We need to do two major things in order to end domestic violence, one a long-term project and the other more immediate. Long term, we need to make violence and control unacceptable in our society. We need to teach our children the warning signs of domestic violence starting from a young age, so they grow up being aware of the dangers. We need to teach men to call out other men for abusive behaviors when they see them, and create nurturing, caring men to whom it would never even occur to be controlling or coercive.
In the short term, we need to help survivors escape. And that requires resources, often monetary resources, which Maine never has enough of.
I wrote a column last November about the Senate refusing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which would provide millions of dollars in funds for domestic violence prevention programs, funds for housing programs and funds for law enforcement. The reauthorization would also close several jurisdictional loopholes that currently allow abusers to commit crimes against Native American women on Native land with impunity. (Native American women currently experience the highest rate of domestic violence in the country). That was almost a year ago, and the Senate has done diddly-squat about reauthorizing VAWA. You’d think that being against domestic violence would be a pretty bipartisan policy position. But, what do I know, I wasn’t a poli-sci major in college.
As we have all learned lately, when the government fails, the people have to step up. Maybe you can volunteer on a domestic violence hotline to take calls. Maybe you have an apartment you can rent at a reduced rate to a mother trying to get back on her feet after escaping an abusive situation. Maybe you can provide shelter for the pets of a survivor trying to escape – many victims stay with their abuser because they don’t want to abandon their pets.
Often when survivors leave, they have to start from scratch financially. It costs money to house a survivor, to help them find a job, get therapy and get back on their feet. Their credit scores may be ruined; their bank accounts may be linked to their abuser’s; there may be court costs involved. Solving the issue of domestic violence in Maine is difficult in part because we are a poor state and a rural state – it’s difficult to escape your home and make it to an emergency shelter when you live in the middle of nowhere, there’s no public transport and your abuser controls access to the car.
We should consider these monetary resources not charity, but investments. Investments in survivors, investments in our communities and investments in public safety. According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (to quote an old local commercial: long name, amazing results!), a domestic violence assault was reported to the police every two hours and 22 minutes in 2018. Sit with those numbers for a minute, and they will probably fill you with horror, as they do me. Then, go to the website for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence to learn more about what abuse can look like, what you can do to help, and local and national statistics.
The most important thing every individual can do is believe survivors when they come forward with their abuse. An abuser will very often show a friendly, likable face to the public, and a violent one in private. It is a crime that draws a veil of shame over those who survive it – nobody wants to be seen as weak or a victim. Domestic violence is one of the worst crimes because it twists and perverts and takes advantage of the most sacred of our human emotions and experiences: love and trust and attachment.
Roughly half of the homicides committed every year in Maine are domestic violence related. On the one hand, that’s a terrifying number. On the other hand, it means we know what we need to do to cut our homicide rate in half.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at: