Campus & Community

Fighting domestic violence: One way that Community Gifts helps others

3 min read

Diane Rosenfeld, through her work at Harvard, has found a way to help many.

Social justice and civil rights protection of domestic violence victims are at the core of Rosenfeld’s work, both as a lecturer at Harvard Law School (HLS) and as an activist with Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

In 2005 Rosenfeld, with her HLS interns, began a significant collaboration with Jane Doe — work that involved studying domestic violence in Massachusetts and the disturbing trend of rising domestic homicide rates. “Domestic violence is a crime that is uniquely escalative,” says Rosenfeld. “We need to treat every domestic violence case as potentially lethal.”

The research with Jane Doe shows that deaths from domestic violence in Massachusetts tripled from 2005 to 2007. This critical datum prompted Gov. Deval Patrick to issue a statewide public health advisory on domestic violence — “the first of its kind in the country,” says Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe.

A huge success, by all accounts, if not for the struggling economy.

The frightening increase in homicides, coupled with the flailing economy, marks an especially tumultuous time for organizations like Jane Doe. Advocates fear that an economic downturn places more domestic violence victims in danger because of added strains at home. Unfortunately, these stories are already making headlines across the country.

But there are new initiatives in preventing such traumatic events in Massachusetts. “A recent law allowing judges to order GPS monitoring of domestic violence offenders is helping to enforce the terms of an order of protection,” Rosenfeld says. Rosenfeld, along with her clinical students and Jane Doe, partnered to achieve this law, and several states are following with similar legislation.

The 60-plus community-based programs that comprise Jane Doe provide extensive support across the board for domestic violence victims. These and other efforts, however, are too often marred by the many batterers who violate their orders of protection, and by a legal system that permits these trespasses to go unpunished. “In recent years, the legal rights of women to be protected against male sexual violence have become weaker, not stronger. … If we wish to right the current imbalance, we need to look for new approaches,” Rosenfeld notes in an article published in the current issue of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

Although it’s clear that the road ahead is a long one for everyone involved, Rosenfeld says, “Years of study of domestic violence homicides has enabled the development of risk assessments that can be easily administered by law enforcement and others involved in the justice system to identify which cases present a significant continuing danger to the woman.”

“That’s where Jane Doe comes in — as the statewide coalition working on the big picture of public policy, practice, and prevention,” adds Lauby.

Lauby continues: “Jane Doe is thrilled to have Diane and the HLS interns as research partners in our efforts.”

Jane Doe is one of the member agencies of Community Works, an umbrella organization of 32 local social justice organizations in Massachusetts. Executive Director Fran Froehlich says: “The work of Jane Doe saves lives, strengthens community, and nourishes efforts to make change. This is true of the entire membership of Community Works. I am always deeply touched by the generosity of those who give through our annual campaign at Harvard. I trust that even though these are difficult times this generosity will continue.”

You may donate to Jane Doe Inc. and/or Community Works through the Community Gifts Through Harvard campaign, which runs through the month of November.