In the 18th and early 19th centuries, an engraved metal plaque known as a firemark was widely used in both America and Great Britain to indicate that a structure carried fire insurance. Homes and businesses not bearing the firemark were commonly left to burn; often the fire brigades would pass them by in full blaze.
Today this practice would never be tolerated, but picking and choosing whom to save from crisis was the cornerstone of Congress' motivation for not reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this past December.
VAWA is the foundation of our nation's response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and because of VAWA, millions of victims have received lifesaving services and support. It includes everything from legal assistance for victims of domestic violence to funding for community programs dedicated to combating violence.
The reason for VAWA's rejection by Congress was the proposed expansion of the Act to include same sex couples, illegal immigrants and Native Americans living on reservations. Paradoxically, groups like the immigrant population can be the most at-risk because fear of deportation causes many crimes to go unreported.
Picking and choosing whom to protect from violence sets a dangerous precedent. Domestic violence is not easily contained behind closed doors and no one is safe when these abusive circumstances spiral out of control.
As a DuPage County-based social service agency serving nearly 2,000 individuals annually who are affected by domestic violence, Family Shelter Service well understands the long-range and far-reaching effects of this scourge on society. No one can predict who or why this will affect one in three women during their lifetime; but we can work to be sure that everyone is protected equally and can claim the right to work toward a safer future if they so desire. We should never be satisfied with a society that refuses the protection of law enforcement, the judicial system and other important resources to selected members of our society.
Predictably, the use of firemarks died out in the early 1800s, when the realization dawned that ignoring a fire in one home could mean the loss of adjoining homes as well. By promoting a culture of peace, where violence is not tolerated and all victims are protected, everyone will benefit.
—Karen Hurley Kuchar, Executive Director, Family Shelter Service