DEAR ABBY: You have recently been printing items with regard to domestic violence. Although it is not widely known, a new federal law dealing with this issue became effective in late 1996. It is known as the "Violence Against Women Act."
It allows a lawsuit for money damages to be brought against an abuser as a civil rights action, if the abuse was a gender-motivated crime and the crime was felonious in nature. This is important because usually in actions for damages, the individual collecting the damages must pay her own attorney's fee. In civil rights litigation, the opposing party must pay your fees. -- A (MALE) DIVORCE LAWYER IN FLORIDA
DEAR COUNSELOR: Bless you for taking the time to alert my readers to the existence of the federal Violence Against Women Act. I was not aware of it -- and I'm sure it will be news to many people.
Steps are being taken on so many fronts to battle this scourge. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Greetings from the great state of New Mexico. As you stated in your column, domestic violence can occur in any family at any level of our society. And it must be dealt with by an equally broad spectrum of the population.
You asked the pertinent question, "Why is he using violence?" As was pointed out in a previous letter, violence begets violence. It is a continuing message our society sends to all of its children through television shows and movies that use violence, often murder, as the solution to problems.
Until we can change the vision of violence presented as entertainment to our children, there are shorter-term steps we can take as a community to end domestic violence. In New Mexico (in which 46 percent of all female homicides are the result of domestic violence), our Legislature has taken steps to protect the victims. It passed a bill that makes stalking a crime. The Legislature has also passed laws that prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against women who have been treated for domestic abuse, and that allow women to file for protective orders in the court without paying a fee.
These new laws exist because of the dedicated lobbying efforts of the Violence Against Women Task Force, a group of concerned professionals that I formed to address domestic violence and sexual assault in New Mexico. More important, the laws would not have been possible without the participants who shared their own stories -- many painful to relive -- to make us aware of the shortcomings and gaps in the system.
I hope our experience in New Mexico encourages other communities to unite against a common enemy and take action against domestic violence. -- TOM UDALL, NEW MEXICO ATTORNEY GENERAL
DEAR ATTORNEY GENERAL UDALL: You and the legislators of the great state of New Mexico are to be commended for putting those timely laws in place. Perhaps your letter will inspire lawmakers in other states to consider similar legislation, if they haven't already done so. It might save some lives.