In the wake of prevalent mass shootings in this country, we all too often hear sentiments that suggest that now is not the time for change or discussion. It’s too soon. Not the right time. That now is the time for thoughts and prayers.

And although time for mourning and reflection and remembering those who were killed or injured is so very important, if we don’t act now, then when? After how many months, years and decades should we wait until laws are amended, strengthened and created?

How do we close the “boyfriend loophole” in which unmarried, intimate partners are not afforded the same protections from domestic violence as married couples? How do we truly honor those who have been murdered if not by making changes that nurture a world where acts of violence do not continue? And what does “action” mean for creating a violence-free world?

In the vast majority of cases, people who commit mass shootings leave behind in their past that they are capable of these heinous actions. More than 50 percent of mass shootings are carried out by a perpetrator of domestic violence. Time after time, the justice system and the laws meant to protect victims of domestic violence and society from these violent criminals are coming up short in truly holding those perpetrators accountable for their actions and their threats.

We know that domestic violence is the single greatest predictor to future violence, so why do we not fully use this information to update the systems and processes that need to be enhanced and enforced to ensure that firearms do not get into the hands of abusers? When statistics show us clear indicators of risk, it is our responsibility to use this information to create change instead of ignoring the evidence.

As the domestic violence resource center that serves Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford Counties, Safe Voices facilitates a coordinated community response to end domestic violence by partnering with law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and other community partners. A community must be “all in” when working to end violence. It takes all of us to advocate for systems that hold offenders accountable.

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From a study by J.C. Campbell, D.W. Webster, J. Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study,” done in 2003, we know that the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. We also know that in states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percentage fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners (U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2010).

Again and again, we hear from victims how violent abusers can be and we see the devastating results stemming from choices and actions of abusers. Victims tell domestic violence advocates, law enforcement and district attorneys that they aren’t safe. They tell us that the abuser is dangerous. What will it take for us to believe victims and begin to see domestic violence as something pervasive and harmful to the victims and our society as a whole?

When will we take meaningful and comprehensive actions to end it?

All too often, society thinks of domestic violence as a private family matter that happens at home and stays behind closed doors. The reality is the opposite. The abuser rarely asserts power and control only within those four walls. Rather, domestic violence leaves the home every single day. It comes into our workplaces, houses of worship, schools and hospitals.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and domestic violence resource centers across Maine decided to not only raise awareness that month, but to also move to create and inspire action within all corners of our state.

We encourage the public to use its voice in advocacy, volunteer for local victim service agencies and always, above all, believe and support victims. People can create change by advocating for systems that hold perpetrators accountable. We urge people to commit to dismantling oppression and stand in solidarity with those who are working to create a more safe, just and violence-free world.

Elise Johansen is executive director and Rebecca Austin is director of advocacy for Safe Voices.

If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence and would like to receive information and support, Safe Voices has a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day at 1-800-559-2927. In the wake of prevalent mass shootings in this country, we all too often hear sentiments…


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