October has been recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) for the past 30 years. It is a month that provides the opportunity to mourn those who have lost their lives; as 16 percent of all U.S. murder victims are killed by an intimate partner or former partner.1 DVAM is a month to celebrate our neighbors who have or are surviving abusive behaviors; as intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people each year.2
This month is a time to for us to come together as communities to organize, strategize and take action to end violence in all relationships. Anyone can be abused, as all it takes is to fall in love with someone who feels they have the right to use intimidating and violent behavior to get what they want. That can happen in any relationship - regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, gender identity, age or ethnicity.
Abuse is always wrong, and it is always the fault of the person using power tactics to gain control over their partner. Fearing your partner is not part of a healthy relationship.
Though awareness is an important part of change, awareness alone will not affect the current rates and severity of abuse in relationships. Awareness plus action is the formula for change and safety for all. Not just action by a few advocates and police officers, but community action at every level. We need support and accountability to be built into every facet of our community - whether that is, on your street, in our schools, at our places of employment or in our house of worship; the support and accountability need to be within service providers’ protocols at the municipal level, and in the Maine Legislature.
We have been improving our collective understanding and actions to domestic violence happening in our communities. For 20 years, Cumberland County has been convening community members, service providers, law enforcement personnel, policy makers and representatives of the judicial system, to achieve this exact goal. The Violence Intervention Partnership meets monthly, to learn from one another and to hone our County’s coordinated community response to domestic violence. It is our communities’ responsibility to end domestic violence in our neighborhoods. It is unrealistic to think it would be the responsibility of the person suffering abuse, to hold their batterer accountable for the violence they are inflicting on their loved ones.
Windham has taken action to improve the safety in relationships of its residents. Windham Police recently shared on their Facebook page, “In 2016 we had just over 50 reports of domestic violence in a town of approx.18,000 people. We believe domestic violence continues to be grossly underreported.” The Windham PD has been a driving force on how domestic violence is viewed and responded to in Windham. They work collaboratively with our Enhanced Police Intervention Program (EPIP), who advocates, facilitates and assists survivors by connecting them with community supports and resources. Both Windham High and Windham Middle School have been scheduling our Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program (YAAPP) for over a decade, to come in throughout the year, to offer prevention education on dating violence and gender stereotyping. The Town of Windham has shown their appreciation of our collaborations by providing yearly municipal funding for the services provided in Windham. The Windham Eagle is part of the solution by providing this space to continue the dialogue with Windham residents. Windham is an active participant in eradicating domestic violence in Cumberland County.
We ask you to join us in taking action this October, and all year round. Action from all of us is needed to bring safety and peace to our neighborhoods. Action steps are different for all of us. For some, it may be attending our 40-hour volunteer training, for others it may be donating their cell phone to help victims of abuse, or it may be asking your employer if there is a workplace policy pertaining to domestic violence. All of these actions, and more, are needed. For more information, resource and action steps, please visit www.familycrisis.org or call our 24/7 free hotline 1-800-537-6066.
1 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Nov. 2011
2. www.ncdsv.org , Oct. 2014
Matthew Perry is the Community Education and Prevention Coordinator of Family Crisis Services