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On Super Bowl Sunday, We Must Recognize the Barriers to Escaping Domestic Violence


On Super Bowl Sunday, We Must Recognize the Barriers to Escaping Domestic Violence

The Super Bowl is happening this weekend and, although there is insufficient evidence to support claims that incidents of domestic violence spike on Super Bowl Sunday, this myth can bring more attention to abuse in the United States, where 1.3 million women are physically assaulted in the U.S. every year by those who claim to love them. On any given Sunday, over 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines. [1]   For victims of abuse, what may be a day of celebration for others will be like any other Sunday, ending in black eyes, broken bones, and being strangled. While many eyes will be on the Super Bowl, let’s use this as an opportunity to focus on what we can do to stop and prevent this abuse.

Many people can’t imagine why someone who is being abused would stay in that situation, but if it was easy to leave, most victims would.  The reality is that when a victim attempts to leave the abuser, the abuse escalates.  A victim who leaves is 75% more likely to be killed by her abuser than victims who stay. [2]  Faced with the real possibility of being killed, many chose to stay as a survival tactic while they figure out a way to leave safely.

In order to leave safely, a victim needs to have a place to go, needs to have money to support herself independently, and needs to be able to cut all ties with the abuser.  Otherwise, she will continue to be under his control and is at risk of being killed.  In the past 20 years, the United States has passed local, state and federal laws to try to help protect victims so that they can leave abusive situations.  Legal service organizations play a crucial role in helping victims access these protections, by helping them with the complicated housing, income, family law, and immigration issues which must be sorted out before it is safe for a victim to leave her abuser.  

In Philadelphia, helping victims leave their abusers is a group effort among domestic violence agencies and legal service programs.  Women Against Abuse’s Legal Center and Philadelphia Legal Assistance are often the first lines of defense with helping victims obtain protection orders against their abusers and arranging custody, divorce and child support to help untangle the family binds that keep mothers from leaving for fear of their children being taken away either by the father or the city.  A protection from abuse order can be difficult to obtain without a lawyer.  Only 32% of victims are able to get one without legal representation, compared to 83% who are represented. [3] 

Without money to pay for moving costs and housing, or to stop evictions due to the violence against them, low-income victims risk homelessness as a result of the violence. A significant portion of homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence and many victims of violence become homeless at some point in their lives. Community Legal Services (CLS) helps victims end their leases early so that victims can escape further violence without fear of ruining their credit and their ability to rent again in the future.   CLS also helps victims who are applying for subsidized housing who were discriminated against because they were victims.

Domestic violence also makes it very difficult to maintain employment.  Victims miss a total of nearly 8 million days of paid employment each year due to hospital visits, court dates and for other reasons related to domestic violence. [4]   CLS helps victims take advantage of a city law allowing them to take off days from work to attend court hearings related to the domestic violence without losing their job.  CLS also helps victims apply for and maintain crucial cash assistance and food stamps that may have been cutoff due to the abuse and that is often the only means of support in those first few weeks after leaving. 

Victims who are not citizens often have immigration statuses that are interrelated with those of their abusers, or are afraid to come forward to report the abuse because of their immigration status.  HIAS and Nationalities Service Center can provide valuable information to victims about reporting abuse in a way that will not put them at risk for deportation, and in some instances make them eligible for immigration status that is not dependent on the abuser. 

Philadelphia’s legal services organizations work closely together to coordinate their services, support victims and put into play the legal protections that are necessary to help victims leave.  Without the support of legal services organizations, victims would likely not know of the protections available to help them, and even if they did, would be at a disadvantage in obtaining them on their own.  Studies suggest that access to legal services be a critical tool in helping domestic violence victims escape from abusive relationships and that access to counsel has helped to decrease the number of victims by as much as 21%.”[5]  Without these vital legal services, many more victims would be forced to remain.

Domestic Violence cuts across all socio-economic levels and plagues those who will be competing in the Super Bowl this weekend, those who are at home watching, and those for whom Super Bowl Sunday is just another Sunday.  The difference is that income can make the difference between being trapped in abuse or not.  Before we judge victims for staying, we should take a moment this Super Bowl Sunday to recognize the barriers faced by a victim who wants to leave – possible death, loss of custody, homelessness, poverty, losing a job, deportation, and shame at having to explain to the rest of us the reality of a situation we often don’t want to contemplate for its utter despair. 


[1] Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey (November 2000), page iv.

[2] Quick Facts about DV, Lutheran Settlement House (

[3] Jennifer S. Rosenberg and Denise A. Grab, Supporting Survivors: The Economic Benefits of Providing Civil Legal Assistance to Survivors of Domestic Violence, Institute for Policy Integrity, New York University School of Law (July 2015), page 7.

[4] Civil Legal Aid Supports Federal Efforts to Help Prevent Domestic Violence (

[5] Amy Farmer and Jill Tiefenthaler, Explaining the Recent Decline in Domestic Violence, 21 Contemp. Econ. Pol’y. 158 (April 2003).