I couldn't keep my blood pressure down reading about the "boyfriend loophole," the laws in 35 states that allow people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to buy a gun. It's called the boyfriend loophole because if the couple was married or had kids, laws would keep this convict from being able to purchase a gun. It's especially scary when you know that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of a male partner, and when that partner has access to a gun, the abuser is 500 percent more likely to succeed in killing his partner.
(Man, the name "the boyfriend loophole" makes it sound way more fun than it actually is, right?)
Writing for Women in the World in association with the New York Times last Friday, Allison Maloney drove home the importance of the Violence Policy Center's latest report, "When Men Kill Women," in her discussion of the boyfriend loophole. We know that violence against women is still a huge problem — but things like the boyfriend loophole are especially frustrating because of how frequently pro-gun politicians say that guns help women defend themselves against predators. The horrible reality is that guns are far more likely to be used against women than for the protection of women.
So: What's to be done about it?
You can demand that Congress put a stop to this boyfriend loophole by donating to Violence Policy Center or by contacting your local representative about the issue. But even if stricter gun laws are put in place, violence against women remains a major, serious issue. Here's a list of ideas to help you fight it:
1. Become a volunteer for your local women's shelter.
You can also usually donate funds, food, or blankets to the shelter. If there isn't a shelter in your town, suggest that your school, church, or community center begin a program to start one. Or, if that's not possible, start a domestic violence watchdog group in your neighborhood that is committed to helping women who reach out with the resources they need to leave an abusive relationship — for instance, this group might volunteer free babysitting services for mothers who want to leave a violent situation (since many mothers stay in abusive relationships because they can't support their children by themselves).
2. Have your workplace join in the fight.
Start a fundraiser, and talk to your HR department about resources they can offer to employees that may be dealing with domestic violence.
3. Learn the warning signs for domestic violence.
Look out for them in your friends' relationships — and your own. Learn how to talk to your friends in an non-judgmental way if you're worried they may be in an unhealthy relationship.
4. Print out resources for domestic violence victims.
And place them in frequently trafficked community centers like grocery store bulletin boards and coffee shops. Here are some great printables to start with.
5. Intervene when you see it happening.
It can be really scary to break up a physical altercation when you see or hear it going on — I completely understand that. In most cases, it's best to call the police immediately instead of getting involved yourself. However, in some cases, it can help to approach the situation with a group, and in a way that doesn't call attention to the abuse going on (which might worsen the abuse for the victim). For instance, if you hear a physical fight going on in the apartment above you and it doesn't involve a dangerous weapon, you can try ringing the doorbell and asking for a cup of sugar. Even if you don't get involved directly, try documenting it by writing down the dates, times, dialog, and injuries — it can be a helpful resource for victims if they want to press charges.