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is a national problem. Each year, more than 10,000,000 people are physically abused by an intimate partner. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some kind of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
Arkansas has struggled to properly address domestic violence. Today, 36% of Arkansas adults have been victims of some form of domestic violence. The state’s high rate of gun ownership may exacerbate this problem, given that the presence of a gun in a violent household increases the risk of homicide by 500%. Statewide, over half of domestic violence murders of women are committed with guns.
However, there does appear to be some progress. In 2009, Arkansas was ranked the 4th worst state in the nation in terms of females murdered by males in single-victim/single-offender situations (often domestic violence situations); it is now ranked 28th.
In 2015, the Arkansas legislature passed four bills focused on domestic violence. Act 877, Laura’s Law, requires that law enforcement responding to domestic violence conduct a lethality assessment. If a victim’s life is in danger, s/he is referred to a shelter or intervention program. Act 873 requires that officers dispense “Laura’s Card,” a card containing information about victims’ rights and assistance options as well as the officer’s name, badge number, and contact information. Act 876 requires those investigating domestic violence to do so in a way that allows prosecutors to charge the offense independent of the victim’s testimony (i.e. even if the victim is unavailable). Act 952 mandated that health classes in public schools include a dating violence unit.
The New Guides
Nonetheless, many survivors of domestic violence in Arkansas continue to struggle with achieving assistance and justice. “[They] have a really hard time accessing the court system,” explained Matthew Fryar, chair of the Young Lawyers Section of the Arkansas Bar Association. “They have typically been run out of their home. They have the clothes on their back, maybe a credit card, they can’t afford a lawyer, and as much as all the pro bono lawyers would love to help every domestic violence survivor in the state, there’s just not enough lawyers in the state.”
The ABA’s guide for survivors is designed to provide affected individuals with “step-by-step guidance through various legal issues, from obtaining protective orders through preserving their rights as a victim during their abusers’ prosecutions,” Fryar said.
The guide for legal professionals outlines ethical duties and both civil and criminal legal avenues for domestic violence situations.
20,000 copies of the survivors’ guide have been printed and will be distributed to shelters, libraries, circuit courts, the Arkansas Coalition on Domestic Violence, and other service providers. The project was funded with help from Walmart, Tyson, the Arkansas Bar Association Family Law Section, and the American Bar Association.
Undoubtedly, continued attention to and funding of domestic violence intervention is necessary to insure that Arkansas continues to improve in this area.