Under Mississippi state law, it is too easy to get away with abusing animals and spouses. And too often, the same people do both.
Our cover story last issue was about animal abuse and how the Legislature failed to make it a felony to commit violence against our four-legged friends. But a domestic-violence expert pointed out to us last week that it is hard to expect the Legislature to strengthen laws against animal abuse when you can't get lawmakers to do enough to protect abused families, and make it easier to leave the father or mother who abuses them.
She has a point.
The Jackson Free Press is on an indefinite campaign to educate our readers about the weak protections that state law provides against many types of domestic abuse—laws that are incrementally getting better, thanks to the tireless work of legislators like Rep. Brandon Jones of Pascagoula and Sen. David Blount of Jackson. But there is much more to do.
Specifically, it is time to tackle that third rail of laws that inhibit a family's ability to get to safety: the divorce laws. You mention divorce laws to many in this state, even progressives, and they get a scared look on their faces. It seems that, just like with animal abuse, too many lawmakers still believe that men should have the right to do anything they want with their "property"—and that, tragically, includes their wives and children, in addition to animals.
It is time to stop tiptoeing around this issue and believing that lawmakers cannot see the light and take the action needed to make families safer. But we won't get there by being afraid of talking about the need for divorce-law reform in Mississippi because we fear backlash from religious zealots and political demagogues who use the lives of Mississippi's families as a political wedge issue.
The state's media and even organizations that purport to uplift women have also been guilty of pulling punches that need to land on people who are stopping progress on family violence. The JFP's Ronni Mott and intern Sophie McNeil exposed in 2008 that Gov. Haley Barbour had pardoned a series of violent killers of wives and girlfriends; to this day, other state media have not called out the governor for this atrocious pattern.
Just as "gradualism" was not the answer during the Civil Rights Movement, this fear of offending the powerful will not keep families safer, or send the message that Mississippi is serious about ending domestic abuse. A united, blatantly honest, straightforward effort to change the laws and backward attitudes, will—even if it offends a few people along the way.
Please lend your voice to this campaign.