More work to be done with domestic violence

By: 
Heidi Barrett — Guest Columnist
Monday, October 21, 2019
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Guest columnist

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which first began in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) as a Day of Unity to connect women’s advocates across the country.

Domestic violence affects millions, both women and men, of every race, religion, culture and status. It’s not just physical abuse — it’s yelling, humiliation, stalking, manipulation, coercion, threats and isolation. It’s stealing a paycheck, keeping tabs online, non-stop texting, constant use of the silent treatment, or calling someone names so often they believe they are not worthy of love. And, domestic violence can also mean death for its victims.

Since the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed in 1994, we’ve come a long way. This landmark legislation, led by then-Senator Joe Biden, combined new provisions that hold offenders accountable and provide programs and services for victims. Between 1993 and 2010, the overall rate of domestic violence dropped nearly two-thirds, and state laws have reformed to address issues such as dating abuse in the workplace, stalking, employment discrimination and more.

The statistics from the NCADV, however, show there is more work to be done. One in three women have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. Twenty people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. On a typical day there are more than 20,000 calls made to crisis centers. Seventy-two percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female

And most disturbing — the presence of a gun in a domestic violence dispute increases the risk of homicide by 500%. In a state like Montana, where there is easy access to firearms, this statistic is alarming. According to data from the Johns Hopkins University, the link between domestic violence and mass shootings is staggering: 54% of mass shootings in the United States stem from domestic violence.

ASPEN’s mission is to provide support services to victims and survivors of domestic abuse and help them create safe healthy lives for themselves and their children. We can offer emergency shelter and access to many resources. ASPEN is also committed to breaking the cycle of violence by providing educational and awareness activities focused on violence prevention to school-age children and the community at large. One thing, however, we cannot do is take a firearm from an abuser. We need lawmakers to make that possible.

Up to 77% of Americans support red flag laws which would allow a family member to obtain a court order to temporarily remove a firearm from an owner if they are believed to be a threat to themselves or to others. And even more Americans support laws that would prevent abusers from owning a gun if they had an order of protection against them. Red flag laws would only affect gun owners who were exhibiting violent behaviors; other owners would be unaffected.

As Montanans, I know we collectively care about our neighbors — especially those who are affected by domestic violence and fear for their own and their children’s lives — and will do the right thing when it comes time to demand changes to our current gun laws. Make your voices heard in Helena and in Washington, D.C. Red flags laws will protect the most vulnerable community members from abusers who have been deemed a potential threat by a judge. This is a sensible and life-saving solution for people living in the state of Montana.

Please call your congressional members at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to protect women and pass this bill. Call Montana representatives while they’re in session at (406) 444-3062 and ask them to support Red Flag legislation in Montana.

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EDITOR’s NOTE: Heidi Barrett is the executive director of ASPEN (Abuse Support & Prevention Education Network) in Livingston. She can be reached at 222-5902, ext. 2; or heidi@aspenmt.org.

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