Domestic violence is a complicated issue because it involves close personal relationships, and often takes place in the private space of the home. To end it, we must approach it from many different angles and address the complex factors that lead to this horrible crime. And we need to ensure that victims have the tools they need to get help, recover, and stay safe.
This session, I sponsored two bills to help end domestic violence that became law. One of these new laws increases access to batterer intervention programs and makes them equally available to both men and women. These programs hold offenders accountable, and help protect victims from future encounters. The other new law improves domestic violence prevention training for mental health workers, so that warning signs can be spotted early, and potential violence can be stopped in its tracks.
I also sponsored several bills during my time in the Maine House, including one to introduce evidence-based domestic violence risk assessments into Maine law enforcement protocols. This helps police officers determine the level of risk that an offender will assault a partner again, and plan the most effective intervention so that it never happens again.
In addition to taking preventative measures, we must also support safety shelters, education programs, and crisis hotlines. When men, women, and children think they may be at risk for domestic violence, or feel unsafe in their homes, it is essential that they have the information and resources to remove themselves from the situation.
In 2012, Maine police reported 5,593 instances of domestic assault, a 4.5 percent increase from the year before. While this number is startlingly high, the increase in reports may be a sign of progress as the crime is brought more into the open. The more we shed light on domestic violence, the more we create a space in which survivors can come forward with their stories.
Some of the vital resources that survivors depend on have faced cuts, and are at risk for more cuts. While we work hard to support these programs, we also must reduce the need for them. Too often, we read the horror stories in the newspaper when it is too late. Awareness and prevention are key.
If you, or someone you know, needs help or support because of domestic violence or abuse, there are resources available. In Penobscot County, call Spruce Run 24-hours a day at 1-800-863-9909, or visit them online at www.sprucerun.net to learn more.