October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – when we take time to remember those victims whose lives have been tragically cut short, celebrate survivors who have escaped the abuse, promote the availability of free and
confidential help, and encourage communities to get involved in stopping the violence.
Here in Pennsylvania the need for intervention and community support has never been more urgent. The news from our recently released 2009 Domestic Violence Fatality Report reveals a terrifying trend. Last year at least 180 women, men and children lost their lives to domestic violence. This represents a 22 percent increase over2008’s fatality number and a chilling 49 percent increase over 2007’s.
Victims ranged in age from 18 months to 97 years. They included:
-A woman who knelt and begged for her life before it was taken.
-Four law enforcement officers – three Pittsburgh city police officers and one Pennsylvania State Police trooper – who were responding to domestic violence calls.
The heart-breaking toll of domestic violence on children especially stands out in this report. Seven minors died, including:
-9- and 10-year-old brothers who perished in the arson of their home by their mother’s ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself.
-A 16-year-old autistic boy shot by his father, who then killed himself.
-A 15-year-old girl shot because she witnessed her mother’s killing.
Then there are the surviving child witnesses of domestic violence – at least 30 in 2009 – who must grieve and bear the scars, both physical and emotional, for the rest of their lives. They include:
-A 7-year-old girl lying beside her mother on the bed when the mother was fatally
-An 11-year-old girl stabbed in the abdomen as she tried, unsuccessfully, to protect her mother from a knife-wielding ex-boyfriend. The girl only survived because her siblings dragged her out of the house before he set it on fire.
-An 11 year-old boy found covered in blood when police responded to his home for the murder of his mother by her former boyfriend, who then killed himself.
-A 12-year-old boy who testified in court that his father told him in advance of his plans to kill the boy’s stepmother, brought him along for an alibi, and instructed him to dump evidence afterwards. The boy said he heard his father asking his stepmother to come closer to examine a rash on their baby, and then he heard her scream.
The report documents an alarming development – two minors accused of domestic violence. The youngest was 11 when he was charged with shooting his father’s pregnant fiancée with a 20-gauge shotgun. A 16-year-old boy was charged with killing his great-grandfather with a shotgun.
The state’s response to these grim statistics and shocking stories should not be to further cut funding for the free and confidential services provided in all 67 counties by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s 60 community-based programs.
In fiscal year 2009-10, these programs answered 135,262hotline calls and provided shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, transitional housing and other services to 92,000 victims seeking to escape abuse.
We know many more victims remain unaware of the help available to them because their batterers isolate them, and keep them too terrified to tell anyone of the abuse.
We can help victims break their silence and end the violence. Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture. PCADV is offering 31 tips – one for every day in October-on our Web site.
These are practical and manageable steps within everyone’s power. They range from carrying the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (800-799-7233)in your wallet so you can give it to someone you suspect is being abused, to talking to your children about healthy ways of resolving conflict in relationships.
We invite you to visit our Web site to read these tips, and learn more.
Let’s work together for a time when a Domestic Violence Awareness Month is no longer necessary, when everyone can feel safe in their own home and when no more lives are lost to or limited by domestic violence.
Peg Dierkers is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide network of 60 community-based domestic violence programs, offering free and confidential services to domestic violence victims and their children throughout the commonwealth.