Each year in Maine, domestic violence accounts for approximately half of the state’s homicides. Every 1 hour and 35 minutes, a domestic violence assault is reported to Maine law enforcement — and many other assaults go unreported.
With statistics like these, it can be easy to become discouraged about the prospect of never ending abuse for good. But the news isn’t all bad; in fact, we have reason to be hopeful for the future:
- Public awareness is translating into action. Each of us has a part to play in ending abuse. More and more, communities and individuals are figuring out what their roles should be, and then acting on them. Maine employers and hospitals are instituting protocols to respond to employees and patients when abuse is present. Cosmetology schools are training their students in how to respond and refer when clients disclose abuse in the salon. Individual citizens are volunteering as advocates, writing letters to the editor and throwing fundraisers. It will take broad support from across sectors for us to truly send the message that abuse is wrong and is not welcome in our communities, and slowly but surely we are getting there.
- People are asking the right questions. Asking “Why doesn’t the victim just leave” is dangerous: Up to 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen at the time of separation, or after the victim has left. It’s not that people can’t escape abusive relationships — they do, every day — but we must not fall into the trap of assuming leaving is the solution to the problem. Thanks in part to the online campaign #WhyIStayed, more people outside of the advocacy community are understanding the need to shift this conversation. They are now asking “How can we help survivors be safe?” and “How can we hold offenders accountable for their actions?” Those are the right questions, and the ones that will lead to ending abuse.
- Children are resilient. We have known for many years that exposure to domestic violence is harmful for kids, even if they themselves are not directly experiencing the abuse. Emerging research is shedding light on the complexity of abuse’s impact on children’s lives, and is teaching us about protective factors — in other words, the things kids need to recover from their exposure. The single most important factor in helping a child deal with the trauma of domestic violence? A strong relationship with at least one loving, caring adult. Frequently this support comes from the non-abusive parent, who often works hard to give the children a normal, happy life, even amidst the abuse. But other adults — grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches — can also play a crucial role. By educating ourselves about what children need and supporting kids and their non-abusive parents, we are helping ensure that what was once thought of as an inevitable cycle of abuse is broken for the next generation.
- We are targeting our resources. Increasingly, Maine’s advocacy, law enforcement and justice systems are utilizing specialized approaches to identify the highest risk cases of domestic violence, and then are focusing particular energy and resources on those cases. One example is the Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (ODARA), which went into use by all of Maine’s law enforcement officers on January 1 of this year and predicts the risk that someone arrested for domestic violence will re-offend. By focusing our collective attention on the highest-risk cases, we are better able to intervene to keep families safe, before the worst happens.
- Help is available. The member agencies of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence continue to offer 24/7 access to advocacy services throughout the state. Survivors can pick up the phone at any time, dial their local resource center or the statewide helpline (1.866.834.4357) and reach help. The members of the Wabanaki Women’s Coalition provide response services to Maine’s tribal communities, and United Somali Women of Maine exists to support the new Mainer communities dealing with domestic and sexual violence. Together, Maine’s advocates are working around the clock to provide the support, safety planning and services that survivors need to be safe.
It is true that we have a long way to go to end domestic violence in Maine, and too many people are suffering right now from abuse. But recent years have brought progress. Fresh energy, ideas and partnerships have come from different sectors of the community, offering new opportunities for outreach and intervention. Advocates continue to learn and adapt practices to suit the evolving needs of survivors.
Together, we can make Maine a place where domestic violence doesn’t exist. We just have to keep on working.